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Green Deal: Commission adopts new Chemicals Strategy towards a toxic free environment

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Today (14 October) the European Commission adopted the EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. The strategy is the first step towards a zero pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment announced in the European Green Deal. The strategy will boost innovation for safe and sustainable chemicals, and increase protection of human health and the environment against hazardous chemicals.

This includes prohibiting the use of the most harmful chemicals in consumer products such as toys, childcare articles, cosmetics, detergents, food contact materials and textiles, unless proven essential for society, and ensuring that all chemicals are used more safely and sustainably. Chemicals Strategy fully recognizes the fundamental role of chemicals for human well-being and for the green and digital transition of European economy and society. At the same time it acknowledges the urgent need to address the health and environmental challenges caused by the most harmful chemicals.

In this spirit, the strategy sets out concrete actions to make chemicals safe and sustainable by design and to ensure that chemicals can deliver all their benefits without harming the planet and current and future generations. This includes ensuring that the most harmful chemicals for human health and the environment are avoided for non-essential societal use, in particular in consumer products and with regard to most vulnerable groups, but also that all chemicals are used more safely and sustainably.

Several innovation and investment actions will be foreseen to accompany the chemicals industry through this transition. The strategy also draws the attention of member states to the possibilities of the Recovery and Resilience Facility to invest in the green and digital transition of EU industries, including in the chemical sector.

Increasing protection of health and the environment

The strategy aims to significantly increase the protection of human health and the environment from harmful chemicals, paying particular attention to vulnerable population groups.

Flagship initiatives include in particular:

Phasing out from consumer products, such as toys, childcare articles, cosmetics, detergents, food contact materials and textiles, the most harmful substances, which include among others endocrine disruptors, chemicals that affect the immune and respiratory systems, and persistent substances such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), unless their use is proven essential for society.

Minimizing and substituting as far possible the presence of substances of concern in all products. Priority will be given to those product categories that affect vulnerable populations and those with the highest potential for circular economy.

Addressing the combination effect of chemicals (cocktail effect) by taking better account of the risk that is posed to human health and the environment by daily exposure to a wide mix of chemicals from different sources.

Ensuring that producers and consumers have access to information on chemical content and safe use, by introducing information requirements in the context of the Sustainable Product Policy Initiative.

Boosting innovation and promoting EU's competitiveness

Making chemicals safer and more sustainable is a continued necessity as well as a great economic opportunity. The strategy aims to capture this opportunity and enable the green transition of the chemicals sector and its value chains. As far as possible, new chemicals and materials must be safe and sustainable by design i.e. from production to end of life. This will help avoid the most harmful effects of chemicals and ensure the lowest possible impact on climate, resource use, ecosystems and biodiversity.

The strategy envisages the EU industry as a globally competitive player in the production and use of safe and sustainable chemicals. The actions announced in the strategy will support industrial innovation so that such chemicals become the norm on the EU market and a benchmark worldwide.

This will be done mainly by:

Developing safe-and-sustainable-by-design criteria and ensuring financial support for the commercialization and uptake of safe and sustainable chemicals; Ensuring the development and uptake of safe and sustainable-by-design substances, materials and products through EU funding and investment instruments and public-private partnerships.

Considerably stepping up enforcement of EU rules both at the borders and in the single market. ~

Putting in place an EU research and innovation agenda for chemicals, to fill knowledge gaps on the impact of chemicals, promote innovation and move away from animal testing.

Simplifying and consolidating the EU legal framework – e.g. by introducing the ‘One substance one assessment' process, strengthening the principles of 'no data, no market' and introducing targeted amendments to REACH and sectorial legislation, to name a few. The Commission will also promote safety and sustainability standards globally, in particular by leading by example and promoting a coherent approach aiming that hazardous substances that are banned in the EU are not produced for exports.

Executive Vice President for the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans said: “The Chemicals Strategy is the first step towards Europe's zero pollution ambition. Chemicals are part and parcel of our daily life, and they allow us to develop innovative solutions for greening our economy. But we need to make sure that chemicals are produced and used in a way that does not hurt human health and the environment. It is especially important to stop using the most harmful chemicals in consumer products, from toys and childcare products to textiles and materials that come in contact with our food.”

Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius said: “We owe our well-being and high living standards to the many useful chemicals that people have invented over the past 100 years. However, we cannot close our eyes to the harm that hazardous chemicals pose to our environment and health. We have come a long way regulating chemicals in the EU, and with this strategy we want to build on our achievements and go further to prevent the most dangerous chemicals from entering into the environment and our bodies, and affecting especially the most fragile and vulnerable ones.”

Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “Our health should always come first. That is exactly what we have ensured in a Commission flagship initiative such as the Chemical Strategy. Chemicals are essential for our society and they must be safe and sustainably produced. But we need to be protected from the harmful chemicals around us. This strategy shows our high level of commitment and our determination to protect the health of citizens, across the EU.”

