Climate Change, Environment, Europe, Headlines

EUROPE-ENVIRONMENT: Hot Air Rises at Talks and in Towns

Julio Godoy

PARIS, Aug 27 2010 (IPS) - The European Union (EU) is failing to fulfil its environmental commitments in practically all areas, from protecting biodiversity to improving air quality in the cities, according to official studies released this month.

This worrisome trend is confirmed by the European Commission, the bloc’s governing body, in its latest Environment Policy Review released on Aug. 2.

In the document the EC says although many official environmental protection programmes have been launched and progress is evident in some areas, “further efforts are needed, in particular (to tackle) the loss of biodiversity.”

The study states that only 17 percent of protected habitats and species have a good conservation status. And goes on to add: “Grasslands, wetlands and coastal habitats are the most vulnerable, mainly due to factors such as the decline in traditional patterns of agriculture, pressure by tourist development, and climate change.”

In addition, the review warns, “The protection of soil biodiversity continues to present a challenge. The overexploitation of marine fisheries remains a threat to marine ecosystems, with some 45 percent of assessed European stocks falling outside safe biological limits.”

The EC review also confirms the warnings of other studies: “On a global level, loss of biodiversity has reached alarming proportions.” The study estimates that the global target to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 is unlikely to be met.

These and other findings led the EU environment commissioner, Janez Poto_nik, to urge European governments to increase their efforts on the issue. “A number of data and trends (in environmental protection) remain worrying. I see a clear need…for further EU and national policy measures to make Europe more resource efficient,” Poto_nik said.

The review also points out that the quality of air in most European cities continues to be “bad”. The exposure to particulate matter, especially ozone and other heavy polluters such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, remains high.

The situation is no better in transport. The share of road traffic went up to 77 percent in 2008 from 74 percent in 2000, while the use of railroads stagnated during the period.

The review has some words of commendation also. In its country review, for instance, it confirms that France will keep its “commitment to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 75 percent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels.” France reduced its per capita emission to 8.6 tons in 2006, down from 9.2 tons in 2000, it said.

“In 2006, France’s emissions were four percent lower than 1990, and so well within its target of stabilising emissions by 2008-2012, in line with the objectives of the Kyoto protocol,” the review stated.

But another study released on Aug. 10 by the French ministry of the environment, says the figures are wrong. France is today emitting more greenhouse gases per capita than it did 20 years ago, the general commission for sustainable development, a state agency at the ministry of the environment, pointed out. According to their statistics, in 2007 France emitted 439 million tons, practically the same as in 1990.

These figures on emissions suggest that “France will have enormous difficulty in fulfilling its own commitment to reduce emissions by 20 percent by 2020, and by 75 percent in 2050,” Grégoire Allix, environmental correspondent for the daily newspaper Le Monde, said.

Scientists say this inability to check emissions is due to the rebound effect. This is the collective behavioural response to the introduction of new technologies and measures aimed at reducing the consumption of energy and resources. Such reactions frequently offset the benefits of new technology or measures.

As the director of the French commission for sustainable development, Michèle Pappalardo, explained, “Technical progress has provoked a substantial fall in emissions, both on the production and consumption sides. But the growth in production and consumption has more than counterbalanced such efficiency gains,” Pappalardo told IPS.

According to her, France and the EU could still meet their environmental objectives. “But we need to establish an accurate carbon price and improve our energy efficiency, including individual behaviour, to reduce consumption,” Pappalardo added.

Another study released this month by the Stockholm Environment Institute and the Third World Network said the present regulations are peppered with loopholes, allowing industrialised countries such as France to increase emissions instead of reducing them. The study was released in the German city of Bonn during a UN conference to formulate new guidelines on reducing emissions.

The loopholes relate to land use and forestry credits, carbon offset credits gained from UN schemes, as well as surplus carbon allowances accumulated by former Soviet countries under the Kyoto protocol. Besides, it says, international aviation and shipping emissions are not included in the schemes.

“Industrialised countries pledged a modest reduction in their emissions, but these loopholes would actually allow them to increase them substantially well into the future,” Sivan Kartha, senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute, told IPS.

“This means that rich nations need not do anything to hold emissions. They could accumulate huge amounts of credits and continue business as usual,” he said.

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