Connect with us

Environment

Commission launches consultation on Zero Pollution Action Plan

Published

on

The Commission has launched an open public consultation on an EU Action Plan 'Towards a Zero Pollution Ambition for air, water and soil – building a Healthier Planet for Healthier People'. A key pillar of the European Green Deal, the Zero Pollution Ambition will build on initiatives in the field of energy, industry, mobility, agriculture, biodiversity, and climate.

Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “Environmental pollution not only negatively affects our health, especially of the citizens from the most vulnerable groups, but it is also one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss. So clearly, there is urgency to act. With the Zero Pollution Action Plan we want to create a healthy living environment for Europeans, contribute to a resilient recovery and boost the transition to a clean, circular and climate neutral economy.”

The consultation follows the recent publication of the road map that outlines EU plans to achieve zero pollution by better preventing, remedying, monitoring and reporting on pollution, and helping mainstream the ambition in all policies and investment tools. The Zero Pollution Action Plan will be the next important step of implementing the Zero Pollution Ambition after the recent publication of the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. The consultation on the Zero Pollution Action Plan is open for feedback until 10 February 2021. The feedback will be taken into account for further development and fine-tuning of the initiative. More information is available here.

Circular economy

Why should countries and regions look to a circular approach to rebuild and transform their economies?

Published

on

By 2050, the world will consume resources equivalent to three planet Earths. With an ever-increasing unsustainable consumption of finite resources, rapid and deliberate action is critically needed to respond to this challenge. And yet in 2019, we sent less than a tenth (a mere 8.6%) of all material produced back into the cycle, to be reused and recycled. That is down 1% from 9.1% in 2018, demonstrating progress is not exponential, write Cliona Howie and Laura Nolan.

A circular economy development path in Europe could result in a 32% reduction of primary material consumption by 2030, and 53% by 2050. So what is hindering bold action to achieve these targets?

In March 2020 the EU launched a new Circular Economy Action Plan in response to making Europe “cleaner and more competitive”, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stating that a “circular economy will make us less dependent and boost our resilience. This is not only good for our environment, but it reduces dependency by shortening and diversifying supply chains.” In September, von der Leyen proposed to increase the targets for emission reduction by more than a third on the road to the EU becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Simultaneously, regional and national governments are fighting the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic to help rebuild their economies, create and save jobs. A circular economy transition is key to that rebuild, all the while reaching net-zero emissions targets set by the Paris Agreement and recent EU Green Deal to ensure our economy sets a sustainable path for our future.

Commit to a circular economy to secure jobs and financing

A circular economy can create new economic opportunities, ensure that industries save materials, and generate extra value from products and services. From 2012 to 2018 the number of jobs linked to the circular economy in the EU grew by 5%. A circular transition at European scale could create 700,000 new jobs by 2030 and increase the EU’s GDP by additional 0.5%.

A circular economy can boost investments, secure new funding and speed up recovery plans following the pandemic. Regions that embrace the circular economy will be able to harvest funding from the European Union’s 'Next Generation EU' recovery and resilience financing instruments, including the European Green Deal Investment Plan, InvestEU and funds supporting the Circular Economy Action Plan. The European Regional Development Fund will complement private innovation funding to bring new solutions to the market. Political and economic support from the European Union and its Member States to develop local policies in favour of a circular economy is fostering the development of national and regional strategies and tools for cooperation, such as in Slovenia and the Western Balkan countries.

Moving towards systems innovation to accelerate the transition

Today we can see many great single initiatives in cities and regions across Europe. But “conventional approaches will not be sufficient,” the Commission pointed out last December when it published the European Green Deal proposals. Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said “a more systemic change will be necessary to move beyond just waste management and achieve a true transition to a circular economy.”

While existing innovation projects add value to the transition to a circular economy, the challenge we still face is the need to work across many disciplines and value chains simultaneously. This cross-cutting approach requires sophisticated and formal coordination. The transition to a circular economy must be systemic and embedded in all parts of society to be truly transformative.

There is no template, but there is a methodology

People are quick to look at a problem and find an immediate solution. Solutions to single challenges will incrementally improve the current status, but will not help us reach our ambitious goals with the big picture in mind. Furthermore, what may work in one city or region, might not work in another market. “Templates and plans on how to change cities to become circular are a linear way of thinking,” explained Ladeja Godina Košir, Director Circular Change, Chair European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform. “We have to learn from each other and understand what has worked. We also have to dare to see how each city is unique to develop circular economy models for each city.”