Background

In 2018, Europe was the second biggest producer of chemicals (accounting for 16.9% of sales). Chemical manufacturing is the fourth largest industry in the EU, directly employing approximately 1.2 million people. 59% of chemicals produced are directly supplied to other sectors, incl. health, construction, automotive, electronics, and textiles. Global chemicals production is expected to double by 2030, and the already widespread use of chemicals is likely to also increase, including in consumer products.

The EU has a sophisticated chemicals legislation, which has generated the most advanced knowledge base on chemicals in the world and set up scientific bodies to carry out the risk and hazard assessments of chemicals. The EU has also managed to reduce the risks to people and the environment for certain hazardous chemicals like carcinogens. Yet, EU's chemicals policy needs to be further strengthened to take into account the latest scientific knowledge and citizens concerns.

Many chemicals can harm the environment and human health, including future generations. They can interfere with ecosystems and weaken human resilience and capacity to respond to vaccines. Human biomonitoring studies in the EU point to a growing number of different hazardous chemicals in human blood and body tissue, including certain pesticides, biocides, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, plasticizers and flame retardants. Combined prenatal exposure to several chemicals has led to reduced foetal growth and lower birth rates.

Environment

President von der Leyen at EU Green Week 2020: On the way to Kunming

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Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gave a speech at the closing session of the EU Green Week 2020. “Biodiversity is at the heart of [our] future and the future of our planet. There is no choice between nature on the one hand and the economy on the other. What is good for nature is good for the economy. Climate change and biodiversity loss are happening before our eyes. They amplify each other. The need to act has never been clearer. This is what is driving me as President of the European Commission.” 

In her speech, President von der Leyen called on all present to join forces to fight biodiversity loss and make Europe a global leader in this: “Today, we are calling on all to join our action to halt biodiversity loss. You are numerous today, coming from all parts of Europe, public and private sectors, small villages and big cities, start-ups, SMEs and multinationals. And there are more and more allies in the world: Development and humanitarian organizations; companies and cities; youth and faith organizations; and of course all countries and regions around the world who want to address biodiversity loss. We are teaming up. We are providing leadership to help us agree on a new Global Biodiversity Framework in Kunming next year. Global rules that are clear, measurable that allow us, to hold each other accountable. Let us act, each of us, with no delay. You can count on my commitment.”

The full speech is available online here.

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Environment

Commission launches Knowledge Centre to reverse biodiversity loss and protect Europe's ecosystems

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In the framework of the EU Green Week, the European Commission launches a new Knowledge Centre for Biodiversity: a one-stop shop for science-based evidence to restore and protect the natural ecosystems that provide us with food, medicines, materials, recreation, and wellbeing. The Knowledge Centre will make the latest knowledge about biodiversity available to strengthen the impact of EU policies.

It will also help to monitor the implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, which aims to put Europe's biodiversity on a path to recovery by the end of the decade. Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, said: “Only what gets measured gets done. If we want to deliver on the EU Biodiversity Strategy, we need to better connect all the dots, and for this we need sound data. Be it on the status of pollinators, environmental impact of pesticides, the value of nature for business or the economic rationale of nature-based solutions. We also need to make full use of the digital transformation, Earth observation and citizen science. The new knowledge centre will bring all this together, improving the way we generate and manage biodiversity knowledge, for use across policy areas.”

Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, responsible for the Joint Research Centre,  added:  “Science has a crucial role to play in conserving our biodiversity. Led by our own scientists at the Joint Research Centre, the new Knowledge Centre for Biodiversity will help the European and global research community and policymakers to harvest and make sense of the vast array of information available, streamlining it into effective policies that protect Europe's ecosystems and the services they provide for European citizens.”

In addition, the first ever EU-wide ecosystem assessment has arrived,  which finds that a wealth of biodiversity data exists that could help in taking the right action to alleviate pressures on our ecosystems, but much of it remains unused. The assessment shows that we are becoming more and more dependent on our ecosystems, which themselves remain under high pressure from the impacts of climate change and human activities. The Knowledge Centre for Biodiversity will directly address challenges uncovered by the assessment. More information is available here.

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Agriculture

Commission welcomes Council agreement on future Common Agricultural Policy

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On 20 October, the Council agreed on its negotiating position, the so-called general approach, on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform proposals. The Commission welcomes this agreement, a decisive step towards entering the negotiation phase with the co-legislators.

Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said: “I welcome the progress made and the general approach on the Common Agricultural Policy reached over the night. This is an important step for our farmers and our farming community. I am grateful for member states' constructive cooperation and I trust this agreement will help ensure that European agriculture can continue to provide economic, environmental and social benefits for our farmers and citizens in future.”

The European Parliament is also voting on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) proposals during the Plenary session, with voting sessions scheduled until today (23 October). Once the European Parliament agrees on a position for all three CAP reports, the co-legislators will be able to enter into the negotiation phase, with a view to reach an overall agreement.

The Commission presented its CAP reform proposals in June 2018, aiming at a more flexible, performance and results-based approach, while setting higher environmental and climate action ambitions. Following the adoption of the Farm to fork and biodiversity strategies, the Commission presented the CAP reform's compatibility with the Green Deal's ambition.

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