Select Committee on Environmental Audit First Report

The case for environmental policy integration

11. The European Union is generally recognised as an important driver of environmental initiatives. However, the European Environment Agency's (EEA) recent State & Outlook report Environment in the European Union at the turn of the century [4] comments that the state of the European Union's environment remains a serious concern.[5] This report assesses the development of environmental quality in the EU in the near future, ie tackling 2001 and it notes that there has been real progress in some areas, for example in improving river quality and tackling acidification. However, it also states that "despite more than 25 years of Community Environmental Policy - which has been successful in its own terms - general environmental quality in the EU is not recovering significantly, and in some areas it is worsening".[6] For example, the EU is generating and transporting more solid waste, despite its waste reduction objectives, and the loss of soil through erosion and contamination is high.[7]

12. The EEA cites the unsustainable development of some economic sectors as the major barrier to improvement and wants to see them change. Few would dispute that many environmental problems (and their solutions) are linked to current practices in major economic sectors such as; agriculture, transport and energy. It is now widely recognised that environmental policy alone is not enough to promote sustainable development and there is a need for joint action across all sectors, both preventative and regulatory.

13. EU policies in these areas have often been incompatible with, or even contradictory to, the EU's environmental objectives. For example, EU subsidies have supported environmentally damaging activities such as the drainage of wildlife-rich wetlands for intensive agriculture or the depletion of fish stocks. Mr Meacher told the Committee that nearly half of the stocks which are fished by EU fleets are now below the minimum biologically acceptable level.[8] The Single Market, transport growth, and climate change are areas where there is an obvious need for integration of environmental concerns in other policy areas. Climate change was particularly highlighted as a key area for policy co-ordination by the Heads of Government at the Cardiff and Vienna European Councils. A large part of the emissions reductions required to meet the EU's Kyoto commitment[9] will have to be achieved through measures regarding: energy, transport, and agriculture.

14. The EEA's latest report warns that the process of integrating environment into other policies is "destined to face conflict".[10] The EU has a dominant and vital role in the development of environmental policy with 80-90% of national legislation now originating at EU level.[11] However, as Dr Andrew Jordan pointed out to us, although the EU has been good at developing strong, end-of-pipe regulation it has less leverage over the "driving force sectors of environmental damage".[12] We agree that the emphasis now needs to shift towards creating a more integrated framework for a preventative approach to environmental protection and conclude that the European Council, Council of Ministers, Commission and individual Member States need to co-ordinate their policies and working practices under strong leadership and strategic direction to achieve real change. The European Parliament also has an important role to play in encouraging the Commission to implement its commitments and to demonstrate this implementation clearly in relevant documents.

15. The Committee believes that the integration of environmental policy into those sectors in which pressure is put on the environment is vital to address the root causes of environmental damage. Environmental policy integration (EPI) is as important a tool for achieving sustainable development as strong environmental protection regulation.

4  Environment in the European Union at the turn of the century, European Environment Agency, 24 June 1999 Back

5  Ibid p. 9 Back

6  Environment in the European Union at the turn of the century, European Environment Agency, 24 June 1999, p. 4 (Summary) Back

7  Ibid p. 11 Back

8  Q155 Back

9  The EU and UK signed the Kyoto Protocol in April 1998. The EU agreed to an 8% reduction of the six greenhouse gases below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. The Kyoto Protocol constitutes a revision of the requirements of the1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Back

10  Environment in the European Union at the turn of the century, European Environment Agency, 24 June 1999, p.5 (Summary) Back

11  Metamorphosis (Newsletter of the EEB), Issue No 14, May 1999, p. 8 Back

12  Q87 Back

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Prepared 25 November 1999