Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition! I already did.
It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Climate in Europe this month

In news this month:

  1. Major firms agree on 2050 climate target
  2. Global carbon market set to explode in the next decade
  3. The pondering of EU on the labeling of greener products in two parts
  4. Shipping not so harmless for Nature as thought.

Major firms back 2050 climate change target

18 February 2008

Sony, Nike, Nokia and nine other multinational companies have signed a declaration in support of a 50% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, echoing similar calls being made by UN scientists and EU leaders during international climate negotiations.

The Tokyo Declaration, signed in the Japanese megalopolis on 15 February, supports the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) in its assessment that "global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) need to peak in the next 10–15 years and be reduced to very low levels, well below half of the levels in 2000, by the middle of the twenty-first century".

The non-binding declaration includes a voluntary pledge to "widen the scope of emission reduction activities in partnering with our business partners" to improve consumer habits and "enhance the transparency of our carbon footprint and related reduction activities".

It is the latest in a series of corporate-level commitments related to climate change.

WWF's Climate Savers programme, for example, is a private sector/NGO partnership that involves firms like IBM, Lafarge and Johnson & Johnson which have pledged to reduce their CO2 output by 10 million tonnes per year by 2010.

Global business leaders also promised to "step up to the plate" on climate change during the 21-26 January World Economic Forum in Davos, and on 12 December 2007 nearly 350 global firms chimed in to the Bali climate talks, calling for a post-2012 climate change deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

Major European companies will discuss the impact of climate change and energy issues on their businesses during the 21-22 February European Business Summit (EBSexternal ) in Brussels.

Despite this flurry of activity, a recent survey by the consulting firm McKinsey found that many firms are not translating their growing attention on climate change issues into core strategic action, despite increasing awareness of the potential opportunities for profit-making (EurActiv 18/02/08).

The lack of predictable and harmonised regulations may be partly to blame for a lack of concrete corporate engagement.

Meanwhile, electronics manufacturer Philips announced that its sales of 'green products' had increased by one third between 2006 and 2007.source

Global carbon market set to explode in next decade

19 February 2008

Analysts foresee a boom in carbon emissions trading by 2020 as the EU prepares to include new sectors in its Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) and the United States' accession to a similar system appears increasingly inevitable.

The European carbon dioxide cap-and-trade scheme has so far enabled member states to achieve more than a 2% cut in CO2 levels compared to 1990, and is expected to achieve far greater results once a new beefed-up system enters into force in 2013 (EurActiv 23/01/08).

Yet, the biggest challenge of the Commission's proposed climate strategy is to bring all major world emitters of global-warming gases - including the US and emerging economies such as China and India - into similar binding pollution-cutting schemes.

The value of the global carbon market shot up by 80% in 2007, with some 2.7 billion tonnes of CO2 credits, worth €40.4 billion, changing hands, in a sign of growing enthusiasm for the carbon trading industry among companies and investors worldwide, according to research by independent analysis and consulting firm Point Carbonexternal .

Around 60% of this trading took place through the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS), with 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon emissions, worth €28 billion, changing hands in the bloc.

The UN-administered Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which allows companies to meet part of their emission reduction targets by financing carbon-cutting projects in the developing world, accounted for a further 947 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, worth €12 billion.

Analysts further believe the global carbon market could see a veritable boom in the next 12 years, especially if the US steps in.

What's more, with 13 climate change bills currently under discussion in the Democrat-led Congress – most of which contain plans for some sort of market-based mechanism – analysts believe it is unlikely the US will escape entering into an emission reduction scheme in the future.

The US is unlikely to agree to any scheme that does not require its major trading partners from the developing world, such as China, Brazil and India, to abide by emissions regulations as well. As US Senate committee chair Max Baucus explained: "In the context of a competitive economy, they cannot enjoy a free ride while we bear the cost."

The EU is also more than eager to create a level global playing field for its businesses in order to avoid the so-called "carbon leakage" phenomenon, where companies relocate to third countries with less stringent climate protection laws in order to remain competitive.

What's more, India and China could also see their participation in the carbon market limited if they fail to ratify a global deal. Indeed, while currently, around 10% of carbon credits purchased by EU companies are Clean Development Mechanism or Joint Implementation credits, the Commission is suggesting limiting this to 5-6%.

Even if other nations level the playing field by applying a carbon trading mechanism similar to the EU ETS, many fear that Europe's global competitiveness would still suffer as the carbon-intensity of EU exports is higher than those of China, the US and other exporters.

A key tool in addressing this issue could be the conclusion of international sectoral agreements, under which energy-intensive industries would be allowed to operate under a separate carbon regime, based on targets agreed among themselves, effectively sheltering the sector from a severe increase in operating costs related to clean technology upgrades or the purchasing of emissions credits from projects in developing countries.

Under such a scheme, major developing countries such as China would pledge to achieve a voluntary sector GHG intensity target (e.g. GHG/ton of steel) and would receive technology incentives from developed countries in exchange.

The idea has been backed by EU Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen and the EU's High Level Group (HLG) on Competitiveness, Energy and Environment as a means of delivering fair competition while continuing to ensure clean technology improvements in developing countries. Such a scheme could also receive backing from the US and Japan, which are both against strict binding goals. source

EU ponders greener products and consumer habits

The Commission has repeatedly delayed publication of its sustainable consumption and production strategy, an indication of the difficulties the EU executive faces in defining its approach to a highly complicated issue that affects a wide range of consumer groups and industry sectors.

'Greening' the way products are produced and consumed is a challenge the Commission sought to address in its 2003 Integrated Product Policy (IPP) proposal.

But the IPP has been criticised both by NGOs, who argue the policy lacks teeth since it contains no legislative provisions, and businesses, who say its focus on the environment is too narrow and that it should be up to business rather than public regulators to ensure the sustainability of products.

Partly in response these criticisms, the Commission consulted stakeholders and has begun formulating action plans on sustainable consumption and production (SCP), prepared by DG Environment, and on a sustainable industrial policy (SIP), prepared by DG Enterprise.

Originally scheduled for publication in December 2007, the Commission's SCP and SIP strategies may now be published in the middle of April, although no definite date has been set, according to a Commission spokersperson.

The proposition that are being considered:

  1. a 'carbon label' indicating the amount of CO2 emitted during the manufacture of a given product, for example, was strongly criticised by the food industry and consumer groups.
  2. Adoption of Japanese-style system whereby producers in various sectors are presented with a specific deadline to match the energy perfomance of a best-performing manufacturer were also criticised as being unsuitable for the European context.
  3. The EU's eco-labelexternal scheme may also be extended to other products, but stakeholders disagree on the best criteria and methodology to apply to further labelling schemes.
  4. Tax incentives for cleaner yet more expensive goods can get a foothold on the market.

Tax incentives are commonly used to stimulate the development goods such as energy efficient appliances, cleaner cars, or renewable energies. But coordinating national tax policies at European level is difficult.

A recent joint proposal by the UK and France in favour of reduced (and harmonised) VAT rates for green goods and services, for example, did not receive broad support from other member states, which must agree on such measures unanimously (EurActiv 13/11/07).

The issue of incentivising cleaner consumption habits will be the focus of a 22 February session at the European Business Summit (EBSexternal ). source

Doubts raised over labels for 'greening' consumption

25 February 2008

Labelling schemes designed to shift consumer preferences towards more ecologically-friendly goods have had a limited effectiveness and need to be used in combination with other measures, according to panellists who debated the issue during a recent EBS workshop in Brussels, moderated by EurActiv.

