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Serena Mattia – Internship at the European Parliament

My name is Serena Mattia and I have a degree in landscape and environmental planning. I am going to tell you about one of the best, most inspiring experiences of my career so far. Thanks to the Salviamo il Paesaggio Forum and the Gruppo Suolo Europa in particular, I had the opportunity to engage with a subject that in my view is crucial: protection of the soil. I started my internship in the office of the Green/EFA MEP Eleonora Evi in Brussels in February 2021.

Despite the pandemic and the accompanying restrictions, working in Brussels, albeit remotely, was a wonderful experience, the more so because my “Belgian” period was a time of personal change when the whole world was in stasis.

I took part in many webinars, conferences and seminars on the following subjects: the soil and the Green Deal, soil protection, the future of European soils, increasing fertility, climate change and carbon storage, and SoilCare conferences. I analysed the treatment of soil as a resource within the NRRP (National Recovery and Resilience Plan), the CAP, the biodiversity strategy and other documents. I wrote some questions for the Commission about soil consumption and soil protection. I am really happy that the resolution on soil protection was passed by the European Parliament during my internship, because it made the experience even more special.

As well as the “soil question” I also followed at the same time the work of the ENVI and PETI commissions, writing questions for the Commission on toxic muds, pesticides, and bee diseases. I attended webinars on ecocide, green towns, farming in cities, GMOs etc. and I took part in several meetings of the New European Bauhaus, including the opening conference.

In June 2021, at the end of my internship, Ms Evi decided to extend my contract for another four months, so I was able to continue work I had already started as well as following other activities. I attended the hearings of the Commission of inquiry into the wellbeing of animals during transport (Anit) and wrote accounts and articles about it for Ms Evi’s blog.

This also allowed me to work on some petitions from Italy about soil sealing in Emilia Romagna and a constantly updated collection of examples of good environmental practice from Italy, Europe and the rest of the world.

The whole period allowed me to immerse myself in European environmental policy, enriched my technical skills and knowledge of this subject and, last but not least, was a source of considerable personal growth.

For more info: serena-mattia@live.it

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Zero Pollution Action Plan (ZPAP)

We have a European plan to tackle pollution of the air, water and soil! Good intentions are laid out over 22 pages. If we were not in a highly critical situation, we would be filled with joy to see this action plan that the European Commission has sent to the Parliament and the Council. In summary: we know there is a problem and we have decided to tackle it at the European level.

The zero pollution targets for 2030

Under  EU  law,  Green  Deal  ambitions  and  in  synergy  with  other  initiatives,  by  2030  the  EU should reduce:

1. by more than 55% the health impacts (premature deaths) of air pollution;

2. by 30% the share of people chronically disturbed by transport noise;

3. by 25% the EU ecosystems where air pollution threatens biodiversity;

4. by 50% nutrient losses, the use and risk of chemical pesticides, the use of the more hazardous ones, and the sale of antimicrobials for farmed animals and in aquaculture;

5. by 50% plastic litter at sea and by 30% microplastics released into the environment;

6. significantly total waste generation and by 50% residual municipal waste.

And for the soil:

Furthermore,  the  proposed ‘’Mission  in  the  area  of  Soil  Health  and  Food’, together with the agricultural European Innovation Partnership (EIP AGRI), will promote the wide-spread uptake of  practices  for  pesticide  and  nutrient  reduction  by  promoting  innovations  and exchange  of knowledge. 

It  will  aim  to  ensuring  that,  by  2030,  75%  of  soils  are  healthy,  also  thanks  to  a specific objective on reducing soil pollution and enhancing restoration. As  part  of  the  upcoming EU  soil  strategy,   the  Commission  will  develop  measures  to significantly increase efforts to identify, investigate, assess and remediate contaminated sites, so that  by  2050  soil  pollution  will  no  longer  pose  a  health or  environmental  risk.  New  soil contamination  should  be  prevented  as  much  as  possible,  but  when  it  occurs  despite  preventive and  other  measures,  the  risks  should  be  immediately  addressed.  An  estimated  2.8  million  sites are  potentially  contaminated  across  the  EU,  of  which 390000  are  expected  to  require remediation.  

By  2018,  only  some  65500  sites  were  reported  to  have  been  remediated.  It  is crucial that all Member States have a register for (potentially) contaminated sites, step up efforts to  remediate  such  sites  and  develop  clear  criteria  to  prioritise  decontamination.  The  upcoming proposal  for  legally  binding EU  nature  restoration  targets will  consider  addressing  the restoration  of  degraded  soil  ecosystems.  The  Commission  will  also  develop  an  EU  priority watch list for soil contaminants as well as guidance, e.g. for a passport for the safe, sustainable and  circular  use  of  excavated  soils based  on  Member  State  experiences  where  they  exist.  To better  understand  the  issue  of  diffuse  soil  pollution  in  the  EU, the  Commission  will  work towards  integrating  a zero  pollution  module in  the  future LUCAS  [Land Use/Cover Area frame statistical Survey] soil  survey.  The availability  and  awareness  of  public  and  private  funding  options  for  identifying,  investigating and remediating contaminated soils will be promoted and facilitated.

