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Environmental organisations deplore 'lost year' for environmental protection

One year since the entry into office of the current European Commission headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, environmental groups have criticised the EU executive for a paralysis in policymaking on issues related to the environment. Environmental NGOs including CEE Bankwatch Network, Climate Action Network Europe, European Environmental Bureau, Friends of the Earth Europe, Greenpeace, and the Health & Environment Alliance said that this had been “a lost year” for environmental protection.

Despite the growing momentum around the Paris climate change summit and over 120 countries joining the European Union in making climate action pledges, the Commission has failed to develop proposals to ratchet up the EU’s 2030 targets. At the same time, the Commission has not ensured that the financial tools at its disposal, namely the European Investment Bank, the Juncker investment plan and the EU's regional development funds, will steer billions of euros in taxpayer money towards helping Europe meet its long-term goal of a clean energy economy.

The Commission has come under fire from civil society and Member States for threatening to weaken nature protection legislation. In the run up to last week’s conference on the REFIT of nature directives, nine Member State governments called on the Commission to protect EU nature laws and improve their implementation. Over half a million citizens responded to a Commission consultation – the largest ever consultation response to ensure continued European nature protection. To halt Europe’s biodiversity loss, these directives are essential and need to be better implemented – not undermined.

Despite the severity of the air pollution problem, which kills more than 400,000 people in Europe every year, the Commission has defended a weak proposal on air quality which would still result in unnecessary premature deaths of European citizens and a huge additional health burden.

The Commission has also been strongly criticised for blocking long overdue legislation to ban endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). These chemicals can interfere with people’s hormones, and are linked to serious health impacts, such as hormone-related cancers, fertility problems, diabetes and obesity as well as behavioural problems in children.

COP21 and the Circular Economy package next week bring the 2015 agenda for climate and environmental policy making to a close. The European Commission claims that its 2016 work programme (see above article) – responds to citizens’ concerns. The NGOs say that for these words to be translated into action, there needs to be a significant shift in priorities in the new year towards sustainable development, with benefits for the environment, health, employment and prosperity.

Issue 46