To date, there has been little spillover from niche markets for more environmentally-friendly goods into the wider retail sector, according to Jim Murray, former director of the European Consumers' Organisation BEUC.

Murray, who addressed the issue along with other panelists during a 22 February debate at the European Business Summit (EBS) in Brussels, said that schemes like the EU's eco labelexternal have been "disappointing" in terms of their impact on purchasing patterns.

Consumers are also being confused by a proliferation of environmental claims that have become "meaningless", he said.

Concerns over excessive use of different labels were also echoed by Roland Vaxelaire of the Carrefour Group. Vaxelaire argued that companies need more support in order to reduce prices for greener goods, and that while labels are important, customers should not be confused and made to feel guilty.

The Commission is currently planning a revision and possible expansion of the eco label scheme as part of a new action plan on sustainable consumption and production (SCP), expected in mid-April (see also EurActiv 21/02/08).

All the panellists agreed that labels can be useful as long as they are based on consistent and easy-to-understand criteria, and are used in combination with other measures. Differing views emerged on fiscal incentives, however.

Murray noted that tax breaks have not been as successful as expected, citing a 2006 studyPdf external by the UK's Sustainable Development Commission.

Erika Mink of Tetra Pak urged "caution" on the use of taxation, while former EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler spoke in favour of higher taxation on resource use, offset by decreased taxes on income. Fischler also argued that the market should play a greater role in creating incentives for cleaner consumption patterns.

During a separate debate at the EBS, EU Enterprise and Industry Commissioner Günther Verheugen indicated his support for incentive-based rather than prescriptive measures to stimulate more sustainable industrial production. The Commission will present an action plan on sustainable industrial policy (SIP) alongside the SCP action plan. source

UN says shipping emissions 'grossly underestimated'

13 February 2008

Carbon dioxide emissions from shipping – one of the few sectors still not covered by EU climate change measures – are likely to be three times worse than currently thought, according to a leaked report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Shipping has thus far been spared having to make any significant cuts in carbon dioxide emissions as the sector was left out of the Kyoto Protocol and, thus, out of the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

What's more, while draft European legislation, presented in January with the aim of strengthening the ETS and extending it to new industrial sectors, provides for aviation to be included in the EU's carbon cap-and-trade scheme as of 2013, shipping remains excluded from the proposed directive's scope.

The figures in the report, seen by The Guardian, are based on recalculations carried out by Intertanko, the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, according to which global shipping operations are responsible for emitting 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2, equivalent to 4.5% of worldwide emissions. This represents three times more than current estimates of 400 million tonnes, but also twice as much as the 650 million tonnes said to be emitted by aeroplanes.

The new calculations, which are thought to be more precise than earlier ones as they take into account not only the quantity of low grade fuel bought by shipowners but also the size of ships, their fuel efficiency and horse power – cast fresh doubts over the Commission's decision not to include shipping in its emissions trading scheme after 2013 (EurActiv 23/01/08).

The report further finds that CO2 emissions from shipping are likely to increase by a further 30% by 2020 and that other pollutant emissions such as nitrogen (NOx), particulate matter (PM) and sulphur oxides (SOx), which are responsible for acid rain and respiratory problems, could rise even more than that if no action is taken.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) last week finalised proposals for reducing air pollution from ships, but these still have to be rubberstamped by members in October, at a meeting of the organisation's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC).

My comment: My over-all impression on these news is the EU still lacks the will and strength to enforce measures that will have a real effect. The good part is that obviously it doesn't lack entirely support from big companies.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

EU treaty-here to stay

Wonder what's happening to our new and shiny EU Treaty? Here's a resume of its march across Europe.

French lawmakers approve EU Treaty, Slovakia postpones again

8 February 2008

Three years after French citizens said 'no' to the European constitution, French MPs and senators on Thursday voted to adopt the EU's new 'Reform Treaty'. Meanwhile, the Slovakian parliament indefinitely postponed a vote on its ratification amid wrangling in parliament.

Thus far, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia and Malta have already ratified the treaty. All four did so by parliamentary vote (see EurActiv 18/12/07, 30/01/08, 05/02/08).

French approval of the Lisbon Treatyexternal is seen as crucial to restore the country's European reputation after the French people rejected the European Constitution - written by former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing - in 2005.

Legislators in the French National Assembly approved the law by a comfortable margin of 336 against 52. Out of 320 senators, 265 gave their backing.

The treaty's backers were led by President Sarkozy's conservative UMP party, which holds a strong parliamentary majority. The opposition Socialists, who were split during the failed 2005 referendum, were once again divided: 121 supported ratification, but 25 rejected it amid 59 abstentions. The Communists as a whole voted against the treaty.

"Nobody's hiding," the source said, admitting however that the parliamentary ratification route chosen by France was "less dramatic" than a referendum.

Meanwhile, in Slovakia, opposition lawmakers were not present in the chamber at the time of a scheduled vote on the new EU treaty in protest at a proposed new media law, leaving the ruling parties five votes short of the majority needed to approve the treaty (see Euractiv 05/02/08).

In a separate development, the Portuguese parliament rejected a demand from four parties that the new treaty be ratified by referendum. source

My comment: According to here :Ratification will become official on 14 February following its publication in the official journal, according to AFP, citing Sarkozy's office. God Speed dear! Here you can have fun with French Secretary of State excusing for Sarkozy's big ego :)

Romania ratifies EU Treaty as France moves to follow

5 February 2008

Romania has ratified the Treaty of Lisbon by parliamentary vote after a huge majority of MPs approved the text yesterday (4 February). Meanwhile, France's parliament approved a constitutional amendment necessary to begin the ratification process of the treaty itself.

Romanian MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of ratifying the new EU Treatyexternal , with 387 votes cast in its support and just one against. The country's Foreign Ministry said the decision "confirms Romania's commitment to advancing the European project."

Romania becomes the fourth member state to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon, with Slovakia and France hoping to follow suit later this week. Hungary, Slovenia and Malta have already approved the text, all three doing so by parliamentary vote. President Barroso said he hoped that other member states would "quickly follow the lead given by the four countries that have now approved the treaty."

Meanwhile, France has taken a significant step towards ratification after a parliamentary congress voted massively in favour of deleting a reference to the doomed treaty rejected by popular referendum in 2005 from its own constitution. The draft amendmentexternal was adopted by a majority of 560 of the 741 votes cast at the special meeting of MPs and senators convened yesterday in Versailles. source

Slovakia to hold EU Treaty vote amid opposition protest

5 February 2008

Slovakia's parliament is scheduled to vote on the Treaty of Lisbon on Thursday (February 7) after ratification was postponed for the second time last week in the wake of opposition protests over a media bill introduced by the ruling coalition.

Opposition parties have said that they will not approve the new treatyexternal unless the government withdraws or substantially amends the controversial draft. But an opposition bid to postpone the vote indefinitely failed after it was tentatively rearranged for 7 February.

The government ran into difficulties regarding the scheduling of the vote after the opposition linked the issue to the media bill. SDKU-DS (Christian Democrat) Vice-Chair Iveta Radicova claimed that the government's proposed Press Act does not respect the clauses protecting freedom of speech and access to verifiable information contained in the Treaty of Lisbon.

Despite these objections, two of the three centre-right opposition parties clearly back the treaty itself and insist they do not wish to undermine its ratification. They have indicated they will approve the text once the government has redrafted the media bill.

