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Regions and cities need support to comply with ambitious EU targets for wastewater treatment and air quality  

Setting stricter and more binding targets on urban wastewater treatment and ambient air quality are crucial steps for the EU's zero-pollution ambition and will improve citizen's health and wellbeing. Two draft opinions adopted by the Commission for Environment, Climate Change and Energy (ENVE) of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) stress that local and regional authorities will need adequate support and flexibility for the implementation of these key directives that the European Commission is proposing to revise. The CoR delegation to COP28 in Dubai was also appointed at the meeting on 10 May and will be chaired by the President Vasco Cordeiro.

The draft opinion on the Revision of the EU Ambient Air Quality Legislation highlights that the costs of an ambitious policy to fight air pollution are far outweighed by the benefits for the economy, nature, climate and particularly health, which is why the European Commission should fully align the targets in its proposal with the 2021 WHO guidelines. At the same time, some areas that encounter specific difficulties, such as those linked to their geography or climate, may need additional time to comply with the air quality standards as suggested by the European Commission. The opinion calls for targeted financial and technical support to these regions and other sub-national authorities that do not have the powers or the resources to adequately improve air quality standards on their own.

Marieke Schouten (NL/Greens), Alderman of the municipality of Nieuwegein and co-chair of the Zero Pollution Stakeholder Platform, presented the opinion on behalf of the rapporteur Una Power (IE/Greens). "We cannot tolerate more than 300.000 annual premature deaths caused by air pollution in the EU. Further action is needed to align the EU legislation with the 2021 World Health Organization guidelines: the level of ambition and the timing for implementing the legislation must both reflect the urgency that the air pollution crisis requires in order to be seriously addressed. Local and regional authorities are at the heart of tackling air pollution, and require support to realise this ambition", Ms Schouten said.

The draft opinion on the Revision of the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive underlines that the new framework must be risk-based, goal-oriented and flexible enough to account for local and regional differences within and among Member States. A one-size-fits-all approach could lead to disproportionate costs in relation to environmental benefits especially in small municipalities located in sparsely populated areas, particularly regarding the requirements on nitrogen removal. The opinion also stresses that the Extended Producer Responsibility scheme, control at source and the Polluter Pays Principle are prerequisites for the directive's success.

Rapporteur Åsa Ågren Wikström (SE/EPP), Member of Västerbotten County Council, said: "It is necessary to adapt the wastewater treatment legislation to today's challenges and technical possibilities. All of us want to have clean drinking water, clean lakes and seas. Wastewater is treated at local level and the impacts are also felt locally, so the implementation of the directive must be adapted to local conditions. There needs to be room for different ways to reach the targets, as well as clear, ambitious and realistic timeframes. Also, pollution needs to be addressed at source over end-of-pipe solutions. This is a prerequisite for the success of the Zero Pollution Action Plan."

Ms Schouten and Ms Ågren Wikström participated in a debate on Achieving the zero-pollution ambition in cities and regions with Veronica Manfredi, Director for Zero Pollution & Green Cities at the European Commission's DG Environment, and representatives from the European Environment Agency and the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe.

Both opinions will be adopted at the CoR plenary session in the beginning of July.

Appointment of the CoR delegation to COP28

An official delegation of CoR members will represent the voice of EU cities and regions at the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference COP28, which will be organised in Dubai between 30 November and 12 December. The following members will advocate for an ambitious outcome of the negotiations:

ENVE Chair Trzaskowski, who is currently preparing an opinion entitled UNFCCC COP28: the role of subnational authorities in keeping climate ambition on track, said: "At a time when national governments are failing to accelerate mitigation action, we subnational governments are working tirelessly for climate neutrality. And we are doing so despite facing an energy and refugee crisis, and the increasing burden of more responsibilities being passed on to us. This year we will continue to advocate for a more meaningful inclusion of subnational governments in the negotiations. Because whatever is decided at the COP will then be translated into action on the ground, in key sectors over which we have significant control, such as transport, buildings and land use. Cities and regions must sit in the negotiation table, otherwise the goals of the Paris Agreement will not be met. As in previous COPs, we will advocate for more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions that take into account the commitments and achievements of cities and regions. And we will also push for direct access to climate finance and improved capacity building and training in the use of existing financial instruments."

Members also adopted a draft opinion on Fostering the potential and synergies of EU Green Deal initiatives for regions and cities, following a debate with a representative from European Commission's DG Regional and Urban Policy and the presentation of a new study on The impact of EU climate and energy initiatives on cities' climate transition. The recommendations will feed into the EU Annual State of Regions and Cities Report that the CoR will publish in October.

Rapporteur Andries Gryffroy (BE/EA) said: "We need a general shift in focus from EU debates on Green Deal policy objectives and planning processes towards implementing projects. In this regard, the opinion calls for promoting stronger synergies, pooling efforts and preventing overlaps between the different initiatives, following a more user-centric, flexible and needs-driven approach. Initiatives have to be better linked to Green Deal policy objectives and to funding instruments, including cohesion policy funds." The rapporteur also called for a single entry point for local and regional authorities at EU level to improve the accessibility of initiatives.


Lauri Ouvinen
Tel. +32 473536887

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