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Friday, June 6, 2008

Environment in Europe, part 2, month 4

In today's edition:
  • EU adopts stricter air quality rules
  • Council acts to deter illegal fishing
  • REACH: EU firms urged to register chemicals
  • EU to fund Mediterranean 'de-pollution'
  • ICT sector to monitor its own CO2 emissions
  • MEPs vote to outlaw green crimes
My comments are rather scarce on this one. From one side, I'm totally happy with every legislation that is voted and already alive. From the other side, it is not enough. In this post, you can see lots of good intention and the road that is still leading to hell. Because all those measures are incomplete, late or simply non-obligatory. Which mean, people will rather not obey them. Well, i'm glad at least the air control passed. This was really important, because it is very dangerous.
I have few thoughts on the penalizing environmental pollution. It seems like the problem is that EU isn't supposed to be interfering with local laws. Which is kind of confusing, as a country is free to not penalize the pollution and thus to go against EU policy. On my opinion, this is one of the first challenges to the EU. Whether it will sustain its power and start defining the distinction between federal and member state laws-like in USA or it will just cede control to the local governments, thus loosing the little progress it has made. I'm not particularly big fan of USA, but I do think some crimes should be made federal with a boundaries of the punishment set by EU and the countries free to put in their law whatever limit they like. Like for example the murder is capital offense in every country and in the EU as a whole. Although every member-state has its own years of jail, intentional murder is set to be served in jail. And there is no interference from the EU in that. This way, if polluting is capital offense and the EU sets its severity, the countries will be free to punish it in accordance to their laws. Like if pollution is measured by the number of lives it has endangered or damaged, it could be linked to sever beating or attempt for murder and get the same number of years as the former, in accordance to the number of people affected and the regional law. Even when there is no immediate danger for people, if it's hurting the national Natural reserve, there still can be an example-like setting the forests in fire will be punished (i know there is a good english word for that, I just can't remember it right now)

EU adopts stricter air quality rules

15 April 2008

The EU Council of Ministers has endorsed a new directive setting binding EU-wide limits for fine particle emissions, which cause respiratory diseases thought to reduce European life expectancy by up to three years.

According to the Commission, 370,000 people in Europe die prematurely every year from diseases linked to air pollution - 350,000 of them due to atmospheric microparticles or dust of a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres known as Particulate Matter (PM2.5), which originates from transport (cars, ships and planes), agriculture and small industrial plants.

The Commission's proposed Air Quality Directive seeks to group five existing pieces of legislation into one and focuses on reducing emissions of key airborne pollutants, in particular the fine dust particles that are blamed for a range of health problems.

After clashing over pollution limits, the Council and the Parliament reached agreement on the dossier and Parliament voted in favour of the law on 11 December 2007 (see EurActiv 12/12/07).

The new EU air quality directivePdf external was approved on 14 April 2008, following an agreement reached by the Council and the Parliament at the end of 2007. The directive sets EU-wide limits on fine particle emissions (PM2.5) for the first time ever.

These microscopic particles, emitted mainly by cars and trucks, pose health risks due to their ability to pass unfiltered through the nose and mouth, penetrating deep into human lungs and bloodstreams, where they can cause potentially fatal respiratory and/or pulmonary diseases.

The directive obliges member states to reduce exposure to PM2.5 in urban areas by an average of 20% by 2020 based on 2010 levels, bringing the exposure levels below 20 micrograms/m3 by 2015. In other areas, the member states will need to respect the PM2.5 limit value set at 25 micrograms/m3 by as early as 2010 if possible - and at the latest by 2015.

In a statementPdf external annexed to the directive, the Commission announces a number of new legislative proposals it plans to put forward in 2008 for ever improved air quality. These include further reduction of the member states' permitted national emissions of key pollutants, reduction of emissions asociated with refuelling of petrol cars at service stations, and addressing the sulphur content of fuels, including marine fuels. source

My comment: Finally something positive! Way to go!