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SIP Forum: My experience as an intern at the European Parliament

My name is Anna Paesano, I have a degree in Environmental and Forestry Agricultural Science with a specialisation in Agricultural and Environmental Biotechnology.

In September 2020, as the world experienced the second wave of the pandemic, I embarked on a fantastic adventure, which started when I got on a plane to Brussels! The SIP Forum had offered me the opportunity to do a four-month internship at the office of the MEP Eleonora Evi (Greens / European Free Alliance).The attraction for me was not just the opportunity to put into practice what I had learned during my studies, but to do this in the service of the European institutions.

I played a dynamic role in the activities of the offices. I observed the work of the European Parliament on the environment, farming, soil, climate change and biodiversity; a highlight was observing the work of the ENVI and PETI committees of which MEP Evi is a member.

Between October 2020 and January 2021 I followed the updates to the CAP, the Green Deal and the related strategies put forward by the European Commission.

I was also able to take part in a stimulating series of conferences on the recognition of the rights of nature organised by MEP Marie Touissant, as well as a number of webinars on carbon farming, the importance of the soil as a carbon sink and the consequences on GHG emissions, the key role of biodiversity, on climate change and its effects on human health.

An exciting moment came at the end of January, when Eleonora Evi’s team and I helped Luca Colapaoli to present – and get accepted – the Petition on soil consumption in the San Donato Milanese area (n. 0148/2020 presented on behalf of GreenSando). It was very interesting to see the EP’s commitment to defending the soil in opposition to the local authorities.

These were the main themes of my internship.

Unfortunately, thanks to the pandemic, the offices of the EP were closed to everyone two weeks after I arrived in Brussels. This meant I was unable to carry out interviews on the theme of the soil with MEPs, which was the main activity on which my internship should have been based. Nonetheless, thanks to remote working I was able to leave with a positive experience from all points of view: training, working and living.

My current plan is to dedicate myself to science, especially soil and earth science, which is closely connected with environmental policy, which is the most important tool for defending the soil and the environment.

I consider myself fortunate to have been able to experience working in a team that is very alert to environmental matters (despite political differences!), and to have been able to count on the support of Mario Catizzone and the Gruppo Suolo Europa.

Thank you to everyone who put their trust in me!

Anna Paesano: anna-paesano@libero.it

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Ecocide – International Parliamentary Alliance

GNDE –Civil Society 

We are often powerless witnesses of the destruction of the environment.

Civil Society has been trying for years to draw attention to and change policies that damage the environment and future generations. Unfortunately resistance to change is backed by powerful economic interests. We are referring not just to the multinationals, but also to single individuals such as ourselves. For proof look no further than what happened with Covid-19 between June and September: the first consideration was a rapid economic recovery and so, feeling free from any danger, we created the conditions for a second wave of the virus.

To bring about change we need new pathways, including legal ones. This is what led 10 parliamentarians from different countries to create the International Parliamentary Alliance for the Recognition of Ecocide. They have come together to tackle the destruction of ecosystems, climate change and the mass extinction of biodiversity. To combat these, they are calling for the creation of legislation that is capable of criminalising those who threaten the planet: a specific law on ecocide. 

Ecocide is “destruction or severe damage to any part or system of the global commons, or an ecological system on Earth at a scale which could threaten the lives of present and/or future generations, but above all the safety and hospitality of the planet“. In other words, any action that has caused serious ecological damage by participating openly and significantly in the overstepping of planetary limits, committed with knowledge of the consequences, which would result from it, and which could not be ignored, constitutes a crime of ecocide.

The Alliance brings together ten parliamentarians: the Brazilian Roberto Agostinho, the Belgian Samuel Cogolato, the Philippine Eufemia Cullamat, the Swede Rebecka Lemoine, Caroline Lucas from the UK, the Australians Janet Rice and Larissa Waters, Ines Sabanes from Spain, the American Lindsey Schromen-Warwin, and the French MEP Marie Toussaint, at the origin of the project. Let’s not forget these names!

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No to planned obsolescence!

On 25 November, The European Parliament voted to approve a resolution on the resolution on the “right to repair”.

To tackle planned obsolescence, restrictions on practices that intentionally shorten the lifetime of a product should be considered. In a resolution on the sustainable Single Market, MEPs call on the Commission to grant consumers a “right to repair” by making repairs more appealing, systematic, and cost-efficient.

