EU environment action programme "a failure"

Poor integration and implementation block path to sustainability, says Commission

The EU's action programme to improve environmental quality and achieve sustainable development has largely failed, according to a review of the seven-year plan carried out by the European Commission. Though it endorses the general approach taken to solve the EU's environmental problems, the assessment concludes that further progress is unlikely without greater efforts to integrate environment into other areas of policymaking and better implementation of existing policies.

The EU's fifth environmental action programme (5EAP) was developed in the wake of the 1992 earth conference in Rio de Janeiro as the bloc's "first commitment to sustainable development." However, the assessment of the programme says that "progress towards sustainability has clearly been limited and the fifth programme has not achieved its objectives." The 5EAP has failed, says the report, because "commitment by other sectors and by member states to the programme is partial."

Presenting the assessment yesterday, EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström confirmed that "the picture which emerges is... overall not that rosy." "The main problem is that we have not achieved much progress in changing economic and societal trends," she said.

The assessment shows that successes have been made in reducing acidification, air pollution and the release of ozone depleting substances. However, Ms Wallström singled out climate change as the most salient example of EU failure to tackle big environmental problems. The report states bluntly that the EU will not meet its Kyoto commitments to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases, adding that EU schemes supporting renewable energy and energy efficiency have "had little impact." Member states have "yet to present convincing plans" to reduce emissions, it says.

Reiterating her frustration that energy ministers had failed to introduce an EU-wide energy tax framework, Ms Wallström said that there was now an urgent need for greater integration of environment into sectoral policymaking. "Environmental policy making alone cannot ensure environmental protection," she said. The assessment was accompanied by an initial review of attempts at integration so far (ENDS Daily 24 November).

Hinting that Ms Wallström may not produce as many new legislative proposals as did her predecessor Ritt Bjerregaard, the report also stresses the importance of full implementation of existing EU environmental laws. "The first step for improving the environment on the ground is the full implementation of what has been adopted already," it says.

Despite its downbeat assessment of the programme, the report says its approach - concentrating on five key needs - is valid and should not change in a sixth action programme due to be drawn up by the Commission next year. Ms Wallström said she wanted the document to be "short, strategic and political" as well as comprehensible to the public. The document should form the environmental pillar of an EU-wide programme for sustainable development which includes defined targets, timetables and indicators, she said. Heads of state will consider the idea at a summit in Helsinki next month.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111. References: See the Global Assessment and related background information.

Please sign in to access this article. To subscribe, view our subscription options, or take out a free trial.

Please enter your details

Forgotten password?

Having trouble signing in?

Contact Customer Support at
or call 020 8267 8120

Not a subscriber?

Take a free trial now to discover the critical insights and updates our coverage offers subscribers.