Few people know that in the Member States of the European Union, virtually all the environmental protection regulations are established and decided on at EU level. The jointly established legal regulations are either directly implemented or rulings of the national parliaments transpose them into the legislative systems of the given countries. If we consider this situation, there are no alternatives for the successful management of environmental problems because air and water pollution, climate change, and the majority of environmental problems, do not respect a country’s borders. Alongside the practical reasons there is a theoretical basis for having a common environmental protection policy i.e. that all citizens of Europe are due the same standard of environmental protection and enterprises are entitled to operate under identical competitive conditions (level playing field). Accordingly, today more than 250 EU directives and decrees cover various aspects of environmental protection.
The EU provides financial support to Member States for the implementation of common environmental protection policies. The lion’s share of grants designated for environmental protection projects derives from the EU’s Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund. Financing also arrives from the EU regional development funds, which offer support for the promotion of environmentally-friendly farming methods. Support of environmental protection-related research projects is also a key area of R&D framework programmes. Opportunities for environmental protection developments and investments come through the credit lines of the European Investment Bank. In the event of environmental catastrophes, forest fires, floods and water pollution, Member States can access support via the EU Solidarity Fund. In addition to all these resources, the LIFE (finance resources and environmental protection) programme financed from the EU budget has operated since 1992. Since its launch LIFE has co-financed 2750 projects, contributing nearly €1.35 billion to protection of the environment in the territory of the European Union. During the 2007-2013 period the programme continues functioning as LIFE+, with a budget of more than double the previous financing period (this means that €2.14 billion is available for disbursement over the seven years). The programme comprises three elements: Nature and biodiversity, Environmental protection policy and management, and Information and communication.
Decisions on EU environmental protection policy are based on a few core principles. The principle of prevention says that every effort must be made to prevent damages instead of restoring losses. On the basis of the principle of place of origin, problems must always be tackled at their source. The principle of the polluter pays stipulates who should bear the cost of measures and declares that the entity causing the damage must pay. The cross-section principle demands that environmental protection criteria be built into all EU specialist policies. On the basis of the precautionary principle, action must be taken even when there is only the suspicion that an environmental problem may arise, so that the necessary measures are taken even before the occurrence of any potential damage. The high level protection principle takes into account differing situations of the various regions within the EU and provides an opportunity for environmental protection measures to be adjusted to local specificities.
European Climate Change Programme
Linking the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to the Kyoto Protocol, in 2000 the EU launched the European Climate Change Programme (ECCP). Within the framework of the Protocol, the 15 Member States of the EU undertook (as a single group) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8% by 2012 compared to the 1990 level. ECCP measures are designed, first and foremost, to promote attainment of this goal. The most important result of the first stage of the programme is the greenhouse gas Emissions Trading System (ETS), which was launched in 2005. Essentially, industrial facilities falling within the scope of the system receive emission quotas from the Member States, in other words, they are told how many tonnes of carbon dioxide they can release into the air. If, for instance, a company wishes to exceed the quota, then it can purchase quotas from other companies that pollute to a lesser extent than permitted. Like securities, quotas are traded on a so-called CO2 stock exchange. Other than the emissions trading system, the ECCP established approximately 30 instruments. One such instrument is the guideline on the funding of renewable resources in the field of the production of electricity, another is the so-called ‘voluntary agreement’ reached with vehicle manufacturers in the course of which the car makers voluntarily undertake reduced carbon dioxide emissions on new cars. The second stage of the European Climate Change Programme got underway in October 2005 with the dual aim of unifying implementation of the measures introduced in the first stage and determining further cost effective measures to reduce emissions. In this phase, a principal role is awarded to capturing and storing carbon dioxide, the integration of the transport sector into the emissions trading system, and the planning and execution of adaptation activities aimed at reducing the impacts of climate change.
In the struggle against climate change and global warming, the EU’s integrated climate change and energy policy was announced in March 2007. The purpose of the policy is to establish a climate-friendly economy, which would be based on low carbon dioxide-emitting technologies and energy resources. Since at present climate change is largely driven by the burning of fossil fuels, this is why it is necessary to change the methods of energy production and use in the world, and the types of energy that are used. This can only be achieved by the countries of the world acting as one. The EU recognized that the best way of putting pressure on the international community in this area is if it made an independent commitment in the battle against climate change. Under the terms of a ruling by the European Council (March 2007), the goal of the EU is for global warming to exceed the pre-industrialized value by a maximum 2 °C, and to reduce emissions to a half of the 1990 level by 2050. In order to achieve the goal the Member States undertook several long-term commitments, irrespective of what other countries do. These commitments are as follows:
– by increasing energy efficiency, to reduce energy consumption by 20% compared to the forecast global data for 2020;
– by 2020, to increase by 20% the proportion of renewable energy resources in general energy consumption, thus lifting the current level nearly three-fold;
– by 2020, to increase ten-fold – to at least 10% – the proportion of bio fuels in average petrol and diesel consumption, on condition that sustainable, ‘second generation’ bio fuels produced not for food purposes become available in commercial trading as well;
– to develop and support low or even zero emissions technologies, including carbon dioxide capture and storage, in other words, stopping the emission of carbon dioxide into the air by capturing the gas and storing it underground in depleted gas fields or old salt mines;
– better integrating the EU energy markets, in other words, taking further steps towards a more competitive, Europe-wide electricity and gas market;
– gradually to harmonize the EU’s energy policy with other policies, not solely environmental protection but, for instance, with research, agricultural and trade policies as well;
– to enhance international cooperation: if the EU is able to reach common ground in the area of energy, and represent its common viewpoint, then it can become the leader in the global debate on energy.
In addition to the EU’s own commitments, the European Council expressed its goal of reducing the emission of greenhouses gases (at a global level) by 2050 to 60-80% compared to the 1990 level. The industrialized countries should jointly cut their emissions to below the 1990 level by 2020, while developing countries such as China and India must restrict the increase in their own emissions. The EU is working on establishing a global agreement in the interest of hitting these targets. As a result of the setting of goals and voluntary commitments, the EU succeeded in getting a global commitment put on the main agenda at the meeting of the G8 grouping the world’s leading nations in June 2007. Although the joint target is less ambitious than the EU plans, still the G8 succeeded in agreeing to reduce by a half greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and they undertook to work together to have this objective approved within a UN framework.