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Closing the Loop: EU Quarrels Over Circular Economy Plan

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By Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, December 30, 2015 (Maximpact.com News) – The European Commission has adopted a new Circular Economy Package it says will help European businesses and consumers contribute to “closing the loop” of product lifecycles through greater recycling and re-use.

But Members of the European Parliament are critical of the new package.

The Commission says its plan will extract the maximum value and use from all raw materials, products and waste, encouraging energy savings, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and bringing benefits to Europe’s environment and economy.

The changes are needed, the Commission says, because global competition for resources is increasing. The concentration of resources outside the EU, particularly critical raw materials, makes industry and society within the 28 Member States dependent on imports and vulnerable to high prices, market volatility, and the political situation in supplying countries.

The new Circular Economy Package sets a common EU target for recycling 65 percent of municipal waste and 75 percent of packaging waste by 2030.

The plan calls for a binding target to reduce landfill to a maximum of 10 percent, with a complete ban on landfill for separately collected waste.

There will be economic incentives for producers to put greener products on the market and support recovery and recycling schemes for packaging, batteries, electric and electronic equipment as well as vehicles, among other products.

There are also plans to harmonize the way recycling rates are calculated across the Member States.

The proposals require action at all stages of the life cycle of products – from the extraction of raw materials, through material and product design, the production, distribution and consumption of goods, repair, re-manufacturing and re-use schemes, all the way through to waste management and recycling.

All these stages are linked. For instance, use of certain hazardous substances in the production of products can affect their recycling potential, and improvements in terms of resource and energy efficiency can be made at all stages.

In July 2014, under President Jose Barroso, the Commission adopted a Circular Economy Package that included a proposal for the review of waste legislation in response to the legal obligation to review the targets of three Directives: the Waste Framework Directive, the Landfill Directive, and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive.

Then, on November 1, 2014, a new Commission took office under President Jean-Claude Juncker. In its 2015 Work Programme, the Juncker Commission announced its intention to withdraw the 2014 proposal on Waste Review and to replace it with a new, more ambitious proposal to promote the circular economy by the end of 2015.

Two main reasons motivated this withdrawal.

First, the overall approach presented in July 2014 had an exclusive focus on waste management, without exploring synergies with other policies such as the development of markets for secondary raw materials.

Second, the Juncker Commission wanted to make the proposal more country specific and improve the implementation of waste policy, particularly existing problems of non-compliance.

On December 2, the Juncker Commission presented its new Circular Economy Package to the European Parliament.

The new initiative would establish a framework to overcome past shortcomings and create conditions for the development of a circular economy “with a clear and ambitious political vision combined with effective policy tools that can drive real change on the ground,” the Juncker Commission said.

The Commission said its new package “contributes to broad political priorities by tackling climate change and the environment while boosting job creation, economic growth, investment and social fairness.”

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The package was prepared by a core project team co-chaired by First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, with the close involvement of Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Karmenu Vella and Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs Elżbieta Bieńkowska.

Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development, said, “Our planet and our economy cannot survive if we continue with the ‘take, make, use and throw away’ approach. We need to retain precious resources and fully exploit all the economic value within them.”

“The circular economy is about reducing waste and protecting the environment, but it is also about a profound transformation of the way our entire economy works,” Timmermans said. “By rethinking the way we produce, work and buy we can generate new opportunities and create new jobs. With today’s package, we are delivering the comprehensive framework that will truly enable this change to happen.”

“It sets a credible and ambitious path for better waste management in Europe with supportive actions that cover the full product cycle. This mix of smart regulation and incentives at EU level will help businesses and consumers, as well as national and local authorities, to drive this transformation,” said Timmermans.

Katainen, responsible for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, said, “These proposals give a positive signal to those waiting to invest in the circular economy. Today we are saying that Europe is the best place to grow a sustainable and environmentally-friendly business.”

“This transition towards a more circular economy is about reshaping the market economy and improving our competitiveness,” said Katainen, a former Finnish prime minister. “If we can be more resource efficient and reduce our dependency on scarce raw materials, we can develop a competitive edge. The job creation potential of the circular economy is huge, and the demand for better, more efficient products and services is booming.”

The Juncker Commission is in partnership with the European Investment Bank to fund the new package.

On December 10, Vella blogged that the partners signed an amendment to the InnovFin Delegation Agreement “that will enable higher-risk, yet innovative sustainable business models and plans to access credit through InnovFin – an EU finance support programme under Horizon 2020.”

Funding of over €650 million under Horizon 2020 and €5.5 billion under the structural funds will suppport the new Circular Economy Package, the Commission said.