The dispute arose after the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) strongly criticised the draft media bill. In a letter addressed to Mr Kubis, the OSCE warned the proposed legislation would "severely restrict" press freedom. Culture Minister Marek Mandaric has defended the bill, describing it is "standard European legislation". source

Slovenia and Malta ratify EU treaty

30 January 2008

Slovenia and Malta have become the latest countries to ratify the new EU Treaty agreed upon by EU leaders in December last year.

The two countries ratified the Treaty of Lisbon via their national parliaments yesterday (29 January), joining Hungary on the list of member states to have approved the text so far. All three have done so by parliamentary vote.

Slovenia's early approval of the treaty is seen as particularly significant given that the country of two million inhabitants currently holds the EU's rotating Council presidency. A large majority of parliamentarians supported the text, with 74 voting in its favour and just six against.

Congratulating Slovenia, Commission President José Manuel Barroso described the vote as an "expression of Slovenian support for a more effective, democratic, transparent and stronger European Union". He added that it was an "encouraging and positive signal" that the holder of the EU presidency was among the first countries to approve the text.

Meanwhile, Maltese MPs unanimously approved a motion to ratify the treaty put forward by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, with government and opposition parties united in support of the text largely due to its provision of an extra MEP for the island.

Due to constitutional obligations, Ireland is currently the only country heading for a referendum on the text, with the popular vote expected to take place in June this year. However, pressure on the UK gove\rnment to put the new treaty to a referendum has been growing ever since it was signed by EU leaders in Lisbon at the end of 2007 . source

UK Parliament ups pressure on EU Treaty referendum

21 January 2008

Rebel Labour MPs are expected to join forces with the Conservatives today (21 January) in a bid to force through a referendum on the new EU Reform Treaty, after a report by the House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Committee concluded that the text is the same as the abandoned EU Constitution.

A group of 19 Labour MPs are planning to table an amendment calling for a referendum on the EU Treaty, which UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown signed last month along with the 26 other EU heads of state and government.

The move comes as the bill on the treaty's ratification begins its passage through Parliament with a second reading debate in the Commons. Six weeks of explosive Parliamentary debate are then expected to follow before the final vote takes place in March.

The case for a referendum was further strengthened yesterday (20 January) with the publication of a report by the House of Commons' Labour-dominated Foreign Affairs Committee, which claims that the British government is misleading the public by playing down the significance of new institutions, such as the creation of a new full-time EU President and foreign affairs chief.

But members of Brown's government continued to defend the Treaty as a "good deal" for Britain, with Foreign Secretary David Miliband stressing: "The Reform Treaty gives Britain a bigger voice in Europe and enshrines children's rights for the first time." source

My comment: Other article said they actually decided against referendum. And I don't really don't understand what's their problem with EU. British Empire is over and done. Get over it!

Portugal rules out referendum on EU Treaty

10 January 2008

With Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates changing his stance on the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, it appears highly likely that Ireland will be the only country to hold a referendum on the issue.

"A referendum in Portugal would jeopardise, without any reason to do so, the full legitimacy of the ratification by national parliaments that is taking place in all the other European countries," the Portuguese prime minister told members of the national parliament on 9 January 2008, ruling out the possibility of consulting the people directly on the ratification of the new EU Treaty.

According to press sources, Sócrates gave up on his electoral promise, made in 2005, to hold a referendum on the EU constitution following pressure from French president Nicolas Sarkozy and UK prime minister Gordon Brown. German chancellor Angela Merkel was also consulted on the issue, the reports said.

Sócrates argued that his electoral promise no longer applied as the context has since changed and the new treaty only amends previous ones.

The change in Portugal's stance means that Ireland, which is bound by its constitution to hold a referendum on the issue, may well be the only country to hold a popular vote and thus decide the fate of the Lisbon Treaty. source

My comment: I find it really sad that the new constitution won't be chosen by the people but by their governments. I love it, I love EU and I find it upsetting that our European brothers and sisters fail to understand my enthusiasm and they have to accept the Treaty the forceful way. Well, let's hope that eventually the mistrust and xenophobia will fade away and love will find its way.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Newsbits from EU

In this edition:

  1. New nanotech research code of conduct proposed. 7 principles for safe and harmless for the society dealing with nanotechnologies.
  2. Universities to face tough times on financial support. Request for more clarity where the money goes.
  3. EU small business act to never happen. The request for protectionism of European business face too much critics.
  4. Pay tension coming with economy falling calling for guarantee of average wage all across Europe and a report on gender wages in which gets obvious women are still on the low end when it comes to wages and quality work.
  5. Last but not least- request for cost-effective climate policies that actually make sense!
Enjoy :)

Commission cautious on nanotech research

12 February 2008

The Commission has called on member states to respect the precautionary principle in research on nanoscience in order to anticipate its potential environmental, health and safety impacts.

With nanotech products already under mass production in areas such as food, electronics and cosmetics, the political debate on regulating nanotechnologies has only just begun. A lack of scientific knowledge and the absence of evidence of the health and safety hazards of nanotechnology, however, make regulation impossible.

No government in the world has, to date, developed a specific nanotech regulation.

"Member states should apply the precautionary principle in order to protect not only researchers, who will be the first to be in contact with nano-objects, but also professionals, consumers, citizens and the environment in the course of N&N research activities," states the Commission code of conduct for responsible nanosciences and nanotechnologies (N&N) research, adopted on 7 February 2008.

The Commission recommends that member states follow the general principles and guidelines for actions outlined in the code "as they formulate, adopt and implement their strategies for developing sustainable nanosciences and nanotechnologies (N&N)".

The code of conduct recommends that all N&N research activities be conducted in respect of a set of seven principles. According to these, all activities should:

  • Respect fundamental rights and be conducted in the interest of the well-being of individuals and society;
  • be safe for people and the environment;
  • be ethical and contribute to sustainable development;
  • be conducted in accordance with the precautionary principle;
  • be guided by the principles of openness to all stakeholders, transparency and respect for the legitimate right of access to information;
  • meet the best scientific standards, including integrity of research and good laboratory practices, and;
  • encourage maximum creativity and flexibility for innovation and growth.

In addition, the code suggests that "researchers and research organisations should remain accountable for the social, environmental and human health impacts of their work". source

My comment:Sounds good to me!

Universities urged to identify full costs of their activities

13 February 2008

Universities, the budgets of which are currently "black boxes", need to define the full costs of their activities to justify the use of public and private money, said Education Commissioner Ján Figel, who believes univesities should be paid "for what they do".

"If a university is serious about attracting fresh funds, its budget can no longer be a black box," said education Commissioner Ján Figel, addressing European higher education experts gathered in Brussels to debate the long-term financial sustainability of European higher education institutions. "Public and private parties need to know how their money is spent," he added.

An ongoing EUA 'funding project' compared the income, expenditure flows, accounting systems, legal frameworks and progress towards full cost accounting of a group of European universities. The project's initial resultsPdf external reveal a huge diversity of national funding patterns and the development of full costing models in Europe. In addition, the findings show a lack of common understanding of the financial terminology used. Moreover, they reveal a lack of coherence in defining the full costs of activities.

According to Commissioner Figel, universities should become responsible for their own long-term financial sustainability by "tapping public and private sources". In addition, he said that "public spending needs to be a function of outputs rather than inputs. Universities need to be paid for what they do and not just for what they are or have been". source

My comment: You can read what I wrote on the issue here. I'm really afraid of the responsibility to society they are all talking. I mean, it's obvious some universities abuse the money they get, but I think a clear estimation of the waste/products should be made. Yes, obviously money should be given for certain output, but what is interesting is how we measure the output. Articles, products, projects? Because if it's just articles, we'll see the individual battle in referee journals to get on bigger scale. I think we'll all loose from that. It's hard enough to get published now. For me, a project should go on a commission not only peered-reviewed but also including financial and broader experts to decide whether what it does is important to science, to society and if the financial background is justified. Though again, the scientific experts should be international and possibly not from exactly the same field as otherwise, we can see corruption in both directions.

