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

EU Reporter Correspondent

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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.

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

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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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Agriculture

Commission extends flexibilities of Common Agricultural Policy checks for 2021

EU Reporter Correspondent

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With restrictions still in place across the EU, the Commission has adopted rules to extend to 2021 flexibilities for carrying out checks required for Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) support. The rules allow the replacement of on-farm visits with the use of alternative sources of evidence, including new technologies such as satellite imagery or geo-tagged photos. This will ensure reliable checks while respecting the restriction of movement and minimizing physical contact between farmers and inspectors.

Furthermore, the rules include flexibility around timing requirements for checks. This allows member states to postpone checks, notably to a period when movement restrictions are lifted. In addition, the rules comprise a reduction of the number of physical on-the-spot checks to be carried out for area and animal-related measures, rural development investments and market measures. These rules aim to ease the administrative burden of national paying agencies by adapting to current circumstances while still ensuring necessary controls for CAP support. More information on the CAP's management and control systems is available here. More information is also available here.

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