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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ecology in EU, july, 2008

In this edition:
  1. EU's 'green products' policy fails to convince
  2. MEPs suggest leniency on air pollution caps for trucks
  3. EU OKs contested Slovak nuclear project amid new leaks

EU's 'green products' policy fails to convince

17 July 2008

The Commission has adopted long-awaited proposals to expand the scope of existing 'eco' design and labelling requirements to all products that impact on energy consumption. But most EU stakeholders are not overly enthusiastic about the plans.

The mainstay of current EU efforts to reduce the environmental impact of consumer goods is the 2005 Eco-design requirements for energy-using products (EuP) Directive, which sets out requirements on energy use for popular products that consume energy, such as hairdryers, computers, fridges or office equipment (EurActiv LinksDossier).

The Commission's strategy, presented in Brussels on 16 July by EU Industry Commissioner Günther Verheugen and EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, is based on a combination of voluntary and binding measures designed to mitigate the energy use and environmental impact of products.

Under the draft plans, products like windows and shower heads are to fall under the scope of existing rules for energy-using items as set out by the EuP Directive. They will be banned from the EU market if they do not meet certain standards related to energy consumption.

This represents a step-down from earlier plans in which the Commission was contemplating expanding the scheme to a wider range of consumer goods, like footwear and furniture (EurActiv 28/04/08).

In an apparent effort to strike a balance between regulatory and market-based instruments, industry is being urged to develop benchmarks and voluntary standards for the various products that would be affected by the plans. The Commission said it would step in and regulate specific standards in cases where industry initiatives are deemed insufficient.

The package of measures, contained in 'action plans' on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) and on a Sustainable Industrial Policy (SIP), includes:

  • A proposal to revise and expand the scope of the EuP Directive to all energy-related products;
  • A widened scope for the use of labels that detail the energy use or impact of products;
  • New public procurement rules to favour the uptake of 'green' products;
  • A revision and expansion of the EU's Ecolabel or flower scheme to include, among others, food and drink products, and;
  • A revision of the voluntary eco-management and audit scheme (EMASexternal ).

The products that will be affected by the measures still need to be determined and will be the subject of negotiation between Council and Parliament. Certain products will also require 'priority action' due to their greater impact on energy use, but, again, the precise list of such goods still needs to be determined, according to the Commission.

Once specificied, the minimum requirements will be set either by industry or by the special committees of EU experts according to the exisiting implementing measures set out in the EuP Directive. source

My comment: Everything sounds nice to me, only I can't quite understand how could they live to the industry to make the minimum requirements. I mean, they should obey it, not create it. There is a clear confrontation of interests here and I hope this gets revised or at least to the special committees. Also, I'd like to state that I like such labelling system and I don't see why there are so many problems applying it. Some people still wouldn't care what they buy just as now, but it that would be a good way for energy-efficient/from all sides/ products to obtain a new market niche. I think that's good.

MEPs suggest leniency on air pollution caps for trucks

17 July 2008

The European Parliament's Environment Committee has voted in favour of slightly watering down limits on nitrogen oxide emissions from trucks and buses, saying too tough a target would simply make it harder for them to cut their CO2 emissions.

The proposed regulation for so-called 'Euro VI' standards for exhaust emissions from heavy vehicles should set a cap for nitrogen oxide (NOx) at 500 mg/kWh, rather than at 400mg/kWh as initially suggested by the Commission, voted MEPs on 15 July. This would represent a 75% reduction compared to the Euro V standards due to enter into force in 2009, rather than an 80% cut.

MEPs also agreed with the Commission that emissions of particularly harmful particulate matter should be limted to 10 mg/kWh, rejecting German Socialist rapporteur Matthias Groote's suggestion that this should be cut to 5 mg/kWh. Groote's proposal would indeed have required all new heavy vehicles to be fitted with expensive closed particle filters.

What's more, according to MEPs, any more stringent targets would be counterproductive as they would probably lead to an increase in CO2 emissions – contradicting Europe's goal of cutting CO2 emissions by at least 20% before 2020 and becoming a "low-carbon economy" (see LinksDossier on energy & climate change package). They say the compromise will lead to a "win-win solution" on both air pollutants and greenhouse gases.