“The proposals are a powerful enabling framework, but we will also need substantial private sector funding directed towards the circular economy,” wrote Vella. “The European Fund for Strategic Investment (the ‘Juncker Plan’) is one tool to support this. The Commission would like to also guide future investment, steering it more towards green choices, with progressive divestment from unsustainable activities.”

Vella wrote that the EIB, the Commission and national banks plan to work together to increase awareness of circular economy financing.

But many Members of the European Parliament are not impressed with the new package.

The 65 percent target is a point of contention. Although the Juncker Commission says the new package is far more ambitious than its predecessor, MEPs point out that Barroso’s team wanted to introduce a 70 percent target in 2014.

Karl-Heinz Florenz, a German Member of the European Parliament who sits with the European People’s Party group, told the “Parliament Magazine” that the new proposal amounts to “much ado about nothing.”

Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats Vice-Chair Kathleen Van Brempt of Belgium said, “This ambitious roadmap needs to be supported by specific targets, and our political group will try to build a consensus in the Parliament to introduce those targets, to make sure the roadmap is accomplished.”

Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, shadow rapporteur on the circular economy with the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, accused the Commission of, “wasting months of work and many hours of parliamentary time.”

“With a weakened waste proposal and an action plan copy-pasted from the 2010 roadmap to a resource efficient Europe, it’s clear the European Commission is failing to deliver on this important agenda for growth and jobs,” the Dutch MEP told the “Parliament Magazine.”

Greens/European Free Alliance Group Vice-Chair Bas Eickhout commented, “While we welcome the fact that the Commission has finally come forward with revised proposals on the circular economy, we are concerned that the plans are undermined by the reduced ambition. This is contrary to the commitment by the Commission for a more ambitious proposal.”

“A year on from the initial decision by the Commission to withdraw its original proposals, we have lost both time and ambition in the push to stimulate the circular economy at EU level,” said Eickhout.

Green environment spokesperson Davor Škrlec said, “It is a major shame that the Commission is not seeking to maximize the potential of the circular economy. We will seek to address some of the shortcomings in Parliament.”

Responding to criticism of the new package, Vice President Timmermans pointed out that the legally-binding 10 percent cap on land-filling was, “completely new” and that the 65 percent target for recyclables was, “an extremely ambitious goal, which for many member states will require a huge effort.”

Key actions under the Juncker Commission’s new Circular Economy Package include:

  • Funding of over €650 million under Horizon 2020 and €5.5 billion under the structural funds;
  • Actions to reduce food waste, including a common measurement methodology, improved date marking, and tools to meet the global Sustainable Development Goal to halve food waste by 2030;
  • Development of quality standards for secondary raw materials to increase the confidence of operators in the single market;
  • Measures in the Ecodesign working plan for 2015-2017 to promote reparability, durability and recyclability of products, in addition to energy efficiency;
  • A revised regulation on fertilizers, to facilitate the recognition of organic and waste-based fertilizers in the single market and support the role of bio-nutrients;
  • A strategy on plastics in the circular economy, addressing issues of recyclability, biodegradability, the presence of hazardous substances in plastics, and the Sustainable Development Goals target for reducing marine litter;
  • A series of actions on water reuse, including a legislative proposal on minimum requirements for the reuse of wastewater.
  • A clear timeline for the actions proposed and a plan for a simple and effective monitoring framework for the circular economy.

Vice President Katainen said, “We will remove barriers that make it difficult for businesses to optimize their resource use and we will boost the internal market for secondary raw materials. We want to achieve real progress on the ground and look forward to delivering on this ambition together with not only Member States, regions and municipalities, but also businesses, industry and civil society.”

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Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Main image: Members of the European Parliament in plenary session, 2015. (Photo courtesy European Parliament) © European Union 2015 – European Parliament.
Featured image: Naples, Italy struggles with longstanding garbage problems, June 2007 (Photo by Chris Beckett) under Creative Commons license via Flickr
Image 01: EU Vice-President Jyrki Katainen addresses the European Parliament, January 2015 © European Union 2015 – European Parliament. (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives Creative Commons licenses creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).
Image 02: Landfill at the Selly Oak Battery Park redevelopment site in Birmingham, England, May 2015 (Photo by Elliott Brown) under Creative Commons license via Flickr

Investment Court Could Restore Trust in Dispute Resolution

By Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, September 25, 2015 (Maximpact News) – Europeans no longer trust the way the EU resolves disputes between investors and states, says European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström. The Swedish politician proposes to restore that trust by establishing a “modern and transparent” Investment Court System to replace the existing investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) arbitration model.