EU Small Business Act dismissed as 'paper tiger'

8 February 2008

Commission plans, due in June, to draw up a European Small Business Act inspired by the US model have been heavily criticised as another "paper tiger" by SME organisations, who are calling for binding measures instead.

The forthcoming proposals, outlined by EU Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry Günter Verheugen at a hearing on 6 February, were quickly dismissed as empty words by UEAPME, the European SME organisation.

While the Commission's full proposals will not be on the table before June this year, Verheugen already gave indications as to their substance, rejecting for instance one of the main features of the US scheme whereby a 23% share of public procurement contracts is reserved for SMEs.

And while the EU can do more to simplify its rules and regulations, SME policy, Verheugen went on, should remain an issue to be primarily dealt with at national level. "Let me be clear, SME policy remains largely the preserve of national authorities ."

Meanwhile, the Commission announced the launch of a new service for SMEs, the Enterprise Europe Networkexternal (EEN), to provide advice on assistance and help companies of all sizes find business partners in countries other than their own. source

My comment: When good ideas go bad :) Or boring...We shouldn't follow blindly US policies but get the best and throw out the rest. My opinion.

Pay tensions mount as economy edges towards crisis

6 February 2008

Under the threat of an economic downturn, trade unions and employers adopted a harsher tone at their bi-annual meeting with the current and forthcoming Council presidencies.

Against the backdrop of a looming crisis in world financial markets and following a moderate upswing in the EU economy, European social partners met the present and upcoming EU presidencies on 31 January.

In an update of its World Economic Outloookexternal published on 29 January, the International Monetary Fund stated that "the financial market strains originating in the US sub-prime sector - and associated losses on bank balance sheets - have intensified, while the recent steep sell-off in global equity markets was symptomatic of rising uncertainty." The IMF added that "growth has [...] slowed in western Europe, and confidence indicators have generally deteriorated". The IMF lowered its growth projection for the euro area to 1.3%, down from 2.3% in 2007 and only half the average annual growth rate over the last ten years.

In its "Global Employment Trends 2008Pdf external ", issued on 22 January, the International Labour Organisation warned that, in the EU and other developed economies, "the impact of such a small decrease in growth is immediately reflected in labour markets," adding that "labour market indicators for the region [...] showed signs of some stagnation between 2006 and 2007," with the increase in employment "the smallest in five years".

In a June 2007 Policy BriefPdf external , the OECD warned that inequality of earnings had widened across the EU.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) called for a revision of the EU's broad 'Economic Policy Guidelinesexternal ' in order to allow more significant wage increases:

ETUC General Secretary John Monks said: "ETUC is deeply concerned about the threat of growing social inequalities in Europe: between rich and poor and men and women, and between workers with secure employment compared to those with precarious work and poverty wages. Vulnerable workers must not be made the victims of current global conditions. Europe risks being perceived as a one-way street where the share of wages is always going down. We cannot allow that to happen."

The Social Platform, which brings together social NGOs from all over Europe, supported ETUC, calling "on ministers and the EU to guarantee an adequate minimum income to all people across Europe and to ensure an individual right to social protection and a pension disconnected from employment records". source

My comment:That sound so good. Especially the last part. I can't see it happening for now, but anyway, I believe this is the future. I'm sure of it actually. I just hope it's the near enough future. And for reference, the average salary in Bulgaria is probably 250 euros. Where again is the moderation of wages?A little bit more one that here:

EU gender report finds women opting for low-paid sectors

24 January 2008

While increasing numbers of women are working, they remain underrepresented in sectors considered crucial for economic development which are usually better remunerated, notes the Commission's annual report on equality between women and men.

"Overall, despite their better educational attainment, women's careers are shorter, slower and less well-paid: it is clear that we need to do more to make full use of the productive potential of the workforce," said Equal Opportunities Commissioner Vladimír Špidla as he presented the Commission's fifth annual reportPdf external on gender equality on 23 January 2008.

The fact that some member states face high segregation in occupations as well as sectoral segregation is considered a particular problem as well. "In consequence of segregated labour markets, there is an under-representation of women in sectors crucial for economic development and usually well remunerated. For example, only 29% of scientists and engineers in the EU are women." source'

My comment: That's sad. Very sad. I can understand the part-time work part (see the source), if I had a child, I wouldn't work full-time too.But the other things are very very upsetting. Segregation should exist nowadays

EU finance ministers call for 'cost-effective' climate policies

11 February 2008

EU economics and finance ministers want to ensure that the bloc's climate change policies do not undermine public finances and job growth. The EU's carbon market and other 'market-based instruments' are the preferred option for cutting the bloc's carbon emissions, according to the ministers' draft conclusions, to be adopted on 12 February.

"A key challenge will be to ensure that the transition to a low-carbon economy is handled in a way that is consistent with EU competitiveness, sound and sustainable public finances and that contributes positively to broader growth objectives consistent with the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs," states a draft version of an Ecofin Council notePdf to the Spring European Council, scheduled for 13-14 March.

"Any policies that have significant budgetary implications should be considered by finance ministers," says the note, which argues that decisions on how to spend revenues obtained from CO2 permit auctioning in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) should be left to member states.

Citing a "wide range of costs" related to cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in EU countries, the Ecofin Council considers energy efficiency improvements as among the cheapest options for reducing GHG emissions, with renewables tagged as the more costly option in the short term "even if the cost of renewable energies can be reduced in the longer term".

Market-based instruments, such as the EU ETS and environmental taxes, as well as more 'clean' technologies, should be the "centrepiece of Europe's efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions," says the note, which is based on a 30 page reportPdf external "on the efficiency of economic instruments for energy and climate", adopted by the Council's Economic Policy Committee. source

My comment:I totally agree actually.You can read a very interesting interview on the 3 pillars of the new industrial revolution here. It says that after the fossil fuels finish in 2020-2030 the things will simply get rough. An action based on 3 pillars-using renewable energy, storing it and distributing it Europe wide- is needed. This sounds very very sensible to me!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Waste menagement or waste of menagement

EEA calls for sustainable consumption to reduce waste, CO2

7 February 2008

Even though greenhouse gas emissions from municipal waste are expected to drop considerably by 2020 due to increased recycling, Europe cannot rely on improved waste management practices to tackle unsustainable consumption and production patterns, warns the European Environment Agency (EEA).

"Europe cannot become complacent with regard to the continuing growth in waste," concludes the EEAexternal in a report analysing how better management of municipal waste can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

Published in late January, the EEA reportPdf external predicts a significant decrease in net GHGs from municipal waste by 2020 - of more than 80% compared to the late 1980s. This is mainly thanks to increased recycling and waste recovery, as well as incineration combined with energy production and diverting waste away from landfill.

However, it warns that unsustainable consumption and production patterns "in the long term may outweigh the improvements taking place in the waste management sector".

The agency predicts 25% growth in municipal waste between 2005 and 2020 "driven by several factors, such as economic activity, demographic changes, technological innovations, lifestyle and patterns of production and consumption". It warns that increasing amount of waste "could lead to saturation and increased GHG emissions due to inefficient management". Therefore it recommends keeping municipal waste to the minimum as the best course of action.

