EU invests in green projects and bans single-use plastics while climate change requires more to be done

Visit by Karmenu Vella, Member of the EC, to Indonesia
Date: 29/10/2018 Location: Indonesia
© European Union , 2018. Photo: Oscar Siagian

It was last Thursday when the European Commission approved a 243 million euros package for LIFE programme projects which will improve the environment and reduce carbon emissions. This action enhances the EU climate position ahead of the COP24 in December and may have substantial influence to the rest of the parties.

Apart from that, the European Parliament (EP) gave the green light last week to ban single-use plastic items in the EU by 2021 and supported a 2050 net zero emissions target which urges EU member states to step up ambition on climate change complying with the recent IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.

However, there is still much work to be done because only 16 countries are on track to their climate pledges and therefore a strict binding rulebook which will be applicable to all is much needed to start reversing climate course.

Green investments

The EU funding for the environment and climate action under the LIFE programme is very promising and is estimated to mobilise investments of 430,7 million euros through 142 new projects. It has been running since 1992 and has co-financed more than 4.600 projects across the EU and in third countries, leading to 10 billion euros and contributing over 4,2 billion euros to the protection of the environment and climate.

Commissioner Vella mentioned that people’s life, environment and climate are enhanced through LIFE programme. More specifically, Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries stated: “The LIFE programme continues to invest in projects that improve our quality of life, our environment and nature. It helps many talented Europeans to find solutions to some of today’s greatest environmental concerns – air pollution, water scarcity, plastic waste, biodiversity and resource loss. And it continues to deliver value for money.”

Bill Gates joins forces with European Commission

The EC signed a memorandum of understanding with Breakthrough Energy two weeks ago to set up a joint investment fund of 100 million euros which is called Breakthrough Energy Europe (BEE). This fund will be used to help reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promote energy efficiency in the areas of electricity, transport, agriculture, manufacturing and building.

Billionaire Bill Gates, chairman of the Breakthrough Energy Ventures, mentioned that investment funds such as BEE are essential to be able to tackle the global threats of environmental change. In detail, Mr Gates stated: “The scientists and entrepreneurs who are developing innovations to address climate change need capital to build companies that can deliver those innovations to the global market. Breakthrough Energy Europe is designed to provide that capital.”

EP prohibits single-use plastics

Members of the European Parliament concluded on October 24 to ban single-use plastic items such as plates, cutlery, straws, balloon sticks or cotton buds in the bloc by 2021. But except for those ones, products made of oxo-degradable plastics, such as bags or packaging and fast-food containers made of expanded polystyrene will be also forbidden.  Furthermore, MEPs decided that single-use burger boxes, sandwich boxes or food containers for fruits, vegetables, desserts or ice creams and waste from tobacco products should be reduced by each EU member state.

These measures can help clean the environment and the oceans where most of these plastics end up and damage the marine flora and fauna. In total, according to the EC, it is estimated that between 75.000 and 300.000 tonnes of microplastics are released into the environment each year in the Old Continent. It seems that it is in the hands of EU countries to back up this directive before it becomes law by visioning a more circular plastics economy.

As Commisioner Karmenu Vella said after the pertinent EP vote: “Today we are one step closer to eliminating the most problematic single use plastic products in Europe. It sends a clear signal that Europe is ready to take decisive, coordinated action to curb plastic waste and to lead international efforts to make our oceans plastic-free.”

EP presses EU countries to pursue the 1.5°C target

Last Thursday, MEPs outlined that the current climate goals are not enough to limit temperature increase below 2 °C in a resolution on the COP24 climate change conference in Katowice which was adopted with 239 votes to 145 and 23 abstentions. It was said that EU policies have to be in line with the Paris Agreement’s targets calling for a 55% emissions reduction by 2030. Basically, the main conclusion was that a more optimistic target of 1.5°C should be set in order to prevent irreversible damages to the environment.

However, reports and studies from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, both of London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), as well as the World Research Institute, have found that just 58 states have transformed their Paris Agreement commitments into national law, and out of those 58 countries, just 16 have set national laws that are as ambitious as they should be to be in line with the Paris Agreement. The latter clearly calls for a solution and binding pledge from all countries in order to be able to turn the tide of climate change.

All in all, EU seems to be attempting to promote climate-friendly investments even more but many challenges still exist which require all countries to unite in order to contribute to emissions reduction cuts in all sectors, endorse behavioural changes and expand the use of technologies to make the transition towards a low-carbon and circular economy while providing citizens with a cleaner, safer environment.

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