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16.2.  European strategy for sustainable development

  1. The foundations of EU's environmental policy
  2. The principles of EU's environmental policy
  3. EU environmental notification, information and monitoring
  4. Environment and other common policies of the EU
  5. International environmental cooperation and the EU

Sustainable development was defined in a 1987 report of the United Nations as ''development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs''. Sustainable development is a key objective of the European Union. Article 3 of the Treaty on the European Union proclaims that the Union shall work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. According to the Treaty on the functioning of the EU, environmental protection requirements must be integrated into the definition and implementation of the Union policies and activities, in particular with a view to promoting sustainable development (Article 11 TFEU, ex Article 6 TEC).

In its relations with the wider world, the Union declares that it ''shall contribute to peace, security, the sustainable development of the Earth…'' (Article 3 TEU). It affirms that it shall define and pursue common policies and actions, and shall work for a high degree of cooperation in all fields of international relations, in order, inter alia, to: foster the sustainable economic, social and environmental development of developing countries, with the primary aim of eradicating poverty; and help develop international measures to preserve and improve the quality of the environment and the sustainable management of global natural resources, in order to ensure sustainable development (Article 21 TEU).

In fact, the European Union's environment programme aims at a development, which takes into account the present economic and social needs without jeopardising, through resource misuse, the development possibilities of future generations [COM/2001/31]. To be sustainable, growth must be decoupled from negative environmental impacts and be based on sustainable consumption and production patterns. This means that short term economic gains at the expense of the environment should be replaced by a more sustainable model of economic and social development, which may constitute the basis for greater efficiency and competitiveness, both at a Union level and internationally.

The Göteborg European Council (15-16 June 2001) approved a European Union strategy for sustainable development, proposed by the Commission [COM/2001/264], based on: coordinated development of common policies addressing the economic, environmental and social dimensions of sustainability and having sustainable development as their core objective; a set of headline objectives to limit climate change and increase use of clean energy, address threats to public health, manage natural resources more responsibly; and the steps to implement the strategy and review its progress at every spring meeting of the European Council (Cardiff process launched in 1998).

The Union has agreed to achieve a reduction of at least 20% of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2020 (30%, provided that other developed countries commit themselves to comparable emissions reductions and that developing countries contribute adequately according to their responsibilities and respective capabilities); to ensure that 20% of energy consumption comes from renewable energy by 2020; and to achieve a 20% cut in primary energy use compared with projected levels, by improving energy efficiency [see section 16.3.4]. To this end, the seventh European environment action programme (7th EAP, ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’) sets out environmental objectives for the years 2014 to 2020 and outlines the action that needs to be taken to achieve them [Decision 1386/2013]. The programme focuses on the following priority objectives:

(a)     to protect, conserve and enhance the Union’s natural capital;

(b)     to turn the Union into a resource-efficient, green and competitive low-carbon economy;

(c)     to safeguard the Union’s citizens from environment-related pressures and risks to health and well-being;

(d)     to maximise the benefits of Union environment legislation by improving implementation;

(e)     to improve the knowledge and evidence base for Union environment policy;

(f)      to secure investment for environment and climate policy and address environmental externalities

(g)     to improve environmental integration and policy coherence;

(h)     to enhance the sustainability of the Union’s cities; and

(i)       to increase the Union’s effectiveness in addressing international environmental and climate-related challenges.

The parallel Programme for the Environment and Climate Action covering the period from 1 January 2014 to 31 December 2020 (the "LIFE Programme") has the following general objectives [Regulation 1293/2013 and implementing Decision 2014/203]:

(a) to contribute to the shift towards a resource-efficient, low-carbon and climate- resilient economy, to the protection and improvement of the quality of the environment and to halting and reversing biodiversity loss, including the support of the Natura 2000 network and tackling the degradation of ecosystems;

(b) to improve the development, implementation and enforcement of Union environmental and climate policy and legislation, and to act as a catalyst for, and promote, the integration and mainstreaming of environmental and climate objectives into other Union policies and public and private sector practice, including by increasing the public and private sector's capacity;

(c) to support better environmental and climate governance at all levels, including better involvement of civil society, NGOs and local actors; and

(d) to support the implementation of the 7th Environment Action Programme.

The Union Earth observation and monitoring programme, Copernicus, is a civil, user driven programme under civil control, building on the existing national and European capacities, as well as ensuring continuity with the activities achieved under its predecessor, the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) [Regulation 377/2014, see also section 17.3.4]. Copernicus consists of the following components: (a) a service component ensuring delivery of information in the following areas: atmosphere monitoring, marine environment monitoring, land monitoring, climate change, emergency management and security; (b) a space component ensuring sustainable spaceborne observations for the service areas referred to in point (a); and (c) an in situ component ensuring coordinated access to observations through airborne, seaborne and ground based installations for the service areas referred to in point (a).

The Directive laying down general rules aimed at the establishment of the Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community (INSPIRE) should assist policy-making in relation to policies and activities that may have a direct or indirect impact on the environment [Directive 2007/2, last amended by Regulation 976/2009]. INSPIRE deals with spatial information such as environmental observations, statistics, etc. that are held in electronic form by or on behalf of public authorities and concern the areas where a Member State has or exercises a jurisdictional right. The information covers themes such as administrative borders, air, soil and water quality observations, biodiversity, land use, transport networks, hydrography, altitude, geology, population and species distribution, habitats, industrial facilities and natural risk zones. INSPIRE aims to coordinate users and suppliers of information in such a way that information originating from different sectors will be combined and disseminated.

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Your roadmap in the maze of the European Union.

Based on the book of Nicholas Moussis:
Access to European Union law, economics, policies
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Translated into 14 languages


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