According to the EEA, each European citizen generated an average of 460kg of municipal waste in 1995 and 520kg in 2004, a figure which is expected to increase to some 680kg by 2020 "primarily due to an assumed sustained growth in private final consumption and a continuation of current trends in consumption patterns".

Waste and recycling policies are a cornerstone of EU environmental protection efforts, but the policy framework has been criticised as being too fragmented and inefficient. The current revision of the Waste Framework Directive seeks to address this issue and the EEA analysis aims to provide useful information in the context of the revision. source

My comment: I can say it even with one word-Italy! We all know about the problems raging for years there. Still they lack a recycling/burning factory. We, here in Sofia, lack one too. Cities continue to pour money in mafia's pockets instead of acting rationally and building such factories, that could help with garbage on the long run. And not only in Italy, because here, in Bulgaria, garbage is up to the mafia too. And I have suspicions it might be like this everywhere.

And one more thing, I don't see a full powered, all-Europe campaign to inform people of recycling and separate garbage. Yes, it's pretty clear, but I still see people putting glass in the bin for paper or even worst, just putting everything in the common bin. I'm not even sure if at least here, there is a reason of doing it at all- it they really recycle them or just pretend to do so. In addition to people's ignorance on the issue and the lack of information from EU's local administrations, I don't see how the problem could be really solved.

If we don't take action NOW , we'll have those problems and they will only get worst.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

January in Energy,2008

Little bit late, but there are so many things to read and publish. So in this edition:
For more, read below. My comment are after the articles as usual.

Gazprom looms large on EU's gas supply horizon

30 January 2008

Russian energy giant Gazprom has secured further pipeline deals with individual EU member states and announced its ambition to move into the UK market this week, casting further doubts over the EU's ambition to "speak with one voice" on external energy matters.

Russia's state-owned energy giant Gazprom, believed by many to be an extension of the Kremlin that is being increasingly used for political leveraging, made international headlines this week (28 January) with its intention to acquire 15% of the UK gas market by 2011, a tenfold increase compared with current holdings.

The move would allow Gazprom to provide gas directly to UK consumers, reflecting the company's wish to become a powerful actor in the EU's energy market rather than a mere external gas supplier, an ambition that may be complicated by Brussels' plans to demand 'reciprocal' treatment for EU firms with similar ambitions in Russia's energy market.

In separate deals concluded on 25 January, Gazprom also acquired the entire Serbian oil and gas sectors, as well as a 50% stake in the Central Europe Gas Hub through a deal with Austria's OMV. The latter deal brings Gazprom one step closer to realising the 'South Stream' pipeline project, a direct competitor to the Nabucco pipeline project. Nabucco is a showcase 'European' pipeline deal that continues to face obstacles despite recent pledges for financial backing by Germany and France (EurActiv 17/09/07).

Meanwhile, EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs on 29 January defended the controversial Nord Stream pipeline as a "project of European interest".

In addition to concerns about the environmental impact of the pipeline, which would bring Russian gas directly into Germany via the Baltic seabed, Poland and the Baltic states have expressed their frustrations about being bypassed by the project and have proposed an alternative land route.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko also chimed into the EU's gas supply debate during a visit to Brussels on 29 January. Tymoshenko informed journalists about her country's intention to seek closer energy ties with the EU and revise a current pricing agreement with Gazprom in order to secure higher transit and gas storage fees in response to higher gas prices.

However, there are concerns that the move may upset the stability of Europe's gas supplies, as the agreement on low transit fees was part of a 2006 deal with Gazprom that signalled the end of controversial gas supply disruptions (EurActiv 05/01/06). source

My comment: Russia is here to stay. I don't know when people in Brussel will accept it, but it's high time for them to cut the whining and get realistic. Russia will supply Europe with oil and gas, so better get the most out of it, then hide your head into the sand. And last but not least, Russia got only 49% of South Stream in Bulgaria. Yay, for us.

Energy and climate change take centre stage at EBS

29 January 2008

The 6th European Business Summit, to take place on 21-22 February in Brussels, will focus on "greening the economy" and finding "new energy for business," organisers have announced, one week after the Commission published ambitious climate and energy proposals.

"Climate change and energy are the hot topics today, at political level and in corporate boardrooms," said Conference Director Wytze Russchen on Monday (28 January), adding that the EBS sought to "respond to the interests" of the European business community.

The annual event - often referred to as the EU equivalent of the Davos summit - is organised by EU employers' association BusinessEurope and the Federation of Enterprises in Belgium (FEB), with the support of the Commission and the Slovenian Presidency of the EU.

It will gather high-level EU policymakers as well as key figures from the European business community around four plenary sessions and eleven workshops on themes ranging from energy liberalisation to Europe's position in the global race towards a low-carbon economy.

The event comes at a time when energy and climate change have made their way to the top of the EU political agenda, with a new package of proposals on renewable energies and CO2 emissions reduction presented by the Commission last week (EurActiv 24/01/08).

The EU business group had expressed concerns about the proposals, saying they were "not satisfactory" and that "high renewable targets" would have "strong direct and indirect impacts on energy-intensive industries" such as steel and chemicals.

Rudi Thomaes, CEO of the Federation of Enterprises in Belgium, said the Commission's package was "highly ambitious" and represented "a huge challenge for Belgian companies" as he considers the potential for renewable energies in Belgium to be "low".

However, he endeavoured to strike a positive note as well, saying the Commission's proposals "shouldn't be seen solely as a threat but also as a window of new opportunities."

EurActiv is associated with the event as a knowledge partner, together with INSEAD, a business school. The programme of the thematic workshops and plenary sessions can be consulted and discussed online on EurActiv's blog platform, Blogactiv.euexternal . A dedicated section on greening the economyexternal has been put together especially for the EBS.source

My comment: Exactly my point. This is a window of new opportunities. Climate problems are not going to simply disappear (well, unless we don't disappear) so why not grasp the chance and simply use it to make more money.

Eight EU states oppose unbundling, table 'third way'

1 February 2008

France, Germany and six other member states have submitted proposals outlining a 'third option' for energy liberalisation. The full document, seen by EurActiv, argues that the Commission's proposals to unbundle vertically-integrated energy firms will not achieve their desired effect in terms of more grid investments and lower energy prices.

In its third liberalisation 'package' proposals unveiled on 19 September 2007, the Commission left member states with two options to complete the liberalisation of the EU gas and electricity sector:

  • Forcing big energy firms to sell off their power transmission and gas storage assets in order to keep these activities fully separate from energy production ('Ownership unbundling'), or;
  • allowing firms to maintain ownership of their transmission assets but leave their management to an Independent System Operator (ISO) responsible for taking investment and commercial decisions.

The Commission has already made it clear that the ISO option is a fallback, with 'ownership unbundling' the preferred option. Such a drastic measure is necessary, according to the Commission, to guarantee non-discriminatory access to energy grids for smaller firms wishing to compete in markets dominated by vertically-integrated energy giants, such as EDF in France and E.ON in Germany.

But Germany and France vehemently oppose the Commission's plans, and have been working to elaborate alternative proposals and garner the support of other member states in order to form an eventual blocking minority in the Council.

'Effective and efficient' unbundling

The set of amendments for a third option for energy market liberalisation are proposed in a letterPdf dated 29 January and signed by Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Latvia and the Slovak Republic.

The letter, sent to the Commission and to the Parliament's Industry (ITRE) Committee, features only one significant change compared to an earlier draft (see EurActiv 29/01/08)

Instead of suggesting that national regulatory authorities could "oblige" Transmission System Operators (TSOs) to carry out grid and infrastructure upgrades, the new text proposes that regulators can "request" TSOs to invest "by all legal means".