MEPs also said new Euro VI standards should come into effect from the start of 2014 – nine months earlier than the Commission is proposing. This would mean they would be applied in parallel to 'Euro 5 and Euro 6' standards for passenger cars, which are due to enter into force in 2009 and 2014 respectively (see our LinksDossier on Euro 5 emissions for cars).

The Euro standards are part of a broader strategy on clean air, which aims to reduce illnesses and cut the number of premature deaths related to pollutant emissions from 370,000 a year in 2000 to 320,000 a year in 2020. This would also save the EU at least €42 billion per year in health costs, according to the Commission (see our LinksDossier on the EU's clean air strategy). source

My comment: Well, it's not like we didn't expect that. But to be honest, better less than nothing. And I think that really an over-doing in the numbers could be counter-productive. The key moment is to get the most out of the industry. As well I think we should set some priorities. For me, particularly harmful matter goes before CO2 emissions since CO2 although a greenhouse gas, is basically unharmful and natural. That's why I'm kind of disappointed they went for the higher level of harmful substances. But again better little than nothing.

EU OKs contested Slovak nuclear project amid new leaks

18 July 2008

Despite recent nuclear scares in Slovenia and France, the European Commission this week gave the go-ahead for the two remaining reactors to be completed at the controversial Mochovce nuclear plant in Slovakia. The decision was widely condemned by environmental group Greenpeace.

Slovakia foresees a key role for nuclear energy in its future energy supply. But under the terms of its EU accession treaty, the country must phase out production at two of the remaining four reactors at its older Jaslovské Bohunice site.

To compensate, Slovakia is keen to complete construction at a newer site, Mochovce, by investing a further €1.6bn in the plant. However, the construction of the plant began under the communist regime in 1986 according to an outdated Russian design first developed in the 1970s.

Despite the controversy surrounding nuclear power, the EU executive has endorsed it as a key component of its future energy mix, with Commission President José Manuel Barroso highlighting its role as a driver of a "third industrial revolution" that could lead Europe into a "low carbon age" (EurActiv 03/10/07). But the technology continues to provoke heated debate among EU stakeholders and citizens, particularly regarding financing, safety and waste management (EurActiv 04/07/08).

Under the terms of the Euratom Treaty, EU countries must submit all new nuclear development proposals to the Commission, which then issues its opinion.

Strict safety measures

Giving the project the green light on 15 July, the EU executive concluded that construction of reactors three and four at Mochovce – suspended in the 1990s due to lack of finances – can continue provided that certain safety recommendations are adhered to.

The Commission nevertheless warned that the reactors in use at Mochovce do not feature the "full containment structures" common to recent, ongoing or planned construction of nuclear power plants elsewhere in Europe. Critics of the site have long said that it fails to satisfy modern safety requirements.

The EU executive called for "additional features, functional capabilities and management strategies" to be developed to bring the design into line with existing best practice. Specifically, it recommended that steps be taken to ensure the reactors could withstand "a potential deterministic impact from an external source", such as light aircraft.

Moreover, the Commission stressed the need for Slovakia to diversify Mochovce's fuel supply - expressing concern that the site relies too heavily on Russia as a nuclear fuel source – and ensure decommissioning funds are managed correctly. source

My comment: Well, obviously I'm pro nuclear energy, so I think it's great we see some movement in here. However I'm little concerned by 2 things. First are the critics toward the site's safety-an issue that clearly shouldn't stand out. Of course, it's hard to say whether this estimation was political or actual, but if it is actual, then Slovakia definitely has to do something about it. The second issue is quite obvious-I can't like the power the anti-Russian voices has. I mean, one technology either passes the requirements or doesn't and its origin is of no concern for its safety. That's why for me this attitude is majorly bad. I see the same for our plant in Belene. For me, this is focussing on the wrong issue. It's important to make the plant as safe as possible and as cheap as possible obviously. The political issues should be out of the safety ones. I can't but hate politisation of technical issues-something either passes the requierments or not. That's it and all the words in the world won't change it.

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