We need mechanisms that can help us learn from others but also cater to unique environments and continually evolving needs. At EIT Climate-KIC, the process we use to do this is called Deep Demonstration. It is a systems designs tool that converts territories and value chains into living laboratories for circular economy and innovation ready for large scale, action-based implementation.

Deep Demonstrations: a transferable methodology

Slovenia is one example among many countries committed to large-scale circular transition, working with EIT Climate-KIC to develop and deliver a demonstration pilot that will tackle entire value chain transformation by leveraging policy, education, finance, entrepreneurship and community engagement. Elements of these experiences are replicable across other European test sites: currently we are working to develop a circular economy transition approach with countries like Italy, Bulgaria and Ireland, regions like Cantabria in Spain and cities like Milan and Leuven, proving that a diverse range of economies can engage and enact transition at scale.

Putting systemic circular solutions in place requires stakeholders to work together across the EU, state, regional and local levels. EIT Climate-KIC is harnessing collective learning across complex issues and challenges, including hosting multiple workshops with actors from industry, administration, NGOs, the public and private sectors, and research and academia.

Leaving no one behind

The main beneficiaries of a sustainable, low carbon transition are the local communities, industry and businesses as well as other stakeholders from different sectors and value chains. It is critical to grant ownership of this transformation and its action plans to all citizens, without which effective transition will not occur. This includes community members, public servants, academics, entrepreneurs, students and policymakers.

This integration of all actors across so many sections of our society ensures that receptive and fluid interface frameworks are built into the portfolio approach. Yet, today policy and fiscal frameworks are designed for a linear economy. By working with public administration and the European Commission to promote multi-stakeholder dialogue, EIT Climate-KIC leverages action across various levels of governance and sectors: if we need to change the entire system, working with one Ministry alone will not cut it. In our ongoing work, we have seen many departments within regions earnest and determined to work together. But when decision makers gather around the table to unpack a complex problem like a circular economy, it is not uncommon to realise there has not been enough time to have the right conversations to coordinate programmes than span several inter-departmental or ministry budget lines. Within our Circular Economy Transition Deep Demonstrations, the Transition Policy Lab works across multiple government bodies to reshape and reformulate new policies that integrate circularity into a new regulatory framework.

A circular economy can lead to sustainable and inclusive societies

Engaging all different communities and stakeholders, as well as providing spaces where anyone can learn, develop and maintain relevant skills, enables citizens to take part and engage in the transitions - ensuring the diverse reality of a region’s population remains in focus.

If at this time of unprecedented societal disruption, Europe’s regions take this opportunity to build more inclusive and competitive circular economy programmes, the compounding benefits will speak for themselves. It means moving from individual technological solutions to a wider portfolio of activity that will stimulate new skills and create jobs, reach zero-emissions and improve access to an improved quality of life. It means working together, in a fair and transparent way. It means identifying and then changing the policies that are stopping systemic innovation from taking place. Through the support of Deep Demonstrations, EIT Climate-KIC is integrating learnings, helping share these learnings and building on best practice and local adaptation to create sustainable and inclusive societies in other markets, regions and cities.

The reward would amplify everything a region has set out to achieve: reach net-zero carbon emissions, enable regions to remain competitive and leave nobody behind.

Cliona Howie has been working as an environmental consultant for over 20 years, supporting both public and private sectors in areas such as conservation, resource efficiency, industrial ecology and symbiosis. At EIT Climate-KIC she is the lead on circular economy development and transition.

Laura Nolan is a stakeholder engagement expert with experience delivering programmes in the fields of climate change, renewable energy and sustainable development. At EIT Climate-KIC she leads on circular economy programme development and manages European projects such as H2020 CICERONE.

