The European Union has environmental standards that are among the highest in the world. These have been developed and updated over time. The EU has a series of measures to improve the quality of the environment for European citizens and to preserve their quality of life. One of the Commission’s tasks is to ensure that environmental legislation is properly implemented. Environmental policy helps the economy to become more environmentally friendly and protects and preserves the most basic resources. To achieve this, there are normative mechanisms, legislation and general European policy that ensure the proper disposal of waste, improve knowledge about toxic chemicals and help companies move towards a sustainable economy. The issue of climate change is also one of the Union’s priorities. It constitutes climate strategies, especially at the international level of negotiations.
II. The Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement is the very first joint agreement on climate and global warming. It was created as a result of negotiations at the 2015 Paris Conference on Climate Change (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro by 154 States plus all the members of the European Community. The EU’s mission is to make every effort to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement. The EU is one of the signatories to the Paris Agreement, whose objective is to keep the rise in global temperature well below 2°C and to continue to work towards limiting this rise to 1.5°C. The EU is also a signatory to the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep the rise in global temperature well below 2°C and to continue to work towards limiting this rise to 1.5°C. EU Member States have agreed to the objective of achieving climate neutrality by 2050, in line with the Paris Accord.
As quoted in Article 7 of the agreement: “Parties shall establish the global adaptation goal of enhancing adaptive capacity, increasing resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, with a view to contributing to sustainable development and ensuring an adequate adaptation response in the context of the temperature objective set out in Article 2”.
It is committed to ensuring the successful implementation of the Paris Agreement and to setting up the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS). In this regard, EU countries have agreed to meet various targets in the coming years. The EU is working to ensure that climate concerns are taken into account in other policy areas (e.g. transport and energy) and is also promoting low-carbon technologies and adaptation measures.
III. The Bern Convention
The convention, concluded in Bern on 19 September 1979, aims to promote cooperation between the contracting countries in order to conserve wild flora and fauna and their natural environment and to protect endangered migratory species. The Decision concludes the Convention on behalf of the European Economic Community (now the EU). Wild fauna and flora constitute a natural heritage of great value which must be preserved and passed on to future generations. In addition to national protection programmes, the parties to the Convention believe that cooperation should be established at the European level.
The Parties undertake to fulfil, inter alia, these obligations:
▪ To promote national policies for the conservation of wild flora and fauna and their natural environment;
▪ To integrate the conservation of wild flora and fauna into national planning, development and environmental policies;
▪ Promote education and disseminate information on the need to conserve species of wild flora and fauna and their habitats.
IV. European Environmental Law: An Introduction
EU environmental policy is based on Articles 11 and 191-193 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Under Article 191, the fight against climate change is an explicit objective of EU environmental policy. Sustainable development is an overarching objective for the EU, which is committed to ensuring “a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment” (Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union).
V. European Environmental Law: A Human Rights Issue
The European Court of Human Rights has so far ruled on some 300 environmental cases, applying concepts such as the right to life (Öneryildiz v. The Republic of Turkey, 30 November 2004), freedom of expression and family life to a wide range of issues, including pollution, natural and man-made disasters and access to environmental information (Florea v. Romania 14 September 2010). The European Convention on Human Rights has also been used by activists at the national level to encourage governments to take additional measures to combat climate change and natural environmental degradation.
Successive presidencies of the Council of Europe, and various other bodies of the organisation, have called for the existing legal tools to be further strengthened in order to help European states address the considerable environmental challenges we all face.
VI. European Environmental Law: Chemical Substances and International Trade in Hazardous Chemicals
On January 10, 2006, the Court of Justice of the European Communities issued a judgment in case C-94/03, in which the European Commission brought an action for annulment against the Council.
The Court of First Instance was asked to annul Council Decision 2003/106/EC, which approved the Rotterdam Convention on behalf of the European Union. The Commission argued that the decision should have been based solely on the article of the Treaty relating to the common commercial policy (then Article 133 of the Treaty of Amsterdam) rather than on the article that actually served as a basis (Article 175 of the same Treaty, which concerned environmental policy). The Court ruled that both articles were necessary to provide the required legal basis and annulled the original Council decision. The new decision, which entered into force on the date of adoption of the previous one, ensures that there is no legal vacuum.
VII. European Environmental Law: Waste Landfill
On July 16, 1999, Directive 1999/31/EC on the landfill of waste became applicable and had to be transposed into the national legislation of EU countries by July 16, 2001. The amending directive (EU) 2018/850 had to be transposed into national law in EU countries by July 5, 2020. The objective of this directive is to prevent or reduce as far as possible the negative effects of the landfill of waste on surface water, groundwater, soil, air and human health. This is done by introducing strict technical requirements.
The parties undertake to fulfill, among other things, these obligations:
▪ EU countries must put in place national strategies to progressively reduce the amount of biodegradable waste going to landfills.
▪ Landfills must not accept used tires or liquid, combustible, explosive or corrosive waste, or waste from hospitals and medical and veterinary practices.
▪ Only treated waste may be landfilled.
▪ Municipal waste may be sent to landfills for non-hazardous waste.
▪ National authorities must ensure that the price charged by operators for waste disposal covers all costs from the opening to the final closure of the landfill.
In order to promote the EU’s transition to a circular economy, Directive 1999/31/EC was amended by (EU) Directive 2018/850. Directive (EU) 2018/850 sets landfill restrictions from 2030 for all waste suitable for recycling or other material or energy recovery; it aims to reduce the share of municipal waste going to landfill to 10% by 2035; it also establishes rules for calculating the extent to which municipal waste targets have been met and requires EU countries to put in place an effective system of quality control and traceability of municipal waste going to landfills.
- Decision 2006/730/EC – Prior Informed Consent Procedure for international trade in certain hazardous chemicals and pesticides
- Directive 1999/31/EC on the landfill of waste
- Directive 2011/92/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2011 on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment (codification) (OJ L 26, 28.1.2012, pp. 1-21)
- Directive 2008/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 on waste and repealing certain Directives (OJ L 312, 22.11.2008, pp. 3-30)