Council acts to deter illegal fishing

15 April 2008

EU agriculture and fisheries ministers have agreed on the outlines of a system to tackle illegal fishing, but questions remain on whether the rules should apply to Community vessels and how sanctions should be enforced.

The proposals are designed to combat what the Commission sees as the major motive behind illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, namely short-term profits.

First among the proposed measures is to monitor non-EU fishing vessels' access to EU ports.

With respect to the scope of the regulation, one of the main issues discussed was whether it would apply to Community vessels or only to non-EU vessels. The majority of ministers agreed that as Community vessels are already subjected to existing Community legislation, all that is needed is harmonisation of the existing measures.

There was also general agreement among member states on the severity of sanctions, which should act as a "strong deterrent" to would-be transgressors. However, there was some concern over the intrusion into national competences as well as how different national sanctions would be harmonised.

The Slovenian chairman of the Council, Minister Iztok Jarc, hoped the regulation would "set an example to the international community and prove that pirate fishing does not pay".

Ministers also agreed to simplify the EU's import and export certification system for fish products. The Commission has proposed giving EU market access to products certified by the importing or exporting state concerned. Some ministers suggested the system apply only to products at risk of IUU fishing, and most agreed it would be a good idea to integrate the system into national systems. Moderate estimates have put the value of IUU imports into the EU at €1.1 billion, according to the Commission.

On 11 April, the Commission also published a new Communication on measures to minimise the impacts of fishing on the marine environment. A key proposal is to reduce the overall level of fishing pressure thanks to improved fisheries management. Additional measures will include an action plan to protect sharks, due in 2008, and another to protect sea-birds in 2009. source

REACH: EU firms urged to register chemicals

14 April 2008

The European Commission has launched an early registration campaign for REACH amid concerns that many companies are unaware of the obligations facing them under the EU's new chemicals regime.

EU firms that make or import more than one tonne of chemical substances per year need to pre-register with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki between 1 June and 1 December 2008 or face interruptions to their business, the Commission said on 11 April.

As part of their pre-registration, companies need to provide ECHA with data on the health and safety impact of the substances. This data is then used by ECHA for the final registration and market authorisation of the substance. A transition period for final registration of between two and ten years applies to pre-registered substances.

Around 30,000 chemicals are affected by the registration requirement, a key part of the EU's controversial REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) regulation, which entered into force on 1 June 2007.

The drive applies in particular to new substances, as these will not be permitted on the market after 1 December unless they have been pre-registered. Thus firms that fail to pre-register new substances will not be permitted to carry on importing or making those substances until they have registered with the ECHA, an interruption that could last several months, according to the Commission.

So-called phase-in substances, existing substances that are subjected to the REACH regime only after a delayed phase-in period, also need to pre-register in order to qualify for specific extensions for final registration.

Brussels is concerned that not all firms, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) not directly involved in chemicals manufacturing or importing, understand the scope and implications of the new law, which applies to chemical substances used in a wide range of industrial process, consumer goods and beyond.

The EU executive is expecting over 180,000 registrations between June and December.

ECHA is expected to publish a database of information about registered substances as of 1 January 2009. The database will be publicly accessible and will contain information about individual substances but not about the companies that registered them.source

EU to fund Mediterranean 'de-pollution'

14 April 2008

Three months ahead of the launch of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's primed 'Union for the Mediterranean', the Commission has stepped on Paris's toes by presenting plans to finance pollution reduction in the Mediterranean Sea.

On 10 April, the Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) presented a study conducted in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme's Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP), identifying 131 "pollution hotspots" in Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, Morocco and the Palestinian Territories.

The study identifies 44 priority projects, worth roughly €2.1 billion, for potential financing under a new "Mediterranean Hot Spot Investment Programme" (MeHSIP). These include urban wastewater and solid waste projects, as well as ones targeting industrial emissions.

The initiative is being slated as an attempt by the Commission to mark its territory and show that Euro-Mediterranean cooperation is indeed advancing under the instruments already in place (like the Barcelona Process), before France takes over the EU's rotating Presidency on 1st July. Indeed, tackling pollution is one of the stated key priorities of Sarkozy's Union for the Mediterranean – a project the French President has already had to scale down considerably following strong opposition from Germany (EurActiv 13/12/07, 05/03/08).

