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
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
(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.
(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
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
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
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
Biodiversity and zero-pollution are key priorities of
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
The European Commission and the European Committee of
the Regions have recently set up the
Zero Pollution Stakeholder Platform. Marieke Schouten is Co-Chair 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.
Andrew Gardner //
David Crous //