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EU action had little effect on halting the decline of #WildPollinators, say auditors

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EU measures did not ensure the protection of wild pollinators, according to a new report from the European Court of Auditors (ECA). The biodiversity strategy to 2020 was largely ineffective in preventing their decline. In addition, key EU policies, among which the Common Agricultural Policy, do not include specific requirements for the protection of wild pollinators. On top of this, EU pesticides legislation is a main cause of wild pollinator loss, say the auditors.

Pollinators such as bees, wasps, hoverflies, butterflies, moths and beetles greatly contribute to increasing the quantity and quality of our food. In recent decades, however, wild pollinators have declined in abundance and in diversity, largely due to intensive agriculture and the use of pesticides. The European Commission has established a framework of measures in response to this, largely based on its 2018 Pollinators Initiative and its biodiversity strategy to 2020. It has also put in place measures with the potential to affect wild pollinators under existing EU policies and legislation. The auditors assessed how effective this action has been.

“Pollinators play an essential role in plant reproduction and ecosystem functions, and their decline should be seen as a major threat to our environment, agriculture and quality food supply,” said Samo Jereb, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “The EU initiatives taken so far to protect wild pollinators have unfortunately been too weak to bear fruit.”

The auditors found that the EU’s dedicated framework does not really help to protect wild pollinators. Although no single action in the EU’s biodiversity strategy to 2020 was specifically aimed at reversing the decline in wild pollinators, four of its targets may indirectly benefit pollinators. Yet the Commission’s own mid-term review found that for three of these targets, progress had been insufficient or non-existent. The review also specifically identified pollination as one of the most degraded elements in ecosystems across the EU. The auditors also note that the Pollinators Initiative has not led to major changes in key policies.

The auditors also found that other EU policies promoting biodiversity do not include specific requirements for the protection of wild pollinators. The Commission has not made use of the options available in terms of biodiversity conservation measures in any programme, including the Habitats Directive, Natura 2000 and the LIFE programme. As far as the CAP is concerned, the auditors consider that it is part of the problem, not part of the solution. The greening and cross-compliance requirements under the CAP have not been effective in halting the decline of biodiversity on farmland, as the EU auditors concluded in a recent report.

Finally, the auditors also emphasize that current EU legislation on pesticides has been unable to offer adequate measures to protect wild pollinators. The legislation currently in force includes safeguards to protect honeybees, but risk assessments are still based on guidance which is outdated and poorly aligned with legal requirements and the latest scientific knowledge. In this connection, the auditors point out that the EU framework has allowed Member States to continue using pesticides thought to be responsible for massive honeybee losses. For example, between 2013 and 2019, 206 emergency authorisations were granted for the use of three neonicotinoids (imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin), even though their application has been restricted since 2013, and they have been strictly banned for outdoor use since 2018. In another report published this year, the EU auditors found that integrated pest management practices could help reduce the use of neonicotinoids, but that the EU had made little progress so far in enforcing their use.

As the ‘Green Deal’ will be at the top of the EU’s agenda in the coming decades, the auditors recommend that the European Commission:

·       Assess the need for specific measures for wild pollinators in the 2021 follow-up actions and measures for the EU biodiversity strategy to 2030;

·       better integrate action to protect wild pollinators into EU policy instruments addressing biodiversity conservation and agriculture, and;

·       improve the protection of wild pollinators in the pesticides risk-assessment process.

Special report No 15/2020 'Protection of wild pollinators in the EU: Commission initiatives have not borne fruit' is available on the ECA website in 23 EU languages.

This audit complements recently published ECA special reports on Biodiversity on farmland, pesticide use and the Natura 2000 network.

The ECA presents its special reports to the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, as well as to other interested parties such as national parliaments, industry stakeholders and representatives of civil society. The vast majority of the recommendations we make in our reports are put into practice.

Information on the measures the ECA has taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic can be found here.

Environment

Water management: Commission consults to update lists of pollutants affecting surface and ground water

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The Commission has launched an online public consultation to seek views on the upcoming review of the lists of pollutants occurring in surface and ground waters, as well as on corresponding regulatory standards. This initiative is particularly important for implementing the recently adopted Zero Pollution Action Plan as part of the European Green Deal, and wider efforts to secure the more efficient and safer use of water.

Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “All Europeans should benefit from clean water. Ensuring good quality of surface and groundwater in Europe is paramount for human health and for the environment. Pollution caused by pesticides, manmade chemicals or from residues of pharmaceuticals must be avoided as much as possible. We want to hear your views on how this can best be achieved.”

A recent evaluation (‘fitness check') in December 2019, found EU water legislation to be broadly fit for purpose. However, improvement is needed on aspects such as investment, implementing rules, integrating water objectives into other policies, administrative simplification and digitalisation. This revision aims to address some of the shortcomings in relation to chemical pollution and the legal obligation to regularly review the lists of pollutants, as well as to help accelerate implementation. The public consultation is open for feedback until 1 November 2021. More information is in this news release.

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Environment

EU invests €122 million in innovative projects to decarbonize the economy

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For the first time since the creation of the Innovation Fund, the European Union is investing €118 million into 32 small innovative projects located in 14 EU member states, Iceland and Norway. The grants will support projects aiming to bring low-carbon technologies to the market in energy intensive industries, hydrogen, energy storage and renewable energy. In addition to these grants, 15 projects located in 10 EU member states and Norway will benefit from project development assistance worth up to €4.4 million, with the aim of advancing their maturity.

Executive Vice President Timmermans said: “With today's investment, the EU is giving concrete support to clean tech projects all over Europe to scale up technological solutions that can help reach climate neutrality by 2050. The increase of the Innovation Fund proposed in the Fit for 55 Package will enable the EU to support even more projects in the future, speed them up, and bring them to the market as quickly as possible.”

A press release is available online.

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Belgium

Cars and pavements washed away as Belgian town hit by worst floods in decades

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The southern Belgian town of Dinant was hit by the heaviest floods in decades on Saturday (24 July) after a two-hour thunderstorm turned streets into torrential streams that washed away cars and pavements but did not kill anyone, writes Jan Strupczewski, Reuters.

Dinant was spared the deadly floods 10 days ago that killed 37 people in southeast Belgium and many more in Germany, but the violence of Saturday's storm surprised many.

"I have been living in Dinant for 57 years, and I've never seen anything like that," Richard Fournaux, the former mayor of the town on the Meuse river and birthplace of the 19th century inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, said on social media.

A woman works to recover her belongings following heavy rainfall in Dinant, Belgium July 25, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron
A woman walks in an area affected by heavy rainfall in Dinant, Belgium July 25, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

Rainwater gushing down steep streets swept away dozens of cars, piling them in a heap at a crossing, and washed away cobbles stones, pavements and whole sections of tarmac as inhabitants watched in horror from windows.

There was no precise estimate of the damage, with town authorities predicting only that it would be "significant", according to Belgian RTL TV.

The storm wreaked similar havoc, also with no loss of life, in the small town of Anhee a few kilometres north of Dinant.

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