But the Commission underlines that the initiative comes as part of its "Horizon 2020 Initiative", launched in 2005, and is by no means in competition with French plans.

EIB Vice-President Philippe de Fontaine Vive agreed: "The Hot Spot Investment Programme is an important starting point for a joint effort of international and bilateral financing institutions […] We are not cutting the ground from under the feet of the French. Quite the opposite, we are sowing the seeds of a better harvest."

According to the study, more than half of urban areas with a population of over 100,000 on the Mediterranean do not have waste water treatment plants and 60% of their waste water is directly discharged into the sea. "The decline of the Mediterranean threatens the health of the 143 million people living on its shore and jeopardises the long-term development of key economic sectors such as fishing and tourism," it finds.

The EU and Paris would have until the launch summit of 13 July to agree on a list of projects that could be carried out in the context of the Union for the Mediterranean. source

My comment: I can't figure whether this is an attempt to undermine the strength of the Mediterranean Union or a smart move from the side of France to work on its agenda with EU money. In any case, I agree the Mediterranean sea is in dire need of protection and depolution. I just don't like the politics behind it.

ICT sector to monitor its own CO2 emissions

10 April 2008

The ICT industry in Europe has committed to measuring the CO2 emissions generated by its products and services to cope with the new environmental targets endorsed by the EU.

The move comes with proposalsexternal from the industry to increase the use of energy-saving technologies and to shift consumers' behaviour from reliance on products based on scarce resources, such as paper, to reusable electronic alternatives, such as digital notebooks.

The potential economic gains of the switch-over for the ICT industry are enormous but, as recognised by the Commission, it would also generate overall environmental improvements of benefit for all.

The Commission is planning to endorse measures to increase the use of ICT against climate change. This could lead to compulsory public procurement standards, as announced by Commissioner Reding in February (see EurActiv 22/02/08).

At the same time, the Commission is also asking the ICT sector to "clean up its own house". The digital technology industry is responsible for 2% of global CO2 emissions (the same share as the airline industry), according to research published in April 2007 by Gartner, a leading IT research company.

ICT is not bound by any compulsory environmental measures at EU level, while the airline industry is being included in the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme (see our Links Dossier on Aviation and emissions trading).

However, the industry is currently continuing to shy away from any commitment to cut emissions produced by its products and services. The present engagement only goes as far as developing systems to monitor emissions more effectively. source

MEPs vote to outlaw green crimes

9 April 2008

The European Parliament's Legal Affairs committee has backed plans to criminalise acts that cause environmental damage in a move that could compel member states to press sanctions on offenders.

In a close vote on 8 April, 15 committee members voted in favour of considering acts which instigate environmental damage as crimes, while 11 voted against. There were two abstentions.

The list of punishable crimes would include unlawful emissions of substances into the air, soil or water in a way likely to cause "substantial damage" to the environment or "death or serious injury".

The vote follows a Commission proposal in February 2007 (EurActiv 08/02/07) calling for member states to act against offenders through imposing sanctions. The committee's report backs the idea that environmental damage should be considered a criminal offence. Member states which currently deal with such crimes under civil law should apply "effective, proportionate and dissuasive" verdicts on offenders, it states.

Possible punishments would range from one to ten years' imprisonment depending on the severity of the offence. In addition to sentences, fines ranging from 350,000 euros to 1,500,000 euros could be levied.

However, MEPs sided with member states in saying the directive must only apply to EU environmental legislation and not national legislation.

The move comes as a blow to the Commission, whose initial proposal was intended to cover the whole spectrum of environmental laws in Europe. But this was widely viewed as an attempt to interfere in member states' sovereignty in criminal law.

MEPs also adapted the original text to allow for an amendment made by the European Court of Justice, allowing the EU to implement criminal measures where it has competence, notably in the common transport and environment policies.

Member states are expected to reach a common position later this month, while a first-reading vote in the Parliament plenary is due in mid-May. source

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