Beyond this change, the proposals put forward essentially the same message: that fair competition can be achieved without full ownership unbundling or third-party (ISO) oversight by ensuring a number of safeguards concerning the independence, management and investment decisions of TSOs.

ISO not a 'genuine alternative'

The status of TSOs are at the heart of the disagreement between the eight member states and the Commission over how large, vertically-integrated energy firms should be treated during the further liberalisation of EU electricity and gas markets.

Obliging energy-producing firms to give up their transmission assets is "not compatible with constitutional law and with the free movement of capital", according to the letter, which argues that "no correlation can be found between the implementation of [ownership unbundling] and the levels of prices and investments which are actually determined by many other factors".

However, the Commission insists that energy firms cannot, in an environment of effective and fair competition, simultaneously control the means of energy production and transmission.

In the absence of full ownership unbundling, the EU executive argues that the ISO option is the minimum level of separation necessary to ensure investment and access to grids for competitors and prevent conflicts of interest.

But Germany and France, who are "deeply concerned by the negative social consequences" of unbundling, argue that the ISO option is a kind of ownership unbundling and "cannot therefore be presented as a genuine alternative". source

My comment: Mmm, reading more about the history of EU, this ISO thing reminds me of the very beginning of EU-the cartel that united France and Germany. Well, why not. Though here the goal is not uniting but hurting Russia, maybe the outcome will be surprising. Because it doesn't simply hurt big companies, but also local interests. Could it be a transition to global interests?

IEA refutes 'peak oil', points to lack of investment

1 February 2008

Insufficient investment, political instability and blocked access to key oil and gas reserves have distorted the global fossil fuel market and driven up prices, according to the International Energy Agency, which has downplayed concerns about imminent oil shortages.

For many oil companies, buying oil on increasingly volatile and expensive global crude markets is less risky than investing in new extraction facilities, the International Energy Agency's (IEA) William Ramsay said on 31 January in Brussels.

The comments were made during a conferenceexternal on the EU's external energy relations organised by the Institut français des relations internationales (IFRIexternal ).

During his presentationPdf external , Ramsay noted that the majority of the world's key oil and gas reserves are located in places either largely off-limits to investors - Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, for instance - or in places that are plagued by political instability and even violent conflict, such as Iraq or the Caspian Sea region.

As a result, the crucial supply-side investments and reserve explorations needed to respond to steadily rising global demand for oil and gas are not being made, causing disruptions in the market and leading to higher prices, he said.

Proponents of the 'peak oil' theory, however, argue that the world's oil supplies may simply be running out and that further explorations and supply-side investments can do little to correct this situation (see our LinksDossier).

EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs reflected these concerns during a 14 January speech before the Swiss Energy Congress, arguing that the coming supply crunch should inspire the EU to become less dependent on fossil fuels for its energy needs (EurActiv 16/01/08).

Ramsay also criticised Russia's state-owned energy giant Gazprom for investing more into the acquisition of 'downstream' demand-side infrastructure in order to expand its client base rather than investing in 'upstream' capacity, notably the development of new gas fields.

Gas output from the key western Siberian gas fields being exploited by Gazprom is steadily declining, leading to the likelihood of higher gas prices for consumers if new fields are not developed, Ramsay said.

But a Russian member of the audience argued that Gazprom is behaving no differently to most large, vertically-integrated EU energy firms, which prefer expanding their customer base to investing in expensive new supply capacity.source

My comment: What about Iran?

MEPs seek tougher standards and higher taxes for fuels

30 January 2008

Stricter emission limits for transport fuels could be in force by early 2009, according to Parliament's environment committee. Meanwhile, Commission plans to raise minimum taxes on petrol and diesel in order to stamp out 'fuel tourism' won the backing of MEPs but are likely to face stiffer resistance from member states.

The European Parliament and member states are getting closer to clinching an agreement on changes to EU-wide specifications for petrol, diesel and gas-oil aimed at protecting human health and the environment, Socialist MEP Dorette Corbey said during a debate in Parliament's Environment Committee on 29 January.

"It looks like Council is moving to our direction," she said, garnering support from fellow MEPs to initiate negotiations with the Council on a first-reading deal amending the existing Fuel Quality Directive. According to Corbey, the Slovenian Presidency should decide on 5 February whether to accept the offer.

One of the main issues at stake is whether binding "sustainability criteria" should be included in the Directive, which notably aims to promote increased use of biofuels by requiring all fuel suppliers to cut greenhouse gas emissions produced by their fuels throughout their life-cycle by 10% between 2011 and 2020.

Such criteria are also being proposed in a draft directive on renewables, presented by the Commission on 23 January, but Corbey has argued that those criteria are unlikely to be in place sufficiently early to prevent fuel makers from investing in environmentally harmful biofuels, blamed for provoking food price hikes, deforestation and water shortages.

Her report further defends stronger standards than those proposed by the Commission, demanding that biofuels deliver life-cycle CO2 savings of at least 50% compared to fossil fuels - rather than the 35% suggested in the renewables directive - in order for them to count towards the EU's target of raising the share of biofuels in transport from current levels of around 2% to 10% by 2020.

In a parallel vote in the Economic and Monetary affairs committee, MEPs gave their backing to Commission plans to raise minimum taxes on diesel to the same level as those applied to petrol (EurActiv 14/03/07). The committee explained: "Since diesel and petrol have similar impacts, especially from the point of view of CO2 emissions, there is no environmental reason for the two minimum rates to differ." The measure also aims to put an end to "fuel tourism" across Europe, whereby truck drivers and coaches drive extra miles to fill up their tanks in the cheapest countries, causing extra pollution.

MEPs also suggested that countries with the highest tax rates should be prevented from increasing their taxes further until 2015 in order to accommodate recent rises in fuel price. Setting a maximum tax rate is a key demand from the road transport industry, which says no convergence in tax rates will be achieved otherwise.

"The Commission proposal has all the disadvantages of raising costs for transport operators, businesses and consumers but none of the advantages that would come from eliminating distortions of competition. Nor will it have any effect on the environment," stressed the head of EU fiscal affairs at the International Road Transport Union (IRU), Damian Viccars, who believes the "tank tourism" phenomenon is being "greatly exaggerated".

As usual with taxation matters, Parliament's role is purely consultative and member states will have to thrash out the details of the plan among themselves, with countries with low tax levels like Luxembourg and the central and eastern member states likely to put up a fight. source

My comment: If it's purely consultative, then why bothering discussing it at all.

EU falters on energy-savings objective

30 January 2008

The European Commission has issued a first, grim assessment of energy-savings plans submitted by member states last year, pointing to a lack of political commitment to reduce energy consumption at national level. But Brussels itself is being criticised for dropping the issue in favour of policies with a higher political profile.

A directive on energy end-use efficiency and energy services, adopted in late 2005, requires member states to draw up national action plans to achieve annual energy savings of 1% in the energy services sector (retail, supply and distribution of gas, urban heating and transport fuels).

The aim of the directive was to achieve an overall 9% reduction in energy consumption by 2016, with 30 June 2007 identified as the deadline for member states to submit their first national action plans to the Commission.

The targets, however, were made indicative only, meaning that they cannot be legally enforced upon EU countries.

A separate objective was agreed later on to slash the EU's overall energy consumption by 20% by 2020. The objective was the centrepiece of the Commission's energy efficiency action plan, endorsed in spring 2007 by EU leaders in Brussels. It was, however, also made non-binding on member states.

