As much as 95 % of the EU urban population is exposed to pollutant concentrations above WHO air quality guidelines
The European Committee of the Regions has put forward an opinion on the 8th Environment Action Programme (EAP), the EU’s common environmental strategy for 2030 that supports the European Green Deal. Europe’s environment outlook in the coming decades is discouraging, says the 2020 European Environment Agency report. Europe suffers from agricultural intensification, biodiversity loss, ecosystems and wildlife decline and poor air quality. As much as 95 % of the EU urban population is exposed daily to pollutant concentrations above air quality guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO), provoking 400 000 premature deaths annually.
In the 2020 state of the environment report, the European Environment Agency (EEA) warns that Europe faces environmental challenges of unprecedented scale and urgency. Although EU environment and climate policies have delivered substantial benefits over recent decades, Europe faces persistent problems in areas such as biodiversity loss, resource use, climate change impacts and environmental risks to health and well-being.
The CoR rapporteur on the 8th EAP is Dimitrios Karnavos (EL/EPP). The Mayor of Kallithea said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we urgently need a better environment, healthier cities and a cleaner air. We must ensure that the new Environment Action Programme promotes a sustainable business environment and fosters green investments as the basis to reach a toxic-free environment, provide better living standards for people and create communities that are more resilient. But cities and regions cannot be left alone. Local and regional authorities should be equipped with the right instruments and adequate resources to implement environment legislation and policies on the ground, without which we will not build better resilience to future pandemics let alone reach climate-neutrality by 2050.”
The CoR underlines that traditional, sectoral environmental policy is largely ineffective and calls to move to an integrated policy making to create synergies and avoid mismatches. Members propose to adopt a healthy living for all approach for all EU policies promoting human health, and a healthy planet, economy and society with opportunities for all.
Given the complexity of current environmental challenges, the 8th Environment Action Programme cannot be sufficiently achieved by Member States alone. Local and regional governments hold competencies in key environment areas. Their full involvement is crucial in designing and implementing environmental policies but also in engaging with citizens, businesses, research centres academia and local stakeholders, members stress.
Members request the support of the European Commission to ensure the full participation of local and regional authorities across all dimensions of environmental policy-making. On this aspect, the CoR regrets that the 8th EAP includes no reference to the Technical Platform for Cooperation on the Environment, a forum set up in 2012 between the EC and the CoR aimed at fostering dialogue on local and regional problems and solutions in the application of EU environment law.
The CoR reminds that the green recovery efforts should take into consideration territorial disparities and challenges and ensure that no community is left behind. Local and regional communities need adequate instruments and resources to improve the implementation of environmental policies on the ground. A place-based approach is the best way to implement environment policies based on the specificities of each territory, members recall. The CoR requests that the 8th EAP goes beyond the urban-rural typology and makes an explicit reference to all types of communities, including coastal, mountain, island, archipelagic and outermost areas.
Members call for ambitious investments in key green sectors to create growth and jobs while building resilience and stress that more research, knowledge and publicly available and easily accessible data is urgently needed.
Local and regional leaders call for the full integration of environment, climate and circular economy policies into the budgetary, economic and social actions of the EU including those that fall under the COVID-19 recovery plan. Currently, 30% of the resources of both the EU’s long-term budget and the NextGenerationEU package have been allocated to fight climate change.
The CoR calls for enhanced cooperation between the European Commission and local and regional authorities to improve the availability and interoperability of data at local and regional levels, which is crucial to successfully implement the 8th EAP.
While members give their support to the new monitoring framework proposed by the European Commission in the 8th EAP, and with due regard towards existing frameworks such as the Environmental Implementation Review, the CoR calls for setting up headline indicators for major areas such as the circular economy, climate and energy, toxic-free, biodiversity and zero pollution. The CoR proposes to involve local and regional authorities in the definition of new indicators, which should comprise quality assurance, balance, applicability, prioritisation, flexibility, timelines and periodicity.
Local and regional leaders support greater efforts in environmental education and in youth projects to raise environmental awareness.
Source: The 2030 Environmental Action Programme. COVID-19 shows need for a stronger link between health and environment (europa.eu)
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