For more information contact [email protected]

Continue Reading

Climate change

Research shows public not concerned over climate crisis

Published

on

New research in Europe and the United States shows that large portions of the public still do not accept the urgency of the climate crisis, and only a minority believe it will impact them and their families severely over the next fifteen years.
The survey, which was commissioned by d|part and the Open Society European Policy Institute, forms part of a major new study of climate awareness. It charts attitudes on the existence, causes, and impacts of climate change in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Poland, Czech Republic, the UK and the US. It also examines public attitudes to a series of policies that the EU and national governments could harness to reduce the damage inflicted by human-made emissions.
The report finds that, though a clear majority of European and American respondents are aware that the climate is warming, and that it is likely to have negative impacts for humankind, there is a distorted public understanding of the scientific consensus in both Europe and America. This, the report argues, has created a gap between public awareness and climate science, leaving the public underestimating the urgency of the crisis, and failing to appreciate the scale of the action required. 
All but a small minority accept that human activities have a role in climate change – with no more than 10% refusing to believe this in any country surveyed.  
However, while outright denial is rare, there is widespread confusion about the extent of human responsibility.   Large minorities – ranging from 17% to 44% across the surveyed countries – still believe that climate change is caused equally by humans and natural processes. This matters because those who do accept that climate change is the result of human action are twice as likely to believe it will cause negative consequences in their own lives.
 
Significant minorities believe scientists are equally divided on the causes of global warming – including two thirds of voters in Czech Republic (67%) and nearly half in UK (46%).  In reality, 97 per cent of climate scientists agree that humans have caused recent global warming.
 
A large majority of Europeans and US citizens in all nine countries polled agree that climate change requires a collective response, whether to mitigate climate change or adapt to its challenges.  Majorities in Spain (80%) Italy (73%), Poland (64%), France (60%), the UK (58%) and the US (57%) agree with the statement that “we should do everything we can to stop climate change.”
The report also finds that there is polarisation along party political lines on climate change – in Europe as well as the US.  Those on the left tend to be more aware of the existence, causes and impact of climate change, and more in favour of action, than people on the right. These differences are more important than demographic variation in most countries. For example, in the US, those who identify as left in their political orientation are nearly three times as likely to expect a negative impact on their own lives (49%) compared to those who identify as more on the right (17%). Polarisation is also marked in Sweden, France, Italy and the UK. The only country where there is balance across the spectrum is the Czech Republic.
 
Majorities are willing to act on climate change, but the actions they favour tend to be consumer-focused rather than efforts to create collective social change.  A majority of respondents in every country say they have already cut their plastic consumption (62%), their air travel (61%) or their car travel (55%).  A majority also says they either already have or are planning to reduce their meat consumption, switch to a green energy supplier, vote for party because of their climate change programme, or buy more organic and locally produced food.
 
However, people are much less likely to support civil society engagement directly, with only small minorities having donated to an environmental organization (15% across the survey), joined an environmental organization, (8% across the survey), or joined an environmental protest (9% across the survey). Only a quarter (25%) of respondents across the survey say they have voted for a political party because of their climate change policies.
Just 47 per cent of those surveyed believe they, as individuals, have very high responsibility for tackling climate change. Only in the UK (66%), Germany (55%), the US (53%), Sweden, (52%), and Spain (50%) is there a majority who feel a high sense of responsibility themselves.   In every country surveyed people are more likely to think that their national Government has a high responsibility for tackling climate change.   This ranges from 77% of those surveyed in Germany and the UK to 69% in the US, 69% in Sweden and 73% in Spain.  In every EU country, respondents were slightly more likely to see the EU as having a high responsibility for reducing climate change than national Governments. 
 
The polling also finds that people prefer to be offered incentives to act on climate change rather than face bans or carbon taxes.  A small majority are willing to pay some more tax for greater action on climate change - apart from in France, Italy and the Czech Republic – but the percentage willing to pay more than a small amount (one hour’s wage per month) is limited to at most a quarter – in Spain and the US.  Increasing taxes on all flights, or introducing a levy for frequent flyers, garnered some support across the polled countries (between 18 per cent and 36 per cent, collectively). Although the preferred policy for tackling air travel emissions, by a clear margin, was improving ground infrastructure for buses and trains.
Heather Grabbe, director of Open Society European Policy Institute, said “Many citizens across Europe and US still don’t realize that scientific consensus on human responsibility for climate change is overwhelming. Though outright denialism is rare, there is a widespread false belief, promoted by vested interests opposed to emissions reductions, that scientists are split on whether humans are causing climate change – when in fact 97% of scientists know that.
 
"This soft denialism matters because it lulls the public into thinking that climate change won’t affect their lives much over the next decades, and they don’t realise how radically we need to change our economic system and habits to prevent ecological collapse. Our polling shows that the more convinced people are that climate change is the result of human activity, the more accurately they estimate its impact and the more they want action.”
Jan Eichhorn, research director of d|part and lead author of the study, said: "The public in Europe and the US want to see action in response to climate change across all demographics. Politicians need to show leadership in responding to this desire in an ambitious way that enhances people's understanding of the severity of the crisis and the impact humans have - as this understanding is not developed enough so far. Relying on individual action is not enough. People see the state and international organizations at the EU in charge. People are principally open to being convinced to support more extensive action, but to achieve this urgently requires further work from political and civil society actors."
 