The Investment Court would be part of all Europe’s ongoing and future trade negotiations, particularly the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the European Union and the United States now under negotiation.

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EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström debates with Members of the European Parliament the best dispute resolution system for investors in the context of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. (Photo © European Union 2015 – European Parliament creative commons license)

 

The existing ISDS system enables an investor to bring a dispute before an arbitration tribunal. It operates on an ad hoc basis with arbitrators chosen by the disputing parties.

Instead, Malmström proposes a permanent tribunal of 15 publicly appointed, highly qualified judges and an accompanying six-judge appellate panel.

ISDS provisions appear in trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and in such international investment agreements as the Energy Charter Treaty, but there is widespread disatisfaction with the ISDS system.

“From the start of my mandate almost a year ago, ISDS has been one of the most controversial issues in my brief,” blogged Malmström on her official site last week. “I met and listened to many people and organizations, including NGOs, which voiced a number of concerns about the old, traditional system.”

“It’s clear to me that all these complaints had one common feature – that there is a fundamental and widespread lack of trust by the public in the fairness and impartiality of the old ISDS model,” she wrote. “This has significantly affected the public’s acceptance of ISDS and of companies bringing such cases.”

Malmström has her eye on eventually establishing a permanent international investment court.

But a senior U.S. trade official has criticized the proposal.

Stefan Selig, U.S. undersecretary for international trade at the Commerce Department, told Agence France Presse in May that the United States prefers the ISDS mechanism because it “increases the security of companies willing to make investments…”

EU investors are the most frequent users of the existing system. To Malmström this means that the EU must take responsibility for reforming and modernizing the system.

“Some have argued that the traditional ISDS model is private justice,” she wrote. “What I’m setting out here is a public justice system – just like those we’re familiar with in our own countries, and the international courts which Europe has so actively promoted in the past.”

In crafting the proposal, Malmström has engaged in extensive public consultations, followed by detailed discussions with the 28 EU Member States, the European Parliament, national parliaments and stakeholders.

Setting up an Investment Court System would create trust, Malmström believes, if it is “accountable, transparent and subject to democratic principles.”

Judges, not arbitrators, would decide cases, and the judges would be publicly appointed. “We will guarantee there is no conflict of interest,” wrote Malmström.

Proceedings would be transparent, hearings open and comments available online, and a right to intervene for parties with an interest in the dispute would be provided.

And an Appeal Tribunal would form an essential part of the Investment Court System.

On September 16 Malmström made the proposal public and sent it to the European Parliament and the Member States.

EU First Vice-President Frans Timmermans likes the idea, which he says breaks new ground.

“The new Investment Court System will be composed of fully qualified judges, proceedings will be transparent, and cases will be decided on the basis of clear rules. In addition, the Court will be subject to review by a new Appeal Tribunal,” Timmermans explained. “With this new system, we protect the governments’ right to regulate, and ensure that investment disputes will be adjudicated in full accordance with the rule of law.”

“I’m convinced that this system will also benefit investors,” Malmström wrote. “These changes will create the trust that is needed by the general public, while encouraging investment.”

An overview of the proposal Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership  and a reader’s guide to the proposal Guide to the Draft text on Investment Protection and Investment Court System in the (TTIP) is also available.

Featured Image: Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström discusses the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership at a breakfast with women of the ALDE party, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group, July 9, 2015 (Photo courtesy ALDE Group via Flickr creative commons license)

Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

 

World Running Out of Time to Sustainably Manage Oceans

By Sunny Lewis

NEW YORK, New York, September 18, 2015 (Maximpact News) – The greatest threat to the world’s oceans comes from human failure to deal quickly with the many problems that human activities have created in the marine environment, finds the first World Ocean Assessment written by a UN-convened group of experts.

“Human impacts on the sea are no longer minor in relation to the overall scale of the ocean. A coherent overall approach is needed,” according to the report, presented to the UN General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Working Group on the State of the Marine Environment, including Socioeconomic Aspects, at a meeting from September 8 to 11.

“Many parts of the ocean have been seriously degraded,” the report states. “If the problems are not addressed, there is a major risk that they will combine to produce a destructive cycle of degradation in which the ocean can no longer provide many of the benefits that humans currently enjoy from it.”

The World Ocean Assessment does not include any analysis of policies. It is intended to support informed decision-making and contribute to managing human activities that affect the oceans and seas in a sustainable manner, under international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

 World Ocean Assessment’s Ten Themes:

 

  1. Climate change: Climate change means rises in sea level, higher levels of acidity in the ocean, the reduced mixing of ocean water and increasing deoxygenation.

