UBA and BfN for a green and just transition in Europe

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Decisions by the European Commission have a guiding influence on EU environmental policy.
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The incoming European Commission should continue an ambitious policy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and environmental pollution, protects biodiversity and distributes the burden fairly. This is the key message of a Scientific Opinion Paper by the German Environment Agency and the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation for EU climate, environmental and biodiversity policy in the years ahead.

There is an urgent need for action to maintain the momentum in European legislation that was initiated by the European Green Deal in 2019. Significant progress has been made in recent years. However, efforts must continue to ensure a liveable planet. The German Environment Agency and the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation have compiled recommendations in a Scientific Opinion Paper that can make an important contribution to this.

Enabling principles

An integrated approach is needed to enable an effective environmental and sustainability policy. This includes improving sustainable cooperation and global partnerships to build alliances and strengthen transformation, investing in research and education, identifying setbacks while remaining open to dialogue, strengthening the social dimension, integrating sustainability and digital change, and finally considering sustainability-oriented economic policy and innovation.

Climate protection and energy

In view of the continued rise in temperatures, urgent action is still needed, for example to better anchor energy efficiency in legislation, to promote innovative solutions to reduce the carbon footprint of energy-intensive production, to promote the use of natural and technical sinks to offset unavoidable emissions, for example in agriculture. The overarching goal is to reduce emissions by 95 per cent by 2040.

Zero Pollution Ambition

Pollution, especially from chemicals, and noise pollution have harmful effects on human health and the environment. At the same time, chemicals are needed for a green and digital transformation. To achieve this, sustainability in the chemicals sector must be promoted and the European chemicals regulation ⁠REACH⁠ revised. Financial incentives are needed for farmers to switch to sustainable production methods, and new rules are required to reduce the use of pesticides. To cut noise pollution, regulations for vehicle and tyre manufacturers must be tightened.

Biodiversity and ecosystem services

Nature, landscapes and biodiversity are inherently valuable and must be protected, preserved and developed. Furthermore, biodiversity and intact ecosystems are essential for human well-being, including food security, climate protection and adaptation to climate change. To counteract the loss of biodiversity, incentives must be created for projects to restore nature. There is a need to set limits on intensive agriculture in areas within sensitive ecosystems and to promote biodiversity in agriculture and fisheries. This commitment must also be extended to the areas of finance, transport, water and energy.

Sustainable agriculture and food systems

Agriculture depends on intact environmental and climatic conditions and provides important social services, especially in the area of food production, but also for energy generation. At the same time, however, it contributes to numerous crises. Therefore, sustainable yet affordable food systems must be promoted, for example by providing incentives for farmers to use production methods that improve soil health and water quality. It is also important to educate farmers and the general public about the need for good soil and water quality in order to produce affordable food and feed.

Circular economy, resource conservation and sustainable consumption

The concept of a circular economy aims to conserve resources and is an overall economic concept that considers the entire product life cycle and its materials, as well as the urgent need for an absolute reduction in final demand. In order to accelerate progress towards circularity, measures such as the implementation of the Ecodesign Regulation for Sustainable Products and the improvement of extended producer responsibility, as well as the adaptation of regulations such as the Construction Products Regulation to the principles of the circular economy, are essential. Furthermore, promoting a circular and environmentally friendly bioeconomy can help to achieve the objectives of the European Green Deal.

Climate adaptation

Adapting to climate change is crucial to managing its increasing risks, such as heat waves and water scarcity. Recommendations include strengthening and funding climate adaptation instruments, promoting nature-based solutions for climate and biodiversity as well as ensuring water resilience. The resilience of cities must also be strengthened through green-blue infrastructure, i.e. by expanding urban areas for green spaces, trees and water bodies.

Key mechanisms

Four key mechanisms are essential for the successful integrated implementation of the above recommendations: a sustainable financial system, the integration of digital and sustainability policy, the consistent consideration of just transition, environmental and sustainability parameters in cohesion policy, and a corresponding focus in EU research policy and in the Horizon Europe programme.