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Environment MEPs clamp down on wasteful plastic carrier bags

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eaeeaf2d00ef35d49e58e5cfd78dc195EU states would have to reduce the consumption of most common and polluting plastic bags by 80% by 2019, under draft rules backed by the Environment Committee on 10 March. To this end, MEPs recommend using economic instruments such as taxes and levies, marketing restrictions or bans. Plastic carrier bag litter is a major environmental concern, known to affect water bodies and aquatic eco-systems in particular.

"MEPs have voted for EU legislation that would deliver a significant and swift reduction in single-use plastic bags. As front-running countries in the EU and beyond have demonstrated, dramatically reducing the consumption of these plastic bags is easily achievable with a coherent policy. Swiftly phasing-out these bags is a very low-hanging fruit on the list of solutions to the pervasive problem of plastic waste in the environment," said lead MEP Margrete Auken (Greens/EFA, DK), whose report was approved by 44 votes to 10, with 6 abstentions. The text will be put to a vote at the 14-17 April plenary session in Strasbourg.

"MEPs also supported provisions to ensure mandatory pricing of plastic bags in the food sector, as well as a strong recommendation to do so in the non-food sector, too. Putting a price on single-use bags is a proven and highly effective policy tool for reducing their excessive consumption," she added.

50% reduction by 2017, 80% by 2019

MEPs say that lightweight plastic bags with a thickness below 50 microns, which represent the vast majority of plastic carrier bags consumed in the Union, are less reusable than thicker models and become waste more quickly. They are also more prone to littering and to end up scattered in the environment. Member states would have to reduce their consumption by at least 50% by 2017 and by 80% two years later. They should take measures, such as taxes, levies, marketing restrictions or bans, to ensure that shops do not provide for plastic bags free of charge, except for very light ones, used to wrap loose foods such as raw meat, fish and dairy products.

Plastic bags used to wrap foods such as fruits, vegetables and confectionery would be replaced by 2019 by carrier bags made of recycled paper or biodegradable and compostable bags. Requirements concerning compostable and biodegradable packaging should be amended, MEPs say.

In 2010 every EU citizen used an estimated 198 plastic carrier bags, some 90% of which were lightweight; these are less frequently re-used than thicker bags and more prone to littering. In a business-as-usual scenario, consumption of plastic bags is expected to increase further. Estimates also suggest that in 2010, more than 8 billion plastic carrier bags became litter in the EU.

Climate change

2030 Climate Target Plan: Commission invites initial feedback on four future legislative proposals

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The Commission has published its Inception Impact Assessments on four central pieces of European climate legislation, due to be adopted in June 2021 to implement the 2030 Climate Target Plan. These four future proposals will help to deliver on the European Green Deal and achieve the proposed new emissions reductions target of at least 55% by 2030. The Inception Impact Assessments on the EU Emissions Trading System, the Effort Sharing Regulation, the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry Regulation and CO2 standards for cars are now open for public feedback for four weeks, until Thursday, 26 November 2020. They set out the potential nature and scope of the revisions for each of these policy instruments and of the analysis that the Commission will carry out in the coming months. This initial feedback period will be followed in due course by further Open Public Consultations.

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Environment

29 European islands announce plans for their clean energy transition 

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22 European islands have published their Clean Energy Transition Agendas and seven others committed to do so in the near future during the Clean Energy for EU Islands Online Forum. With these announcements, European islands are making an important step forward in their clean energy transition, with concrete plans tailored to their individual needs and assets.

The Clean Energy for EU Islands Initiative, which was launched in 2017 by the Commission and 14 EU member states, aims to provide a long term framework to help islands generate sustainable, low-cost energy.

Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson, said: “These transition agendas are a testament to the hard work and fruitful collaborations among islanders, both within their communities and across borders. It has been truly inspiring to see what is possible when local people have the power and support to write their own futures. We look forward to continuing the cooperation with the EU island communities to make the European Green Deal a reality, both through this initiative and through other EU actions to support a locally-driven energy transition.”

More information is available here.