“The ocean is acidifying rapidly and at an unprecedented rate in the Earth’s history. The impact of ocean acidification on marine species and food webs will affect major economic interests and could increasingly put food security at risk, particularly in regions especially dependent on seafood protein,” according to the assessment.

“The consensus is that increases in global temperature, in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and in the radiation from the sun that reaches the ocean have already had an impact on some aspects of the ocean and will produce further significant incremental changes over time,” the report states.

  1. Overexploitation of marine life: Harvesting of living marine resources has exceeded sustainable levels in many regions. And overexploitation has caused ecosystem changes such as the smothering of corals by algae caused by the overfishing of herbivorous fish in parts of the Caribbean.

Overfishing, pollution, loss of habitat and climate change are all putting pressure on fish reproduction with important implications for food security and biodiversity.

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Women fish in shallow water in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Tanzania (Image credit: Matt Kieffer creative commons license via Flickr)

 

  1. Food security and food safety: Fish products are the major source of animal protein for a large fraction of the world’s population, but globally, the current mix of the global capture fisheries is near the ocean’s productive capacity, with catches on the order of 80 million tons a year.

Ending overfishing, including illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and rebuilding depleted resources could result in a potential increase of as much as 20 per cent in yield, according to the assessment, but rebuilding depleted stocks would be costly. In some areas, pollution and dead zones are also depressing the production of food from the sea.

  1. Biodiversity: The pressures on marine biodiversity are increasing, particularly near large population centers, in biodiversity hotspots, and in the open ocean, which has so far suffered limited impacts.
  1. Crowded Ocean Spaces: Conflicting demands for dedicated marine space arise from the expansion of longstanding ocean uses, such as fishing and shipping, and from newly developing uses, such as hydrocarbon extraction, mining and offshore generation of renewable energy. As yet there is no clear overarching management system or evaluation of their cumulative impacts on the ocean environment.
  1. Pollution: The burgeoning human population as well as industrial and agricultural production are increasing the emissions of harmful materials and excess nutrients into the ocean.

Sewage discharge levels often are beyond local carrying capacities and can harm human health; still, discharges of industrial effluents and emissions are growing.

Plastic marine debris from the poor management of waste streams on land and at sea means that fish get caught in “ghost” nets, seabirds and seals die from eating plastic bags. Plastic debris destroys the natural beauty of many ocean areas, affecting the livelihoods of local residents who work in the tourist industry. Less obviously, zooplankton and filter-feeding species suffer from the nanoparticles into which those plastics break down, with “serious effects all the way up the food web.”

HumpbackMorroBayHumpback whale breaches in Morro Bay in front of smokestacks at San Luis Obispo, California (Image credit Devra creative commons license via Flickr)

 

  1. Cumulative Impacts: The cumulative adverse impacts of activities that in the past seemed sustainable are resulting in major changes to some ecosystems and in a reduction in the services they provide. For instance, where biodiversity has been altered, the resilience of ecosystems to climate change is often reduced.
  1. Uneven Benefits: Differences in capacities to manage sewage, pollution and habitats create inequities between developed and developing countries. Gaps in capacity-building hinder less developed countries from taking advantage of what the ocean can offer them, and reduce their capability to address the ways they degrade the ocean.
  1. Coherent Marine Management: This requires taking into account the effects on ecosystems of each of the many pressures, what is being done in other sectors and the way that they interact. The ocean is a complex set of systems that are all interconnected, and a coherent management approach requires a wider range of knowledge about the ocean.
  1. Solutions Delayed are Solutions Denied: There are known practical measures to address many of the pressures on marine ecosystems that are degrading the ocean, causing social and economic problems. Delays in implementing known solutions, even if they are only partial and will leave more to be done, mean that “we are unnecessarily incurring those environmental, social and economic costs,” the assessment warns.

The World Ocean Assessment was born 2002, when the World Summit on Sustainable Development recommended that there be a regular process for global reporting and assessment of the state of the marine environment, and the UN General Assembly accepted that recommendation.

In December 2010, the General Assembly established a formal Group of Experts to produce the first World Ocean Assessment by 2014. A much larger pool of experts assists the Group of Experts in conducting the assessments and provides peer-review to ensure the high quality of the outputs.

The Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, Office of Legal Affairs, United Nations, acts as the secretariat for the World Ocean Assessment.

A Bureau of 15 UN Member States, representing the regional groups of the United Nations, oversees the entire process.

Find the basics behind the first World Ocean Assessment here.

Read a summary of the World Ocean Assessment here:


About the Author: Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990. Find ENS online at: www.ens-newswire.com

Featured image: Endangered Hawaiian monk seal entangled in marine debris (Image credit: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).