The Commission's downbeat review came as part of a package of proposals put forward last week to deliver on the EU's objective to slash emissions of greenhouse-gases (GHG) by 20% by 2020 (EurActiv 24/01/08).

According to the Commission, "the plans essentially represent a practical demonstration of the commitment of member states to energy efficiency".

But with 17 plans assessed so far, Brussels says there is a gap between words and political action taken to meet the EU objective of cutting energy consumption by a fifth by 2020. "Although the Action Plans provide some encouragement, there appears to be a gap between the political commitment to energy efficiency and the proposals aimed at facing up to these challenges".

In October last year, the Commission launched infringement proceedings against 12 member states for failing to deliver their action plans. France and Latvia face separate legal action over their failure to introduce legislation on buildings efficiency (EurActiv 18/10/07).

However, some are suggesting that the Commission itself has been placing too little attention on the 20% energy savings target because it is not legally enforceable. Indeed, the energy and climate package last week was dominated by targets on GHG emissions and renewable energies which member states agreed to make legally-binding objectives.

"The 20% energy efficiency target has somehow been dropped," commented one industry source with knowledge of the Commission's internal arrangements. source

My comment:Mmm, no comment, really, I said it so many time. Words are all we hear, but nothing happens. Then how do they expect anything to work? I'm disappointed big time.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ecology in January,2008

Little bit late, but there are so many things to read and publish. So in this edition:
For more, read below. My comment are after the articles as usual.

Report: EU 2010 renewables target 'out of reach'

8 February 2008

The EU will not achieve a 12% share of renewables in its overall energy mix by 2010, despite 'remarkable' performance by Germany, according to a report by eurObserv'ER, the French observatory of renewable energies.

"In spite of 2006 being a good year" in terms of increased renewables in primary energy consumption, "it's certain today that the targeted 12% threshold is not going to be reached." says the French 'Observatoire des énergies renouvelables' (eurObserv'ERexternal ).

Its 2007 State of Renewable Energies in Europe reportPdf external notes considerable growth in the biofuels, biomass and wind sectors, but laments that "progress and advances are too small to be able to fill the existing gap over the four years [from 2006] to come".

The report also regrets that this limited progress was "not accompanied by any real effort to conserve energy" in the EU, with electricity production from renewable sources being somewhat stagnant.

"Since the beginning of the 21st century, the share of renewable energies in electricity production has been fluctuating between 13% and 15% without having begun a clear-cut trend towards a sustainable increase," the report says.

The EU's target for electricity production from renewables is 21% for 2010. Both the 21% target and the 12% overall target are non-binding, but are set to be replaced by a binding target of 20% renewables by 2020 as part of a new directive on renewable energies proposed on 23 January (see EurActiv 24/01/08).

Despite the overall slow progress, Germany is singled out for praise in the report. The country accounts for "43% of the advance recorded in 2006 for all the members of the European Union," it says.

The EU's proposed 2020 target of 20% renewables in the bloc's energy mix is "not only realistic but above all an act of responsibility," says eurObserv'ER. source

My comment: What I found important in this report is that part of the problem is that EU are not improving its energy efficiency. I simply can't understand what is the reason as for me this is the first logical thing to do. I hope more effort goes to improving energy efficiency as this is extremely important, otherwise we're simply changing one source for other, but the over all emissions will be the same.

Study suggests pesticides 'crucial' for EU food supply

6 February 2008

Overly stringent EU rules on pesticides will lead to a decline in European agricultural self-sufficiency resulting in ever-increasing food prices and job losses in the agri-food sector, warns a recent industry-funded study. The findings were immediately rejected by environmental activists, who derided the study as "professional scaremongering" by "lobbyists behaving like a posse of corporate cowboys."

In July 2006, the Commission proposed a new regulationPdf external to tighten pesticide usage and authorisation rules in Europe, as public concerns are growing over the health and environmental impact of so-called plant protection products. EU lawmakers are voting on the proposed regulation separately from a related EU strategy and draft framework directivePdf external on "the sustainable use of pesticides", which was voted upon by the Council in December last year (EurActiv 19/12/07).

Whereas environmental and health NGOs have welcomed the initiative, farmers and pesticide producers fear the proposed stricter authorisation rules will remove harmless substances from the market and hamper their business with increased bureaucracy.

In its first reading on the package, in October 2007, the European Parliament voted to expand the scope of substances banned from use in EU pesticides production (EurActiv 24/10/07).

A recent industry-commissioned study argues that reduced availability of so-called plant protection products "could lead to a decline in overall European agricultural productivity" and will hamper the food industry's ability to produce "safe, high-quality, affordable food for European consumers." As a result, adds the study, Europe would see its already declining levels of self-sufficiency in primary agricultural materials worsen in future.

The study predicts that the proposed EU measures will have a serious impact on farming and consumers in the form of:

  • Drastic reductions in yields: Yields of wheat, potatoes, cereals and wine grapes could be reduced by 29%, 33%, 20% and 10% respectively by 2020;
  • higher prices and decreased availability of fresh fruits and vegetables with 30-40% of locally produced food at risk, and;
  • increased EU food imports from countries with lower quality standards than Europe and where, eventually, the same pesticides will still be allowed.

According to Syngenta, a global leader in agri-business, "the challenge before us in the EU is to create a proportionate balance between hazard and risk in the assessment of plant protection products, which are essential tools for farmers to use in the sustainable production of high-quality food in Europe". "If we deny farmers these tools by failing to find such a balance, we run the risk of outsourcing our food supply beyond the EU's borders, where quality and sustainability standards may not be as stringent. This could result in unnecessarily high food prices for Europe's consumers and threaten jobs in the agri-food industry," the company warns.

Elliott Cannell, Europe co-ordinator at the Pesticides Action Network, an environmental group, derided the study as "professional scaremongering", saying European politicians were being bombarded with "bad science and misinformation".

The Italian research institute that conducted the study, Nomisma, said that the study "was independently conducted, based on various scientific references and studies coupled with more than 25 years of experience in the field of agriculture." The institute invites all interested parties to read the report and draw their own conclusions on the basis of the data and information presented in the study.source

My comment:Well, it's obvious that producers will argue with any regulation that could decrease their earning. But I liked the point that we should find the balance between acceptable hazard and hurting the industry. Just I'd rather leave that balance not to industry itself, but to health and environmental organisations(backed up with scientific proofs) as we know business tends to maximize its income on the back of anything on the way.

London launches world's largest 'low-emission zone'

4 February 2008

Trucks driving around the UK capital will be fined up to £200 per day if they are found to be over EU pollution standards in an attempt to improve the city's poor air quality. The initiative will be closely watched in Brussels as the Commission is currently considering action to 'green' transport in Europe's cities.

The scheme, which begins on 4 February 2008 and will run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, will initially apply only to large diesel trucks weighing over 12 tonnes.

Cameras around the zone will check their number plates against a database of vehicles registered as meeting the EU's 'Euro' limits on emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) – two pollutants found in exhaust fumes that are blamed for serious health and environmental problems.

Those exceeding the limits will be fined a daily fee of £200 and risk a further £1,000 fine if they fail to pay up. Truck-drivers from abroad also risk paying the fine unless they register their vehicle in advance and it meets the required standards.

The scheme will be extended to cover buses and coaches in July and to large vans and minibuses in October 2010.

Transport for London (TfL), which is implementing the £49 million project, says it will improve quality of life for Londoners and reduce the number of people suffering from asthma, cardio-vascular disease and other health conditions, cutting healthcare bills by £250 million.