FINDINGS:
  • A sizeable majority of Europeans and Americans believe that climate change is happening. In all nine countries surveyed, an overwhelming majority of respondents say that the climate is probably or definitely changing – ranging from 83 per cent in the US to 95 per cent in Germany.
  • Outright climate change denial is scarce in all of the countries surveyed. The USA and Sweden have the largest group of people who either doubt climate change or are convinced it is not happening, and, even here, it only comprises just over 10 per cent of those surveyed.
  • Howeverover a third (35%) of those surveyed in the nine countries attribute climate change to a balance of natural and human processes – with this feeling most pronounced in France (44%), the Czech Republic (39%) and the US (38%). The plurality view among respondents is that it is caused “mainly by human activity”.
  • A significant group of ‘soft’ attribution sceptics believe that, contrary to the scientific consensus, climate change is caused equally by human activities and natural processes: these constituencies range from 17 per cent in Spain to 44 per cent in France.  When added to the “hard” attribution sceptics, who don’t believe human activity is a contributing factor to climate change, these sceptics together make up the majority in France, Poland, the Czech Republic and the USA.
  • Majorities believe that climate change will have very negative consequences for life on earth in Spain (65%), Germany (64%), the UK (60%), Sweden (57%), the Czech Republic (56%) and Italy (51%).  However, there is a significant minority of “impact sceptics” who believe the negative consequences will be outweighed by the positive - ranging from 17 per cent in the Czech Republic to 34 per cent in France.  There is also a group in the middle who don’t see global warming as harmless, but think that negative consequences will also be balanced by positive ones.  This “middle group” ranges from 12 per cent in Spain to 43 per cent in France. 
  • Most people don’t think their own lives will be strongly affected by climate change in the next fifteen years. Only in Italy, Germany and France do more than a quarter of people think their lives will be strongly disrupted by climate change by 2035 if no additional action is taken.  While the prevailing view is that there will be some change to their lives, a considerable minority believe their lives won’t change at all as a result of unchecked climate change – with the largest group in the Czech Republic (26%) followed by Sweden (19%), the USA and Poland (18%), Germany (16%) and the UK (15%).
  • Age makes a difference to views on climate change, but only in certain countries. Overall, younger people tend to be more likely to expect negative impacts of climate change on their lives by 2035 if nothing is done to address the issues. This trend is   particularly strong in Germany; where negative impacts are expected by 36 per cent of 18-34 year olds (compared to 30% of 55- 74 year olds), Italy; (46% of 18-34 year olds compared to 33% of 55-74-year olds), Spain; (43% of 18-34 year olds compared to 32% of 55-74 year olds) and the UK; (36% of 18-34 year olds compared to 22% of 55-74 year olds).
  • Imposing higher taxes on flights is only seen as the best option to reduce emissions from flights by a minority - ranging from 18 per cent in Spain to 30 per cent in the US and 36 per cent per cent in the UK.   An outright ban on internal flights within countries is even less popular, enjoying most support in France (14%) and Germany (14%).  The most popular policy for reducing emissions from plane travel is improving the train and bus networks, which is chosen as the best policy by a majority of respondents in Spain, Italy and Poland.
  • Majorities in most countries are willing to persuade their friends and family to behave in a more climate-friendly way – with only 11 per cent in Italy and 18 per cent in Spain not willing to do this.  However, nearly 40 per cent of people in the Czech Republic, France, the US and the UK would not contemplate this idea at all.
  • There is widespread support for switching to a green energy firm to provide household energy. However, France and the US have large minorities (42% and 39% respectively) who would not consider a switch to green energy.  This compares to just 14 per cent in Italy and 20 per cent in Spain who would not consider a change to green energy.
  • Majorities in Europe are willing to reduce their meat consumption, but figures vary widely.  Only a quarter of people in Italy and Germany are not willing to reduce their meat consumption, compared to 58 per cent of people in the Czech Republic, 50 per cent people in the US, and around 40 per cent in the Spain, the UK, Sweden and Poland.

