EU drops plans to push up recycling rate to 70%. The back of an industrial estate in Romford, Essex. Photo: roadscum via Flickr.
Commission dumps eco-initiatives in 2015 work plan
16th December 2014
The European Commission has dropped measures to improve air quality and reduce waste from its work plan for 2015 - instead 'cutting red tape' and prioritizing 'jobs, growth, investment' at all costs.
This proposal is already nearly ten years overdue - we can't afford to wait another ten. Further delay will mean more people will die or be made seriously ill from heart attacks, strokes, cancer and asthma.
The European Commission today decided to delay vital action plans on tackling air pollution and using precious resources more carefully.
The changes are based on its Regulatory Fitness Programme, it said, "which seeks to cut red tape and remove regulatory burdens, contributing to an environment conducive to investment."
President Jean-Claude Juncker explained: "We are committed to driving change and to leading an EU that is bigger and more ambitious on big things, and smaller and more modest on small things."
And the environment, it seems, is one of the "small things" that can be shuffled off for another day - even though the proposed National Emissions Ceilings Directive (NEC Directive) would save an estimated 58,000 lives and €40 Billion per year.
Soon, a decade of delays - while people die
The air quality plans would return at a later date "as part of the legislative follow-up to the 2030 Energy and Climate Package", insisted the Commission.
But this is only adding delay to delay - the NEC Directive was originally expected in 2005 but then delayed because of the 2008 Climate and Energy Package, and did not appear until 2013. Now ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews fears a further delay of several years:
"It looks like Juncker has kicked this into the long grass. This proposal is already nearly ten years overdue - we can't afford to wait another ten. Further delay will mean more people will die or be made seriously ill from heart attacks, strokes, cancer and asthma.
"The UK government views environmental regulation as 'red tape' so has stood quietly by and let this happen. British MEPs of all political stripes have played a leading role in opposing Juncker's plans to scrap the proposal - it's time the government showed similar leadership."
Friends of the Earth Director Andy Atkins agrees: "These crucial plans should have been fast-tracked, not parked. Tens of thousands of people in Britain alone die prematurely each year from air pollution. Delaying the action that is desperately required will cost yet more lives."
Europe claims a proud history of protecting our health and environment, he added, "but recent decisions have put a huge dent in its green reputation."
Also dropped was a proposal to designate the heavily polluted Baltic Sea as a 'Nitrogen Oxide Emissions Control Area' on the grounds that "no foreseeeable agreement" would be reached.
Circular economy package - in a permanent loop?
Another major caualty is the 'Circular Economy Package' which would reduce waste by encouraging better design, re-use and recycling.
The Commission says that a "new, more ambitious proposal" on resource use would be submitted in 2015, while the driving rationale for its changes to the work programme is to focus all energies on "jobs, growth and investment".
However a letter from Ikea, Unilever, M&S, Kingfisher, and manufacturers' association EEF opposing the Commission's plans to ditch the package was published in the Daily Telegraph today.
The package, they wrote, "offers huge potential for job creation, resource security, environmental protection and economic growth in Britain and the rest of Europe and abandoning it would be short-sighted.
"There is a great deal of support for the package from many sectors, and the World Economic Forum has suggested that developing the circular economy would save $1 trillion a year."
According to the Impact Assessment of the Circular Economy Package, its full implentation - including an EU-wide increase in recycling rates to 70% - would create 580,000 new jobs.
Eleven member states plead to retain the package
The UK industrialists' letter urged UK ministers to "send a clear message to Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the Commission, that the programme must be retained to protect the continent's environment, economy and competitiveness in the long term."
But their voice was not heard in government. The Commission's decision was taken despite 11 member states urging it not to withdraw the proposal - but the UK was not among them. "The silence from the UK government has been deafening", says Atkins.
Finally UK environment minister Dan Rogerson said this morning that the government supports the NEC Directive on air quality - but believes amendments are needed to make the 2030 targets "realistic".
Oliver Tickell edits The Ecologist.
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