They also ask the Commission to consider labelling products and services according to their durability (e.g. a usage meter and clear information on the estimated lifespan of a product). This would support second-hand goods markets and promote more sustainable production practices. To reduce electronic waste, MEPs again urge the implementation of a common charger system, which should already have been implemented by electronic component manufacturers in particular.

It is never too late to fight planned obsolescence!

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GNE (European Commission). ENVI Opinion on the European Investment Plan (SEIP)

On 27 July 2020 the European Parliament’s ENVI Commission presented its “Opinion” to the  EP’s Budget Commission on the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan – How to finance the Green Deal.

This is a procedure in which a number of EP commissions (ENVI, AGRI, TRAN, CULT, …) present their positions, which should then lead to a common position of the entire EP. We are focusing on the ENVI Commission because their proposals are clear and leave no room for misunderstanding.

To summarize: the investment plan presented by the European Commission in January 2020 must pursue and finance investments that “do no harm” to the environment or to people, and restore the “polluter pays” principle. Investments must be based on the  “Taxonomy” which enables the identification of non-damaging procedures to provide the private sector with the advice and means needed to carry out sustainable investment.

ENVI calls on the Commission to come up with an ambitious proposal to review the different amounts allocated to the SEIP and its sustainable investment strategy, in order to take into account the investment needs for climate adaptation or for other environmental challenges, such as biodiversity, and to consider the public investment needed to address the social costs of the transition and the costs of inaction.

Both texts repay close attention.

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What is Taxonomy?

We have been asked to give a more detailed explanation of the technical report “Taxonomy – Financing a sustainable European Economy”. Here it is.

The introduction to the document explains the basic concepts in a concise way:

The EU Taxonomy is a tool to help investors, companies, issuers and project promoters navigate the transition to a low-carbon, resilient and resource-efficient economy.

The Taxonomy sets performance thresholds (referred to as ‘technical screening criteria’) for economic activities which:

tassonomia

  • make a substantive contribution to one of six environmental objectives (Figure1);
  • do no significant harm (DNSH) to the other five, where relevant;
  • meet minimum safeguards (e.g., OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights).

The performance thresholds will help companies, project promoters and issuers access green financing to improve their environmental performance, as well as helping to identify which activities are already environmentally friendly.

In doing so, it will help to grow low-carbon sectors and decarbonise high-carbon ones.

The EU Taxonomy is one of the most significant developments in sustainable finance and will have wide ranging implications for investors and issuers working in the EU, and beyond.

The European Commission asked for this document and charged a Technical Expert Group (TEG) on Sustainable Finance, with the aim of developing recommendations on a range of topics, including what the Taxonomy technical screening criteria should be for the objectives of climate change mitigation and adaptation. The TEG has received input from all parts of the investment chain, industry sector representatives, academia, environmental experts, civil society and public bodies. Both the private sector and EU institutions are well represented, while the representatives of civil society do not fully represent the environment sector.

The TEG’s final report to the European Commission contains recommendations relating to the overarching design of the Taxonomy, as well as guidance on how users of the Taxonomy can develop Taxonomy disclosures. It has a summary of the economic activities covered by the technical screening criteria, but it is supplemented by a Technical Annex containing:

  • A full list of revised or additional technical screening criteria for economic activities which can substantially contribute to climate change mitigation or adaptation (including assessment of significant harm to other environmental objectives); and
  • Methodological statements to support the above recommendations.

Despite raising some doubts, these are important documents to which alternative solutions must however be found, especially if they are destined to guide the allocation of funds for financing Green Deal projects. The soil is never mentioned directly, rather it is taken for granted as an element of the ecosystem; but if we take waste into account, how can we not consider pollution of the soil?

In the meantime, in mid June 2020, the European Parliament approved the taxonomy as an operational tool, to be adopted before the end of 2020.

The TEG’s reports can be found in full here:

https://bit.ly/3kh1kNb

https://bit.ly/39XUSGk

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The European Parliament’s Commissioner Hearings

The new European Commission will officially take office … but not on the planned date of 1 November 2019!  This delay should not be viewed in a negative light; rather it is a sign of democracy working. The hearings for the individual Commissioners nominated for the new European Commission were held in October. They can all be viewed on the European Parliament’s website in all 23 community languages. Their interest lies not so much in how well the nominees managed to “defend” themselves against the MEPs’ questions, but rather in order to understand what their priorities will be in the overall context of the policies set out by the new Commission and approved by the Council and the Parliament. Here are some brief thoughts about the nominee Commissioners in relation to the issues that concern us most closely.

The Commissioner for the Environment, Virginijus Sinkevicius (Latvia), replied to questions on biodiversity, forestry, pollution, the air, plastics, cement, the circular economy, medicines, endocrine disruptors, and above all fisheries. Although he is new to this field, he showed evidence of being both competent and serious. Continua a leggere “The European Parliament’s Commissioner Hearings”