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#ECA: Auditors examine EU strategy to combat #desertification

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The European Court of Auditors (ECA) is conducting an audit on the EU’s strategic framework for combating desertification – where previously fertile land becomes increasingly dry and unproductive. The audit will examine whether the risk of desertification in the EU is being effectively and efficiently addressed. 

Desertification is defined by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities”.

Desertification is a result, but also a cause, of climate change. It also results from unsustainable land management practices. It magnifies climate change, as desertified land loses its capacity to stock carbon, so lower volumes of greenhouse gases can be absorbed.

“Desertification can lead to diminished food production, soil infertility, and a decrease in the land’s natural resilience and ability to store carbon”, said Phil Wynn Owen, the ECA Member responsible for the audit. “These in turn can cause poverty, aggravated health problems due to wind-blown dust, and a decline in biodiversity. It can result in loss of livelihoods, which can cause the affected people to migrate.”

Soil erosion, combined with water shortages and higher temperatures which increase evaporation, further increases the risk of desertification. The situation is most serious in a large part of Spain, southern Portugal, southern Italy, south-eastern Greece, Cyprus, and areas of Bulgaria and Romania bordering the Black Sea. Research indicates that up to 44% of Spain, 33 % of Portugal, and nearly 20 % of Greece and Italy are at high risk of soil erosion.

In Cyprus, according to their national action programme to combat desertification, 57 % of the territory is in a critical situation with regard to the risk of desertification.  EU funding for desertification projects comes from a variety of sources, such as the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, the LIFE Programme and the EU’s research programmes.

Thirteen EU member states have so far declared themselves to the UNCCD as affected by desertification. The auditors are visiting five of them: Romania, Cyprus, Italy, Spain and Portugal.  The audit report is expected to be published by the end of 2018. A related audit on flood risk management in the EU is also scheduled for publication later this year.

The thirteen member states so far self-declared to the UNCCD as affected by desertification are Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.

Environment

EU takes aim at zero pollution for air, water and soil

Catherine Feore

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Today (12 May), the European Commission adopted its EU Action Plan: ‘Towards Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil – a key deliverable of the European Green Deal’. 

The plan sets an objective of reducing pollution to levels that are no longer harmful to human health and natural ecosystems, and lays out the steps to get there. The plan ties together all relevant EU policies to tackle and prevent pollution. The Commission will review existing legislation and identify remaining gaps that need to be closed.

European Green Deal Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans said: “The Green Deal aims to build a healthy planet for all. To provide a toxic-free environment for people and planet, we have to act now. This plan will guide our work to get there.”

“Environmental pollution negatively affects our health, especially the most vulnerable and socially deprived groups, and is also one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss,” said Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius. “The case for the EU to lead the global fight against pollution is today stronger than ever. With the Zero Pollution Action Plan, we will create a healthy living environment for Europeans, contribute to a resilient recovery and boost transition to a clean, circular and climate-neutral economy.”

To steer the EU towards the 2050 goal of a healthy planet for healthy people, the Action Plan sets key 2030 targets to reduce pollution at source, in comparison with the current situation.

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Climate change

Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans attends Petersberg Climate Dialogue

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Today (7 May), Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans participates in the 12th Petersberg Climate Dialogue, an annual high-level political meeting of over 30 ministers from around the world, co-hosted by the German government and the COP26 Presidency. The meeting will start at 14h CEST  today with remarks by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Their speeches will be live-streamed here. This year's Petersberg Dialogue will focus on the preparations for the upcoming COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. It will address pressing issues such as enhancing countries' climate-resilience and adaptation capacity, scaling up international climate finance, and promoting transparent international carbon market rules. The meeting will be held virtually for the second year in a row due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission will publish Executive Vice-President Timmermans' remarks climate finance on Friday here. For more information see here.

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Environment

EU sets plan to promote rapid green transition of key industries

Reuters

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The European Union aims to help industries slash greenhouse gas emissions by promoting a rapid expansion of investment in low-carbon technologies, partly through schemes with easier state aid rules, according to a draft policy plan seen by Reuters, writes Kate Abnett.

The EU's target to become climate neutral by 2050, helping curb dangerous global warming, will require a green transition in industrial sectors through a take-up of technologies like renewable hydrogen fuel and energy storage.

A draft of the European Commission's industrial strategy, to be published on Wednesday, outlines how Brussels will help speed investments in those strategic areas, plus others such as raw materials and semiconductors.

The EU is considering ways to support and speed up the rollout of Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEI), where member states can pool resources for strategic technologies, the draft said.

IPCEIs allow EU governments to fund projects under easier rules pertaining to state subsidies and for companies to team up on projects that would be too large or risky for one firm alone.

"These projects could accelerate needed investments in the fields of hydrogen, 5G corridors, common data infrastructure and services, sustainable transport, blockchain or European Digital Innovation Hubs," the draft said.

It said some EU states plan to use money from a 672-billion-euro EU COVID-19 recovery fund towards these multi-country projects. Member states must spend 37% of their respective share of recovery funds to support climate objectives.

The Commission is also considering a support scheme, called "contracts for difference", that would guarantee a CO2 price to a project developer regardless of EU carbon market prices.

This could encourage investments in technologies like hydrogen produced from renewable energy. EU carbon prices soared to record highs on Tuesday, but remain far below the price at which analysts say renewable hydrogen could compete with the fossil fuel-based alternative. Read more.

The industry plan slots together with other EU measures to steer cash into green technologies, including its recently-agreed system to classify sustainable investments, and planned environmental standards for electric car batteries sold in Europe.

Brussels will also announce details this summer of a plan to impose carbon border costs on imports of polluting goods. That aims to level the playing field for EU industry and overseas firms by exposing them both to the same carbon price.

The draft industrial plan, reported by Reuters last week, updates a strategy the EU conceived before the COVID-19 pandemic heightened scrutiny of Europe's dependence on foreign suppliers in strategic areas. Read more.

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