Continue Reading

Environment

Marked improvement in Europe's air quality over past decade, fewer deaths linked to pollution

Published

on

Better air quality has led to a significant reduction of premature deaths over the past decade in Europe. However, the European Environment Agency's (EEA) latest official data show that almost all Europeans still suffer from air pollution, leading to about 400,000 premature deaths across the continent.

The EEA's ‘Air quality in Europe — 2020 report' shows that six Member States exceeded the European Union's limit value for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in 2018: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Italy, Poland, and Romania. Only four countries in Europe — Estonia, Finland, Iceland and Ireland — had fine particulate matter concentrations that were below the World Health Organization's (WHO) stricter guideline values. The EEA report notes that there remains a gap between EU's legal air quality limits and WHO guidelines, an issue that the European Commission seeks to address with a revision of the EU standards under the Zero Pollution Action Plan.

The new EEA analysis is based on the latest official air quality data from more than 4 000 monitoring stations across Europe in 2018.

Exposure to fine particulate matter caused about 417,000 premature deaths in 41 European countries in 2018, according to the EEA assessment. About 379,000 of those deaths occurred in EU-28 where 54,000 and 19,000 premature deaths were attributed to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ground-level ozone (O3), respectively. (The three figures are separate estimates and the numbers should not be added together to avoid double counting.)

EU, national and local policies and emission cuts in key sectors have improved air quality across Europe, the EEA report shows. Since 2000, emissions of key air pollutants, including nitrogen oxides (NOx), from transport have declined significantly, despite growing mobility demand and associated increase in the sector's greenhouse gas emissions. Pollutant emissions from energy supply have also seen major reductions while progress in reducing emissions from buildings and agriculture has been slow.

Thanks to better air quality, around 60,000 fewer people died prematurely due to fine particulate matter pollution in 2018, compared with 2009. For nitrogen dioxide, the reduction is even greater as premature deaths have declined by about 54 % over the last decade. The continuing implementation of environmental and climate policies across Europe is a key factor behind the improvements.

“It is good news that air quality is improving thanks to the environmental and climate policies that we have been implementing. But we can't ignore the downside – the number of premature deaths in Europe due to air pollution is still far too high. With the European Green Deal we have set ourselves an ambition of reducing all kinds of pollution to zero. If we are to succeed and fully protect people's health and the environment, we need to cut air pollution further and align our air quality standards more closely with the recommendations of the World Health Organization. We will look at this in our upcoming Action Plan,” said Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius.

“The EEA's data prove that investing in better air quality is an investment for better health and productivity for all Europeans. Policies and actions that are consistent with Europe's zero pollution ambition, lead to longer and healthier lives and more resilient societies,” said Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director.

The European Commission has recently published a roadmap for the EU Action Plan Towards a Zero Pollution Ambition, which is part of the European Green Deal.

Air quality and COVID-19

The EEA report also contains an overview of the links between the COVID-19 pandemic and air quality. A more detailed assessment of provisional EEA data for 2020 and supporting modelling by the Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMS), confirms earlier assessments showing up to 60 % reductions of certain air pollutants in many European countries where lockdown measures were implemented in the spring of 2020. The EEA does not yet have estimates on the potential positive health impacts of the cleaner air during 2020.

The report also notes that long-term exposure to air pollutants causes cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, which both have been identified as risk factors for death in COVID-19 patients. However, the causality between air pollution and severity of the COVID-19 infections is not clear and further epidemiological research is needed.

Background

The EEA's briefing, EEA's health risk assessments of air pollution, provides an overview of how the EEA calculates its estimates on the health impacts of poor air quality.

The health impacts of exposure to air pollution are diverse, ranging from inflammation of the lungs to premature deaths. The World Health Organization is evaluating the increasing scientific evidence that links air pollution to different health impacts in order to propose new guidelines.

In the EEA's health risk assessment, mortality is selected as the health outcome that is quantified, as it is the one for which the scientific evidence is most robust. Mortality due to the long-term exposure to air pollution is estimated using two different metrics: “premature deaths” and “years of life lost”. These estimates provide a measure of the general impact of air pollution across a given population and, for example, the numbers cannot be assigned to specific individuals living in a specific geographical location.

The health impacts are estimated separately for the three pollutants (PM2.5, NO2 and O3). These numbers cannot be added together to determine total health impacts, as this may lead to double counting of people who are exposed to high levels of more than one pollutant.

 

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Facebook

Twitter

Trending