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Concerted action needed to green the EU's communities  

​​ European Committee of the Regions presses for 'transformative action' to protect and restore biodiversity and for a tougher approach to polluters

Support from the European Union could significantly help local and regional communities make their public spaces greener and healthier in the coming decades, the European Committee of the Regions has said in recommendations that express alarm at the human and environmental costs of failing to meet existing EU targets. Each year 400,000 people die prematurely because of air pollution alone in the EU.

These complementary opinions focus on slashing pollution and on supporting bees and other pollinators. – calling for "transformative action at all levels" to halt the decline in pollinators and more financial support to tackle pollution.

Pollution and biodiversity loss are major reasons why, according to EU figures, the EU loses €55 billion each year by failing to meet its environmental targets. The EU has set itself biodiversity and pollution targets for 2030 and a 'zero pollution vision' for 2050, a term that denotes a reduction in air, water and soil pollution to levels no longer considered harmful to health and to natural ecosystems.

The CoR's rapporteur on the ' EU Action Plan: Towards Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil ' – Marieke Schouten (NL/Greens), Alderman of the municipality of Nieuwegein – said: "Expanding the amount of green and blue space in our municipalities is good for our health, good for health of the living world, and good for society. The post-pandemic recovery should focus on acknowledging the interconnectedness between human, environmental and animal health. We need to reduce pollution to levels that do not harm health at all, which means taking measures to improve the quality of our soil, air, and water. Current levels of pollution pose a real threat on human health and natural ecosystems, and the financial costs of not meeting our environmental targets – €55 billion a year – is huge."

Ms Schouten also noted that efforts to reduce pollution would also help to restore biodiversity and the habitat of pollinators – insects and animals that help plants reproduce, including crops critical to humans' food supply. Bees are the best-known pollinators, but others include butterflies and beetles as well as bats, birds and small mammals.

Frida Nilsson (SE/Renew Europe) of Lidköping Municipal Council drafted the opinion on Local and regional authorities accelerating the implementation of the EU Pollinators Initiative, drawing also on her community's efforts to make support for bees and insects an ordinary part of urban planning and city life. She said: "In Lidköping, 'bee hotels' and 'bee stops' are all over town. They are a reminder of the need to look after the living world. Local communities are players in helping pollinators. But we need coordinated action. We need biodiversity corridors within and between communities. EU-supported environmental efforts should always think about pollinators. For example, when we plant trees – and EU member states have pledged big planting programmes – we also need to plant flowers to help pollination."

Such community-level actions feature in both sets of recommendations, and the European Commission is praised for trying to encourage bottom-up change, for instance through its Green City Accord, Green Capital and Green Leaf awards.

The opinions set out a wide range of ideas to address system-level weaknesses. The opinion on Zero Pollution points at ineffective coordination between public authorities, a lack of administrative capacity, insufficient funding, a lack of knowledge and data, insufficient compliance mechanisms, and a lack of policy integration.

A principle that has long underpinned EU policy – the 'polluter pays principle' – needs strengthening, Ms Schouten said, urging the EU to tighten emissions' regulations. The European Court of Auditors has criticised the application of the 'polluter pays principle', which it found often resulted in governments bearing the costs of cleaning up pollution. The CoR also welcomes the zero pollution hierarchy based on a "reverse pyramid" but regrets that "remedying and offsetting pollution-related damage" is given minimal consideration.

The CoR recently called for a European Regional Scoreboard to track cities and regions' climate action and green performance.

Background information:

Biodiversity and zero-pollution are key priorities of the Green Deal and key objectives of Green Deal Going Local, a CoR flagship initiative to place cities and regions at the heart of the EU's transition towards climate-neutrality.

​The European Commission and the European Committee of the Regions have recently set up the Zero Pollution Stakeholder Platform. Marieke Schouten is Co-C​hair of the Platform and Markku Markkula, Chair of the Espoo City Board and President of the Helsinki Region,​ its Vice Co-Chair. Click here for more information.

Applications are open until 25 March 2022 for candidates aspiring to win the EU's 2024 Green Capital and Green Leaf awards. More information is available here.

Contacts:

Andrew Gardner // Andrew.Gardner@cor.europa.eu

David Crous // David.Crous@cor.europa.eu


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