Draft sixth environmental programme emerges

EU Commission environment directorate sends proposed text for scrutiny by other departments

The European Commission's environment directorate has circulated to other Commission departments its first draft proposal for a sixth EU environmental action programme, to cover the period 2000-2009. The fifth programme, begun in 1992, was a "failure" according to a Commission review published last year. The Swedish presidency of the EU hopes a first reading of the new programme will be agreed by ministers in June (ENDS Daily 3 January).

The programme's aim is to "identify the environmental issues that have to be addressed if sustainable development is to come about." Broad hints as to its content and tenor were dropped last year by environment commissioner Margot Wallström and her staff (ENDS Daily 17 October 2000) (ENDS Daily 30 November 2000).

Four priority areas of action are proposed by Ms Wallström: climate change; nature and biodiversity; environment and health; and natural resource use and waste. For each the draft programme sets headline qualitative objectives, sometimes backed up by quantitative targets, and a list of proposed actions.

On climate change the document largely restates ideas and proposals from the EU's ongoing climate change programme; the quantitative target is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of between 20 and 40% by 2020 - just eight years later than the "due date" of the Kyoto protocol commitment binding the EU to reduce emissions by 8%.

Objectives for nature and biodiversity protection include "halting the loss of biodiversity," and "slowing down land-take by infrastructure and other development." Among measures proposed are the extension of the Seveso II directive on accident hazards to include pipelines and mining, the extension of the Natura 2000 network to include marine sites, and further development of forest certification schemes.

Under environment and health the aim is to achieve an environment where levels of man-made contaminants "do not give rise to significant impacts on, or risks to, human health. This wide-ranging chapter includes subsidiary goals for air, water and noise pollution, and floats the idea of creating an EU Environment-Health institute to determine priorities for research and review of existing standards. The draft programme also includes a host of proposed measures to reduce contamination by pesticides.

For chemicals policy the objective translates into a proposed model of regulation based strongly on hazard rather than risk, including an ambitious target of assessing all 30,000 substances currently in production by 2020. But this may change when the Commission's long-awaited white paper on EU chemical policy emerges, since the environment and enterprise directorates are still locked in debate over key points (ENDS Daily 6 June 2000).

Nevertheless, the directorate also proposes two new general environmental principles to guide policymaking, supplementing ideas such as the precautionary and polluter-pays principles: firstly, the substitution principle, under which substances are replaced with less hazardous ones "wherever economically and technically feasible"; and secondly, the "burden of proof principle," where chemical producers would have to prove that any hazardous substances they used "do not present unnecessary or unacceptable risks."

The EU should ensure the consumption of renewable and non-renewable resources "does not exceed the carrying capacity of the environment" by decoupling resource use from economic growth. Targets include reducing the quantity of waste going to final disposal by 20% in the decade to 2010 and by 50% by 2050. Hazardous waste generation should be reduced by the same amount by 2010 and 2020 respectively.

The directorate proposes five "priority avenues of strategic action" to

achieve the programme's aims. Three are familiar themes of the environment commissioner: improving the implementation of existing legislation, integrating environmental concerns into other policy fields, and empowering citizens to act to benefit the environment. The other two are to "work closer with the market" and to encourage better land-use planning and management decisions.

Other commission directorates had until today to make comments on the draft. With such an important document cutting across so many sectors and interests, it is unlikely that the environment directorate will be short of replies.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111, and the draft proposal as circulated to other Commission directorates.

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