Biodiversity has a key impact on the economy of individual states, more than half of the global GDP depends on it
Environmental protection has been an increasingly important society-wide topic, and the European Union therefore continues to prepare new plans and strategies. One of the news is for example a new action plan for zero pollution for water, air and soil aiming to protect the health of Europeans. In addition, the EU prepared a strategy in biological diversity which responds to insufficient protection of biotopes and species – not only ecosystems but also economies of states depend on biodiversity. Other news include the ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union on a temporary cessation of operations of a coal mine and a report of the INCA project on the integration of ecosystem accounts.
The Commission strives for zero pollution for air, water and soil
The European Commission adopted the Action Plan ‘Towards Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil’. The plan determines an integrated vision for 2050: the world in which pollution is decreased to a harmless level for human health and natural ecosystems. The plan engages all areas of influence of the EU and puts special emphasis primarily on the use of digital technologies. The action plan defines, among other things, the following principal objectives by 2030 (compared to the current situation):
- Improvement in air quality aiming to decrease the number of premature deaths caused by polluted air by 55%
- Improvement in water quality, decrease in the quantity of plastic and other waste in seas by 50%
- Decrease in losses of soil nutrients and restrictions on pesticide use by 50%
- Reducing noise from traffic and production of residual municipal waste
According to a recent EEA report on health and environment, more than 400,000 premature deaths are caused by polluted ambient air every year. Pollution is a cause of numerous mental and physical diseases, it is a threat primarily to children, the elderly and persons living in disadvantaged and contaminated areas. In addition to the review of key legal regulations, such as a directive on the cleaning of municipal waste water or directive on industrial emissions, we can expect new tools such as the Scoreboard of Environmental Performance of EU Regions.
EU biodiversity strategy for 2030
The impacts of the society on biodiversity have been an increasingly important topic. The EU biodiversity strategy therefore determines an ambitious and far-reaching programme of measures to discontinue the loss of biodiversity in the EU and worldwide. It is a difficult challenge that we need to face in order to secure stable future on the planet and meet the objectives of the Green Deal.
The underlying data for this strategy was scientific evidence on the loss of biological diversity. According to the most important report named “State of Nature in the EU” issued by IPBES in 2020, 81% of protected habitats of the EU and 63% of protected species in the EU is in “bad” or “very poor” state in terms of their protection, due to multiple pressures that they face. The most recent studies confirm that more than half of the global GDP depends on well-functioning diversity and ecosystems, one fifth of the countries is exposed to the risk of collapse of their ecosystems which poses a threat to the safety of food, water purity and protection against floods.
The EU strategy is supposed to lead to a balance between nature and economic activities and contribute to
a transformational change. The implementation of the ambitious vision requires the involvement of the whole society, from soil owners to consumers, entrepreneurs, civic organisations and other entities across Europe. The strategy focuses on the strengthening of a transparent and clear set of measures. For meeting the objectives set by the Strategy, the sum of EUR 20 billion per year was earmarked through EU funds, national and private financing, use of the Taxonomy tools, EU investing and other sources of funding.
Preliminary injunction of the Court of Justice of the European Union: Poland must suspend mining of lignite in the Turów mine
In its recent ruling, the Court of Justice of the EU discontinued mining in the Turów lignite open cast mine located in the Polish territory close to the border with the Czech Republic and Germany to which the Polish authorities granted a concession for mining until 30 April 2020. The Polish act allows a one-off extension of the concession by 6 years without an assessment of its impact on the environment, provided it is rationally justified. In October 2019, the operator filed an application for extension by 6 years; in January of the following year, the Regional Directorate for Environmental Protection in Wroclaw issued a decision allowing mining until 2044. Pursuant to the decision of the regional directorate, the Polish minister of climate and environment issued a mining permit until 2026.
The Czech Republic believes that Poland breached several EU regulations, and therefore filed an action claiming a failure to meet an obligation to the Court of Justice. In its legal action, it demands a suspension of lignite mining in the Turów mine until the Court of Justice of the European Union delivers its judgment. Based on the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, it is possible to order a preliminary injunction when it is proven that the injunction is prima facie justified in fact and in law (this fact was covered as it cannot be ruled out that the Polish legislation breaches the requirements arising from the EIA Directive) and if these measures are urgent because they are necessary to prevent a serious and irreparable damage. The second condition was met as there is a threat of a negative impact of the continuing mining on the groundwater level located in the Czech territory – such damage is a serious damage.
When assessing the impacts of the preliminary injunction, it was stated that Poland did not sufficiently document the irreversibility of the damage caused by discontinued mining. There is a clear lesson to be learnt for business – it is not possible to rely on the authorisation of environmentally unfriendly operations by the state, and the operations may be discontinued despite such authorisation, which has extensive economic consequences. As such, there is no reason to postpone the environmental transformation.
Final report of the INCA project: How to integrate ecosystem accounts
The report of the INCA project is a statistical framework for data organisation, monitoring changes in the state of ecosystems, measuring of ecosystem services and interconnection of this information with economic and other human activities. The system aims to illustrate the benefits that society gets from ecosystems. Ecosystem accounting and statistics can be used for responses to question of the following type: How is the condition of agricultural soil changing? How has the condition and scope of wetlands in the EU territory changed? Where is it necessary to invest in measures for water purification?
The INCA report shows individual examples where ecosystem accounting can be used in practice and principles of its application. Thanks to the ecosystem statistical framework, it is easier to compare the changes that have occurred in several last decades and can be measured in a standardised and comparable manner.