"Levels of particulate matter in many parts of London are way over EU standards […] Air quality is the worst in Britain and among the worst in Europe […] The Mayor has a legal obligation to take steps towards meeting national and European Union air quality objectives which are designed to protect human health," explained the body.

70 towns and cities in eight European countries including Norway, the Netherlands and Germany already have or are planning low emission zones. But London's scheme, covering a 1,577-square kilometre zone inhabited by 7.5 million people, will be "the largest in the world by a significant margin", according to TfL.

The implementation will be closely followed at EU level as the Commission is preparing a package of measures aimed at greening transport in Europe's cities (EurActiv 26/09/07). One measure under consideration is the introduction of harmonised rules on urban green zones that would enable local authorities across Europe to implement similar schemes to the one in London, while preventing a fragmented patchwork of different zones and standards.source
My comment: Cool! So cool :) Me likes...

Fisheries: Parliament calls for discard ban

1 February 2008

Beam trawl and cod fisheries should be selected as pilot projects for the elimination of discards with a view to extending the scheme across the entire EU fishing sector, recommends a report adopted yesterday (31 January) in the European Parliament.

Adopted during the Brussels plenary session, the report welcomes the Commission's attempts to address the issue "with a view to finally shifting the emphasis of the Common Fisheries Policy so that the practice of discarding is ultimately eliminated."

Fishermen 'discard' healthy fish by dumping them back into the ocean in order to avoid prosecution under EU rules on under-sized or 'out of quota' fish. Discards create imbalances in ocean ecosystems and are believed to be a major cause of stock depletion.

The report - drafted by Swedish MEP Carl Schlyter (Greens/EFA) - estimates that discarding by fishermen results in over a million healthy fish being thrown back into European waters each year, constituting a "serious ecological and economic problem". Discard estimates worldwide amount to a quarter of all fish caught, it adds.

The report urges the Commission and national authorities to introduce specific incentives for the industry to improve its fishing practices, including:

  • Allowing more days at sea or increasing the permitted fishing time for vessels equipped with selective gear;
  • providing preferential access for vessels using selective gear to areas that would be closed to those without it, and;
  • allowing vessels with selective gear to fish during times when others are not allowed.

The report proposes reducing the overall fishing effort because over-fishing leads to depleted stocks, which in turn contain under-sized fish. "Reduced fishing pressure would bring significant benefits for the industry by allowing depleted stocks to recover and become more productive as well as saving time and effort in sorting the catch", it states.

Moreover, Parliament is calling for a total ban on discards to be implemented "after other types of negative incentives have been tried, including timed series of increases in mesh sizes and closed areas."source

My comment: Throwing back the healthy fish is absolutely disgusting! I hope they find a way to fight such irresponsible behaviour.

EU launches 'Clean Sky' research project for low-carbon aircraft

6 February 2008

European Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik yesterday launched a seven-year, €1.6 billion public-private partnership aimed at helping the aviation industry to develop environmentally friendly technology.

Through the 'Clean Sky' Joint-Technology Initiative launched in Brussels on 5 February, industry hopes to develop technology that will allow aircraft noise to be cut by half and emissions of CO2 and NOx to be slashed by 50% and 80% respectively by 2020.

The initiative comes as the EU is attempting to stem rising air pollution from the rapidly growing aviation sector. It is part of a three-pillar approach, which features a controversial proposal to include airlines in the EU's carbon emissions cap-and-trade system (see LinksDossier on Aviation & ETS).

It is one of six planned joint-technology initiatives (JTIs) created by the Commission in order to avoid fragmentation of research efforts and boost large-scale and long-term investment in strategic research fields (EurActiv 7/03/07).

So far, the 'Clean Sky' initiative incorporates 54 industries, 15 research centres and 17 universities across 16 countries.

It will be financed equally by EU money under the 7th Research Framework Programme and industry funds, and will focus on six specific projects, including the design of greener engines, adapting wing technologies to make new aircraft more energy efficient and developing lighter materials.

The EU hopes that this will help European aircraft manufacturers compete in the race to build the world's cleanest planes. "Aeronautics' future expansion relies on its ability to reduce its environmental impact. Vast resources are needed and neither the EU, nor industry, nor scientists could achieve this on their own," said Potočnik, welcoming the launch of the very first JTI as the other five initiatives continue to suffer from serious delays (EurActiv 23/11/07).

While pointing out that aviation only contributes 2-3% of total EU CO2 emissions, Åke Svensson, president of the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD), nevertheless stressed: "We recognise that this carbon footprint is not acceptable." However, he added: "We see industry not as being part of the problem but rather the solution."

Marc Ventre, chairman of the Clean Sky Provisional Executive Committee (PEC) said he expects new technologies to be tested and validated by 2015, allowing the next generation of cleaner and quieter aircraft to begin entering into service from then on.

Airlines have welcomed the initiative but, at the same time, have urged EU governments to focus more on the third pillar of Europe's strategy to limit the environmental impact of aviation – the creation of a 'Single European Sky'. The Association of European Airlines claims the latter initiative could cut carbon-dioxide output by around 12% by improving infrastructure and operational inefficiencies. source

My comment:Well, that's a good idea, we can't just whip companies, we have to help them occasionally, especially when it comes to something that essential and still difficult. But I figure the greatest problem are not the money, but the work that now have to be done. And whether it would be done or we're continue scratching our heads and claiming there's nothing that could be done.

Automotive forum showcases alternative measures to cut CO2

4 February 2008

If cars are to meet EU CO2 reduction targets while remaining affordable for consumers, European legislators must start considering areas other than engine technology, such as fuel-efficient tyres, alternative fuels or eco-driving, said representatives of the automotive sector and fuel industry at a forum in January.

The 2008 European Automotive Forumexternal (EAF), organised on 23 January by the Belgian Automobile Federation (Febiac) and the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA), lined up a series of workshops with topics ranging from "the complexity of car engineering" to "changing the consumer mindset" and "better roads: a denied source of emission reduction," where Norwegian consultancy Sintef presented a study on how improved road infrastructure can reduce vehicle emissions (EurActiv 11/04/07).

While the aim was clearly to raise the profile of "complementary car technologies", which the European Commission currently foresees contributing to no more than a 10g/km emissions reduction, a number of interesting alternative CO2 reduction options were presented.

Patrick Ozoux, the director of Michelin's EU office, presented a study revealing that European cars could emit up to 7g/km less just by switching to better tyres. "One out of five tanks is only for the tyres," he stated, highlighting the important contribution tyres can make to fuel consumption.

Jan De Strooper, managing director of the Belgian company DrivOlution, presented his E ecodriving projectexternal – a practical experience over eight months during which changes in fuel the consumption of 150 drivers were monitored after they had received five hours of eco-driving training.

According to him, participants in the programme consumed on average 7.5% less fuel, with half of them in fact achieving reductions of 10-18%, saving 6,275 litres of fuel over one million kilometres. This not only amounts to individual monetary savings of roughly €275 per year, but also to a reduction in CO2 emissions of around 8%, said De Strooper.

The figure contrasts with that put forward by ACEA – €3,600, which is the additional cost per car that it claims would be incurred under the proposed EU regulation.

However, green groups have accused industry of "attempting to shirk off its responsibilities by calling for an 'integrated approach'". MEP Chris Davies, Parliament's rapporteur on cars and CO2, has also rejected the idea of putting more focus on complementary measures in EU legislation, saying: "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it". source

My comment: I second the greens, little bit less conversation and more action is needed.

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