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The 2030 Environmental Action Programme. COVID-19 shows need for a stronger link between health and environment  

As much as 95 % of the EU urban population is exposed to pollutant concentrations above WHO air quality guidelines

The European Committee of the Regions has put forward an opinion on the 8th Environment Action Programme (EAP), the EU's common environmental strategy for 2030 that supports the European Green Deal. Europe's environment outlook in the coming decades is discouraging, says the 2020 European Environment Agency report. Europe suffers from agricultural intensification, biodiversity loss, ecosystems and wildlife decline and poor air quality. As much as 95 % of the EU urban population is exposed daily to pollutant concentrations above air quality guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO), provoking 400 000 premature deaths annually.

In the 2020 state of the environment report, the European Environment Agency (EEA) warns that Europe faces environmental challenges of unprecedented scale and urgency. Although EU environment and climate policies have delivered substantial benefits over recent decades, Europe faces persistent problems in areas such as biodiversity loss, resource use, climate change impacts and environmental risks to health and well-being.

The CoR rapporteur on the 8th EAP is Dimitrios Karnavos (EL/EPP). The Mayor of Kallithea said: "The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we urgently need a better environment, healthier cities and a cleaner air. We must ensure that the new Environment Action Programme promotes a sustainable business environment and fosters green investments as the basis to reach a toxic-free environment, provide better living standards for people and create communities that are more resilient. But cities and regions cannot be left alone. Local and regional authorities should be equipped with the right instruments and adequate resources to implement environment legislation and policies on the ground, without which we will not build better resilience to future pandemics let alone reach climate-neutrality by 2050."

The CoR underlines that traditional, sectoral environmental policy is largely ineffective and calls to move to an integrated policy making to create synergies and avoid mismatches. Members propose to adopt a healthy living for all approach for all EU policies promoting human health, and a healthy planet, economy and society with opportunities for all.

Given the complexity of current environmental challenges, the 8th Environment Action Programme cannot be sufficiently achieved by Member States alone. Local and regional governments hold competencies in key environment areas. Their full involvement is crucial in designing and implementing environmental policies but also in engaging with citizens, businesses, research centres academia and local stakeholders, members stress. 

Members request the support of the European Commission to ensure the full participation of local and regional authorities across all dimensions of environmental policy-making. On this aspect, the CoR regrets that the 8th EAP includes no reference to the Technical Platform for Cooperation on the Environment, a forum set up in 2012 between the EC and the CoR aimed at fostering dialogue on local and regional problems and solutions in the application of EU environment law.

The CoR reminds that the green recovery efforts should take into consideration territorial disparities and challenges and ensure that no community is left behind. Local and regional communities need adequate instruments and resources to improve the implementation of environmental policies on the ground. A place-based approach is the best way to implement environment policies based on the specificities of each territory, members recall. The CoR requests that the 8th EAP goes beyond the urban-rural typology and makes an explicit reference to all types of communities, including coastal, mountain, island, archipelagic and outermost areas.

Members call for ambitious investments in key green sectors to create growth and jobs while building resilience and stress that more research, knowledge and publicly available and easily accessible data is urgently needed.

Local and regional leaders call for the full integration of environment, climate and circular economy policies into the budgetary, economic and social actions of the EU including those that fall under the COVID-19 recovery plan. Currently, 30% of the resources of both the EU's long-term budget and the NextGenerationEU package have been allocated to fight climate change.

The CoR calls for enhanced cooperation between the European Commission and local and regional authorities to improve the availability and interoperability of data at local and regional levels, which is crucial to successfully implement the 8th EAP.

While members give their support to the new monitoring framework proposed by the European Commission in the 8th EAP, and with due regard towards existing frameworks such as the Environmental Implementation Review, the CoR calls for setting up headline indicators for major areas such as the circular economy, climate and energy, toxic-free, biodiversity and zero pollution. The CoR proposes to involve local and regional authorities in the definition of new indicators, which should comprise quality assurance, balance, applicability, prioritisation, flexibility, timelines and periodicity.

Local and regional leaders support greater efforts in environmental education and in youth projects to raise environmental awareness. 

Background:

Since the mid-1970s, EU environment policy has been guided by consecutive Environment Action Programmes (EAP), which define priority objectives to be achieved over a specific period of time. As the 7th EAP ended in 2020, the European Commission approved a proposal for the 8th EAP for the period up to 2030, aimed at complementing the European Green Deal. Building on the European Green Deal, the 8th EAP has six priority objectives. 

COVID-19 is the opportunity to speed up the environment agenda. Click here to read our interview with Dimitrios Karnavos (EL/EPP) on the 8th Environment Action Programme published on 19 January 2021.

Click here to access 'The European environment — state and outlook 2020' report from the European Environment Agency.

On air pollution, there has been a decrease in concentrations of the main air pollutants in the EU since the year 2000. However, 95 % of the EU urban population remain exposed to pollutant concentrations above World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guidelines and almost 20 % of the EU's urban population lives in areas with concentrations of air pollutants above at least one EU air quality standard. Air quality is declining to dangerous levels in certain areas, especially in coal regions. Exposure to fine particulate matter is responsible for around 400 000 premature deaths in Europe every year.

Natura 2000 is the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world. It offers a haven to Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats.

The CoR has adopted legislative opinions on past EAPs. In 2019, the CoR adopted an own-initiative opinion entitled Towards an 8th Environment Action Programme led by rapporteur Cor Lamers (NL/EPP), Mayor of Schiedam. The opinion was supported by a dedicated study.

Building on the European Green Deal, the 8th EAP has six priority objectives. In order to measure and communicate whether the EU is on track to meet these objectives, the 8th EAP proposal suggests setting up a new monitoring framework.

On 13 October 2020, the European Commission and the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) committed to a new phase of cooperation to accelerate the delivery of the Green Deal in Europe's regions and cities. During a debate with Frans Timmermans, the European Commission's Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal called on local and regional governments to take ownership and shape the Green Deal in areas falling under their competencies. Read our press release here. 

Green Deal Going Local (GDGL) is a new initiative by the European Committee of the Regions, which aims to place cities and regions at the core of the European Green Deal and ensuring that both the EU's sustainable growth strategy and the COVID-19 recovery plans translate into direct funding for cities and regions and tangible projects for every territory. Green Deal Going Local was launched on 15 June 2020 with the creation of a specific Working Group composed of 13 members. Read the press release here.

Discover 200 Green Deal best practices in our online map.

Contact:

David Crous  
david.crous@cor.europa.eu
+32 (0) 470 88 10 37