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#Pesticides - MEPs propose blueprint to improve EU approval procedure

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Tractor spraying pesticides on vegetable field with sprayer at spring Long-term toxicity should be taken into account during authorisation procedures, say MEPs 

Plans to boost trust in the EU approval procedure by making it more transparent and accountable were put forward by the special committee on pesticides.

Among many proposals, MEPs agreed last week that the public should be granted access to the studies used in the procedure to authorize a pesticide, including all the supporting data and information relating to the applications.

MEPs note that concerns have been raised about the right of applicants to choose a particular member state to report on the approval of an active substance to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), as this practice is seen as lacking in transparency and could entail a conflict of interests. They call on the Commission to allocate the authorisation renewal to a different member state.

During the procedure, applicants should be required to register all regulatory studies that will be carried out in a public register, and allow for a “comment period”, during which stakeholders are able to provide additional existing data to ensure that all relevant information is taken into account before a decision is made.

Post-market evaluation and real-life impact

Post-market evaluation should be strengthened, and the Commission should launch an epidemiological study on the real-life impact of pesticides on human health, MEPs say. They also propose to review existing studies on carcinogenicity of glyphosate and to set maximum residue levels for soils and surface water.

Political accountability

MEPs finally stress the need to ensure political accountability when authorization is adopted in the form of implementing acts - in the so-called “comitology procedure”. Commission and member states should publish detailed minutes and make their votes public.

“We need evolution, not revolution. The adopted report underpins this spirit to expand and improve the best authorisation system in the world”, said co-rapporteur Norbert Lins (EPP, DE). “Today we put forward recommendations without overhauling structures which work. We want to make sure the authorisation procedure for plant protection products remains science-based and relies on independent, transparent and efficient processes”, he said.

“We ask for full transparency with regard to the studies used for the assessment, to make them more independent and based on scientific evidence, to avoid conflicts of interests, to fully test active substances, to thoroughly test pesticide products, including the cumulative effects and for stronger risk management measures,” said co-rapporteur Bart Staes (Greens/EFA, BE).

“There are common positions on the essential elements", said Committee Chairman Eric Andrieu (S&D, FR). "It is a question of revising the protocol for the authorization of molecules and making concrete recommendations. This is the mission we set ourselves in order not to get lost in the many challenges" he recalled. “In particular, we ask member states to no longer approve synthetic active substances,” he said.

Next steps

The recommendations were adopted with 23 votes to 5 and 1 abstention. The full House is to vote on the report during its 14-17 January plenary session in Strasbourg.

Background

Nine years after the adoption of the Plant Protection Products Regulation (Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009) and following the controversy about the renewal of glyphosate, the European Parliament, on 6 February 2018, set up a Special committee on the European Union’s authorisation procedure for pesticides. The PEST Committee’s mandate, as laid down in Parliament’s decision of 6 February 2018, required the special committee to look into the EU’s authorization procedure for pesticides as a whole.

The co-rapporteurs presented their draft report in September 2018. It included many suggestions on how to improve the procedure, focusing on the issues laid down in the mandate, such as transparency, independence and resources.

Environment

Climate and Environment: Commission welcomes the final approval of the new LIFE Programme with €5.4 billion budget

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The European Parliament has officially approved the deal with member states on the LIFE Programme, which will allow it to invest €5.4 billion in climate and environmental projects over the next seven years. The LIFE programme is among the EU funding programmes for which the Commission proposed the largest proportional increase for the period 2021-2027. Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, said: “I would like to thank the European Parliament for its great support for LIFE throughout the 3-year negotiation. For more than 30 years, our LIFE programme has supported thousands of iconic projects. With its new and significantly boosted €5.4bn budget, it will help us deliver major EU Green Deal initiatives, for a toxic-free, circular and climate-neutral Europe.” The total budget allocated for LIFE - the only programme at EU-level solely dedicated to the environment and climate – will be split between €3.5bn for environmental activities and €1.9bn for climate action. The EU programme will contribute to making the necessary shift towards a clean, circular, energy-efficient, low-carbon and climate-resilient economy, to protect and improve the quality of the environment, and to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. With its contribution of 64% of its budget to the target for climate financing, it is one of the largest contributors to climate objectives across all EU programmes. The Commission will ensure that LIFE projects especially support member states with so far low participation. Improving the national contact points will hence contribute to a geographical balance across the EU. More information on LIFE projects.

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European Green Deal

Greenwashing of EU finance law sparks walk-out by experts

Catherine Feore

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Five environmental and consumer organizations are pulling out of an EU expert group in protest at the European Commission’s decision on 21 April to classify certain forestry practices and highly emitting types of biomass as sustainable investments. 

