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20 May, 2024
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Op-Ed by Karmenu Vella, 
EU Commissioner for Environment

The European elections are almost upon us. In the run up to 23-26 May, one of the biggest issues people have been discussing and indeed mobilising around, is how we protect our climate and our environment.

Protecting the environment is something that Europeans think the EU is doing well, should do more of and should have more powers to do so.
People understand that laws mean little unless implemented – fully and fairly.

EU environmental legislation could save the EU economy around €55 billion every year

Recently the European Commission adopted the second Environment Implementation Review – the EIR. This tool is intended to enforce that fullness and that fairness.

It was the outcome of two years’ work, the end result of a cycle of analysis, dialogue and collaboration. A concise, objective look at what is working in environment policy, and what still needs to be done.

Across the EU, politicians, businesses, and civil society are supporting our call for greater sustainability. We have made good progress towards a more circular economy where what we produce can be reused, repaired or recycled. When I became a Commissioner four years ago, I had the driving ambition that an ambitious plastics strategy and a ban on single-use plastics would be feasible, but I was sceptical that we could do it as quickly as we have. I should have had more confidence in our own abilities and in your support.

But not all our policies are performing as well as they could, and that’s why we need this review. It lays the ground for better implementation, in close partnership with the Member States.

We have also been putting Member States authorities in touch with each other, with concrete results. There were 19 peer-learning projects carried out last year, with all Member States involved, and this year there will be at least 20 more.

Each country has specific achievements and special challenges. 28 country reports show where progress has been good, and where there is room for improvement. The reports include specific priority actions for each country, including Cyprus.

Most of the actions are in areas like air and water quality, waste management and nature protection. Areas that mean the most to you.

Among the headline findings, waste prevention remains an important challenge for all Member States. Nine countries are on track and five have already reached the 50% recycling by 2020 targets, but fourteen, including Cyprus, are at risk of missing them. There has been some progress on waste management in Cyprus, as a strategic framework for waste is now in place and national waste management plans have been adopted. Moreover, the illegal landfill in Limassol has closed and the one in Nicosia is expected to close before the end of 2018. Proper rehabilitation needs to be ensured after each closure. New economic instruments have been set out in the national waste management plan, but there is a significant delay in their adoption and implementation. Cyprus needs to make significant efforts to establish an adequate network of facilities that would effectively manage all of its waste if it is to reach the 2020 and even higher recycling targets.

On nature protection, most Member States, including Cyprus, need to speed up their efforts to complete the Natura 2000 network, and manage it properly. In Cyprus, the effective protection of Natura 2000 areas — especially coastal zone — from activities or developments that fragment or degrade them, remains a concern. Some progress has been made on the illegal trapping of birds thanks to increased enforcement and stricter fines for mist-netting. However, the trapping numbers are still unacceptably high.

Two thirds of our Member States are still having problems with urban wastewater treatment. More investment is essential, and the review shows how EU funds are there to back up implementation efforts. This also applies to water quality in general. On water management, Cyprus has made some progress, notably by adopting its second river basin management plan and putting in place a new water pricing policy that covers some water services. However, it remains to be seen if the new legal framework on water pricing provides adequate incentives for people to use water efficiently, as adequate metering is limited.

The EIR also looks at governance, and asks if environmental authorities have the resources and skills they need, and it looks at how environment policy is integrated into other sectoral policies such as agriculture, transport etc.
This is the second time we’ve done this kind of review, and this time we have been more ambitious, covering climate change, industrial emissions and chemicals for the first time.

We did this for a very simple reason: these implementation gaps are harming peoples’ health. They are also hampering sustainable economic development. We know this is true because we also have a new study that puts a price on these gaps.

It shows that full implementation of EU environmental legislation could save the EU economy around €55 billion every year. That’s the health costs and direct costs to the environment, but it is about much more than money. Each year more than 400 000 people die prematurely because of air pollution.

That is what’s at stake with environment policy, and that’s why we need tools like this review.

Publishing the results is one more step in an ongoing cycle. We pursue these exchanges, we integrate the feedback, and we will shortly be devoting a Europe-wide conference to environmental implementation - EU Green Week 2019, from 13 to 17 May.

The Country Report for Cyprus is here.

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