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Africa

Investment, connectivity and co-operation: Why we need more EU-African co-operation in agriculture

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In recent months, the European Union has demonstrated its willingness to promote and support agricultural businesses in Africa, under European Commission’s Africa-EU Partnership. The Partnership, which stresses EU-African co-operation, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, aims to promote sustainability and biodiversity and have championed promoting public-private relationships across the continent, writes African Green Resources Chairman Zuneid Yousuf.

Though these commitments apply to the entire continent, I would like to focus on how increased African-EU co-operation has helped Zambia, my country. Last month, European Union Ambassador to Zambia Jacek Jankowski announced ENTERPRISE Zambia Challenge Fund (EZCF), an EU-backed initiative that will award grants to agribusiness operators in Zambia. The plan is worth an overall total of €25.9 million and has already launched its first call for proposals. In a time where Zambia, my country, is battling serious economic challenges this is a much-needed opportunity for the African agribusiness industry. More recently, just last week, the EU and Zambia agreed to two financing agreements that hope to boost investments in the country under the Economic Government Support Programme and the Zambia Energy Efficiency Sustainable Transformation Programme.

Europe’s collaboration and commitment to promoting African agriculture is not new. Our European partners have long been invested in promoting and helping African agribusiness realise their full potential and empower the sector. In June of this year, the African and European Unions launched a joint agri-food platform, which aims to link African and European private sectors to promote sustainable and meaningful investment.

The platform was launched off the back of the ‘Africa-Europe alliance for sustainable investment and jobs’ which was part of European Commission President’s Jean Claude Junker’s 2018 state of the Union address, where he called for a new “Africa-Europe alliance” and demonstrated that Africa is at the heart of the Union’s external relations.

The Zambian, and arguably the African agricultural environment, is dominated largely by small-to-medium sized farms that need both financial and institutional support to navigate these challenges. In addition, there is a lack of connectivity and interconnectedness within the sector, preventing farmers to connect with each other and realise their full potential through cooperation.

What makes EZCF unique among European agribusiness initiatives in Africa, however, is its specific focus on Zambia and empowering Zambian farmers. Over the past few years, the Zambian farming industry has grappled with droughts, lack of reliable infrastructure and unemployment. In fact, throughout 2019, it is estimated that a severe drought in Zambia led to 2.3 million people requiring emergency food assistance.

Therefore, a solely Zambia-focused initiative, backed by the European Union and aligned with promoting increased connectedness and investment in agriculture, not only reinforces Europe’s strong connection with Zambia, but will also bring some much-needed support and opportunity for the sector. This will undoubtedly allow our local farmers to unlock and leverage a wide range of financial resources.

More importantly, the EZCF is not operating alone. Alongside international initiatives, Zambia is already home to several impressive and important agribusiness companies that are working to empower and provide farmers with access to funding and capital markets.

One of these is African Green Resources (AGR) a world-class agribusiness company of which I am proud to be the chairman. At AGR, the focus is to promote value addition at every level of the farming value chain, as well as look for sustainable strategies for farmers to maximise their yields. For example, in March this year, AGR teamed up with several commercial farmers and multilateral agencies to develop a private sector financed irrigation scheme and dam and off grid solar supply which will support over 2,400 horticultural farmers, and expand grain production and new fruit plantations in the Mkushi farming block in Central Zambia. Over the next few years, our focus will be to continue promoting sustainability and the implementation of similar initiatives, and we are ready to invest alongside other agribusiness companies that seek to expand, modernise or diversify their operations.

Though it appears that the agricultural sector in Zambia may be facing challenges in the years to come, there are some very important milestones and reasons for optimism and opportunity. Increased cooperation with the European Union and European partners is an important way of capitalizing on opportunity and ensuring that we are all doing as much as we can to help small and medium sized farmers across the country.

Promoting increased interconnectedness within the private sector will help ensure that small farmers, the backbone of our national agricultural industry, are supported and empowered to collaborate, and share their resources with larger markets. I believe that both European and local agribusiness companies are heading in the right direction by looking into ways of promoting agribusiness, and I hope that together, we can all sustainably promote these goals on the regional and international stage.

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