The Platform on Sustainable Finance advises the European Commission on the development of science-based technical screening criteria for sustainable investments. The Commission has selected 50 members and nine special observers based on their environmental, sustainable finance, or social/human rights expertise. The members include key EU institutions such as EIOPA, ESMA, EBA, EIB, in addition to NGOs, trade and business associations, academia and research institutes there are also a number of observers including: OECD, ESM and ECB.

The organizations claim that the new rules are not based on climate and environmental science and ignore the recommendations of the EU expert group on sustainable finance. 

Luca Bonaccorsi, director of sustainable finance at Transport & Environment, said: “The taxonomy law was supposed to be the gold standard of sustainable finance. But the result has been the greenwashing of dirty cargo ships, gas buses, and logging and burning trees. Environmentalists will not come back to the process until the Commission comes back to science.”

NGOs Transport & Environment, WWF European Policy Office, BirdLife Europe and Central Asia, consumer group BEUC, and eco-standards advocates ECOS are demanding discussions with the Commission to establish rules that stop the scientific basis of the EU taxonomy law being, to their minds, compromised further. 

director general - BEUC, eu consumer organisation

The groups say decisions to endorse harmful forestry and biomass projects completely discredits the green taxonomy.

The Commission also decided to classify as ‘sustainable’ cargo ships burning highly polluting ‘bunker’ fuel and buses running on fossil gas. It delayed a decision on fossil gas as an energy source until a later stage of the process.

The five organizations have suspended their participation in the expert group to avoid a “cover-up” of further greenwashing. They called on the expert group’s members and leading MEPs to join their protest. 

The Taxonomy Regulation determines which financial investments can be labelled environmentally sustainable. The actual list of environmentally sustainable activities is being drawn up by the Commission and is supposed to be based on recommendations by the expert group of NGOs, financial market companies and EU agencies.

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Sustainable Finance and EU Taxonomy: Commission takes further steps to channel money towards sustainable activities

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The European Commission has adopted an ambitious and comprehensive package of measures to help improve the flow of money towards sustainable activities across the European Union. By enabling investors to re-orient investments towards more sustainable technologies and businesses, today's measures will be instrumental in making Europe climate neutral by 2050. They will make the EU a global leader in setting standards for sustainable finance.

The package is comprised of:

  • The EU Taxonomy Climate Delegated Act aims to support sustainable investment by making it clearer which economic activities most contribute to meeting the EU's environmental objectives. The College of Commissioners today reached a political agreement on the text. The Delegated Act will be formally adopted at the end of May once translations are available in all EU languages. A Communication, also adopted by the College today, sets out the Commission's approach in more detail.
  • A proposal for a Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). This proposal aims to improve the flow of sustainability information in the corporate world. It will make sustainability reporting by companies more consistent, so that financial firms, investors and the broader public can use comparable and reliable sustainability information.
  • Finally, six amending Delegated Acts on fiduciary duties, investment and insurance advice will ensure that financial firms, e.g. advisers, asset managers or insurers, include sustainability in their procedures and their investment advice to clients.

The European Green Deal is Europe's growth strategy that aims to improve the well-being and health of citizens, make Europe climate-neutral by 2050 and protect, conserve and enhance the EU's natural capital and biodiversity.

As part of that effort, companies need a comprehensive sustainability framework to change their business models accordingly. To ensure the transition in finance and prevent greenwashing, all elements of today's package will enhance the reliability and comparability of sustainability information. It will put the European financial sector at the heart of a sustainable and inclusive economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the longer-term sustainable economic development of Europe.

EU Taxonomy Climate Delegated Act

The EU Taxonomy is a robust, science-based transparency tool for companies and investors. It creates a common language that investors can use when investing in projects and economic activities that have a substantial positive impact on the climate and the environment. It will also introduce disclosure obligations on companies and financial market participants.

Today's Delegated Act, politically agreed today by the College of Commissioners, introduces the first set of technical screening criteria to define which activities contribute substantially to two of the environmental objectives under the Taxonomy Regulation: climate change adaptation[1] and climate change mitigation[2]. These criteria are based on scientific advice from the Technical Expert Group (TEG) on sustainable finance. It follows extensive feedback from stakeholders, as well as discussions with the European Parliament and Council. This Delegated Act would cover the economic activities of roughly 40% of listed companies, in sectors which are responsible for almost 80% of direct greenhouse gas emissions in Europe. It includes sectors such as energy, forestry, manufacturing, transport and buildings.

