Plenary: MEPs voted on ETS allowances, corporate due diligence and greener construction products (Image credit: © European Union 2021 - Source : EP) Plenary: MEPs voted on ETS allowances, corporate due diligence and greener construction products (Image credit: © European Union 2021 - Source : EP)

European Parliament plenary: 7 green decisions you need to know about

This week’s plenary session has seen European lawmakers approve a number of weighty reports on environmental matters. ENDS takes you through what you need to know.

MEPs rejected a call to end free ETS allowances

In one of the most controversial votes in the plenary, MEPs approved on Tuesday an amendment to an ‘own initiative report’ that removed a call to end the free allocation of emissions allowances to heavy industry in the emissions trading system (ETS) once a planned carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) is up and running. The final report was approved on Wednesday with 444 votes in favour, 70 against and 181 abstentions.

Industry groups had expressed concern about the draft report, drawn up by the environment committee, which argued the carbon border tax “should constitute an alternative to existing measures on carbon leakage”. The final version of the text merely states that it “should avoid double protection for EU installations”.

Green MEP Yannick Jadot, the rapporteur for the file, said following the vote that the EU must “stop being naïve and impose the same carbon price on products, whether they are produced in or outside the EU”.

The final text angered green groups, who saw in it a watering down of commitments to end free allocation. Climate Action Network Europe said it hoped “logic, scientific evidence and coherence will prevail” in the legislative proposal the commission will unveil in June.

Follow-up: Adopted text; ENDS coverage

Step forward for corporate due diligence

Parliament overwhelmingly backed a report on Wednesday by S&D lawmaker Lara Wolters calling for binding EU due diligence rules. Among the recommendations, companies seeking access to the EU market would have to show they comply with human rights and environmental commitments. It also calls for a ban on importing products linked to “severe human rights violations” and asks the commission to review whether companies exporting products from China’s Xinjiang province are linked to ongoing abuses of the Uighur people.

“Companies will have to avoid and address harm done to people and planet in their supply chains,” Wolters said in a statement following the vote.

The commission is drawing up a proposal, to be published this summer, on promoting deforestation-free supply chains. Campaigners at Greenpeace have urged the EU executive not to rely on voluntary certification schemes to assess products’ green credentials, arguing in a new report that none of the top schemes are up to scratch.

Follow-up: Adopted text

Call for greener construction products

Lawmakers approved a report on Wednesday evening that calls for construction products to meet minimum standards for the environment, health and safety. Almost the entire parliament voted in favour – with just four MEPs voting against and five abstaining.

The report, drawn up by German EPP member Christian Doleschal, urges the commission to improve the Construction Products Regulation (CPR), in part by introducing new requirements on “environmental performance and sustainability criteria across the lifecycle of products into the harmonised standards for specific product categories” under the regulation.

The commission should also explore how the CPR “could support the circularity of construction products”, the report adds.

Green groups welcomed the vote as good news for cutting the environmental impact of the construction sector. In its current form, the CPR “has proven to be ineffective as a policy tool”, said the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and ECOS in a joint statement.

“The market is currently dominated by highly impactful products, and direct integration of EU environmental policies into construction sector legislation is long overdue, so this is an important step towards policy in support of a sustainable built environment,” said the EEB’s Gonzalo Sánchez.

The commission is expected to publish its proposal to revise the regulation in the third quarter of this year. While it has also promised a strategy for a ‘sustainable built environment’, green groups are growing nervous that there is still no clear commitment to publish it this year.

Follow-up: CPR report

Mixed progress on fisheries control

MEPs adopted their negotiating position on a new control system for Europe’s fisheries that would establish a “minimum percentage” of larger fishing vessels to use on-board cameras to monitor landing obligations – although only on a voluntary basis. They approved an amendment requiring ships to record bycatch in their logbooks electronically, but rejected two amendments that would have strengthened electronic monitoring more generally.

After the outcome of the vote was published on Thursday, Clara Aguilera, the S&D lawmaker who will lead negotiations on the final text with the EU Council, said the parliament’s position would lead to “harmonised and more efficient” inspection rules “without resulting in more red tape for the sector”.

However, green group BirdLife Europe said the vote was a missed opportunity. “The European Parliament had the chance to support science, and help shine more light on the incidental catch of seabirds, dolphins, whales, and sea turtles,” said marine policy officer Anouk Puymartin.

While using electronic logbooks to record bycatch would be “an improvement”, it “virtually falls flat without the required use of remote electronic monitoring [REM] (i.e. cameras)”, Puymartin added. “Without REM there is no way of being sure that all bycatch is in fact being recorded.”

Follow-up: Adopted text

Green light for InvestEU

MEPs gave their seal of approval to the €26bn InvestEU programme on Tuesday. The successor to the Juncker investment fund, the programme aims to mobilise €400bn in investment over the next six years as part of the Next Generation EU recovery package.

Some 38% of the investment will be channelled to “sustainable infrastructure”, with a further 25% going to research, innovation and digitalisation. Projects will also have to meet the EU’s ‘do no significant harm’ principle.

Italian S&D lawmaker Irene Tinagli, who led negotiations with the council, said the parliament had succeeded in diverting “more funds to meet environmental targets” than the 35% agreed by member states. The package requires the final sign-off by the council before it comes into force.

Follow-up: Adopted text

Call to create ‘climate indicator’ to assess member states’ budgets

In a report on the commission’s annual sustainable growth strategy, the parliament has called for “the creation of a climate indicator” that would assess whether member states’ budgets are aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement. The indicator should “be a reference for the EU’s various policies and thus also to be used as a guide for the European Semester”, adds the text, which was approved on Thursday.

“With this report, the European Parliament fires the starting shot for a much-needed debate on reform of the fiscal and economic architecture of the EU. It is time to adapt our fiscal rules to new realities and put people and the planet first,” said S&D lawmaker Joachim Schuster, who is responsible for the European Semester in the economic and monetary affairs committee.

Follow-up: Draft report

Objections to active substances and GMOs

MEPs registered their opposition – as is customary – to licensing a range of plant protection products and genetically modified organisms.

Benfluralin, dimoxystrobin, fluazinam, flutolanil, mecoprop-P, mepiquat, metiram, oxamyl and pyraclostrobin present unacceptable risks to human health and the environment, states the parliament’s text. It warns that companies applying for their renewal “can take advantage of the automatic system built into commission working methods, which immediately extends the approval periods of active substances if the risk reassessment has not been finalised, by deliberately prolonging the reassessment process by providing incomplete data and asking for more derogations and special conditions”.

Objections were also registered to approvals for the import of two genetically modified cotton and maize varieties.

MEPs also approved commission texts granting equivalence to forest reproductive material produced in the UK and to field inspections for varieties of crops carried out in the former EU member state.

Follow-up: Active substances adopted text, objection to GM cotton approval and objection to GM maize approval; Commission texts on forest reproductive material and field inspections

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