The EU Taxonomy Delegated Act is a living document, and will continue to evolve over time, in light of developments and technological progress. The criteria will be subject to regular review. This will ensure that new sectors and activities, including transitional and other enabling activities, can be added to the scope over time.

A new Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive

Today's proposal revises and strengthens the existing rules introduced by the Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD). It aims to create a set of rules that will – over time – bring sustainability reporting on a par with financial reporting. It will extend the EU's sustainability reporting requirements to all large companies and all listed companies. This means that nearly 50,000 companies in the EU will now need to follow detailed EU sustainability reporting standards, an increase from the 11,000 companies that are subject to the existing requirements. The Commission proposes the development of standards for large companies and separate, proportionate standards for SMEs, which non-listed SMEs can use voluntarily.

Overall, the proposal aims to ensure that companies report reliable and comparable sustainability information needed by investors and other stakeholders. It will ensure a consistent flow of sustainability information through the financial system. Companies will have to report on how sustainability issues, such as climate change, affects their business and the impact of their activities on people and the environment.

The proposal will also simplify the reporting process for companies. Many companies are currently under pressure to use an array of different sustainability reporting standards and frameworks. The proposed EU sustainability reporting standards should be a “one-stop-shop”, providing companies with a single solution that meets the information needs of investors and other stakeholders.  

Amendments to Delegated Acts on investment and insurance advice, fiduciary duties, and product oversight and governance

Today's six amendments encourage the financial system to support businesses on the path towards sustainability, as well as supporting existing sustainable businesses. They will also strengthen the EU's fight against greenwashing.

  • On investment and insurance advice: when an adviser assesses a client's suitability for an investment, they now need to discuss the client's sustainability preferences.
  • On fiduciary duties: today's amendments clarify the obligations of a financial firm when assessing its sustainability risks, such as the impact of floods on the value of investments.
  • On investment and insurance product oversight and governance: manufacturers of financial products and financial advisers will need to consider sustainability factors when designing their financial products.

An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “Europe was an early leader in reforming the financial system to support investments for climate change. Today, we are taking a leap forward with the first-ever climate taxonomy which will help companies and investors to know whether their investments and activities are really green. This will be essential if we are to mobilize private investment in sustainable activities and make Europe climate-neutral by 2050. This is a ground-breaking step for which we have consulted far and wide. We left no stone unturned in seeking a balanced, science-based outcome. We are also proposing improved rules on sustainability reporting by companies. By developing European standards, we will build on and contribute to international initiatives.”

Mairead McGuinness, commissioner responsible for financial services, financial stability and the Capital Markets Union, said: ““The financial system plays a crucial role in the delivery of the EU Green Deal, and significant investments are required to green our economy. We need all companies to play their part, both those already advanced in greening their activities and those who need to do more to achieve sustainability. Today's new rules are a game changer in finance. We are stepping up our sustainable finance ambition to help make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Now is the time to put words into action and invest in a sustainable way.”

Background and next steps

The EU has taken major steps over the past number of years to build a sustainable financial system that contributes to the transition towards a climate-neutral Europe. The EU Taxonomy Regulation, the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation and the Benchmark Regulation form the foundation of the EU's work to increase transparency and provide tools for investors to identify sustainable investment opportunities.

Once formally adopted, the EU Taxonomy Climate Delegated Act will be scrutinised by the European Parliament and the Council (four months and extendable once by two additional months).

Regarding the CSRD Proposal, the Commission will engage in discussions with the European Parliament and Council.

The six amendments to Delegated Acts on investment and insurance advice, fiduciary duties, and product oversight and governance will be scrutinised by the European Parliament and the Council (three month periods and extendable once by three additional months) and are expected to apply as of October 2022.

More information

Commission Communication: EU Taxonomy – Corporate Sustainability Reporting, Sustainability Preferences and Fiduciary Duties    

EU Taxonomy delegated act 

Q&A - Taxonomy Climate Delegated Act and Amendments to Delegated Acts on fiduciary duties, investment and insurance advice

Q&A - Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive proposal

Factsheet – the April 2021 sustainable finance package  

DG FISMA's website on sustainable finance

[1] An economic activity pursuing this objective should contribute substantially to reducing or preventing the adverse impact of the current or expected future climate, or the risks of such adverse impact, whether on that activity itself or on people, nature or assets.

[2] An economic activity pursuing this objective should contribute substantially to the stabilization of greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding or reducing them or by enhancing greenhouse gas removals. The economic activity should be consistent with the long-term temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.

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