The EU wants to support green transport with focus on railways

One of the biggest environmental challenges across the EU Member States is to prevent greenwashing and provide a unified approach to environmental protection. The EU has therefore issued a manual to ensure that even a tried and tested system such as the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is unified. At the same time, a recommendation for establishing an environmental footprint in the circular economy has been issued to ensure a unified and transparent system for the sustainability assessment of suppliers, services and goods. Last but not least, a new plan to boost the railway sector has also been adopted to ensure that this type of long-distance and cross-border transport is developed to help achieve the EU’s sustainability objective.

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Green (for) railways

One part of the European Green Deal includes the transition to cleaner, greener and smarter transport. For this purpose, An Action Plan to boost long-distance and cross-border passenger rail has been created, as rail is proving to be one of the most sustainable means of transport. The European Investment Bank has pledged to invest heavily in measures to increase the use of rail, particularly on long-distance lines. The selected measures naturally address the shortcomings that are responsible for the low use of cross-border connections – only 7% of cross-border journeys in Europe can be attributed to rail. In addition to providing the basics (e.g. acquiring enough trains and carriages, modernising them or training staff), there are also less obvious needs, such as more user-friendly and unified access to international tickets, harmonising technical and operational rules or speeding up the digitisation of related processes. In terms of infrastructure, high-speed rail, together with its connection to airports, should be a priority.

New tool for applying the environmental impact assessment directive

The Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (Directive 2011/92/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council, as amended by Directive 2014/52/EU), known as the EIA Directive, provides a framework for national legislation on environmental impact assessment for a wide range of projects. In practice, this often makes it difficult to interpret the definitions and provisions of the respective Directives for specific projects in order to determine whether they fall within the scope of the Directive (or national regulation) and how they should be assessed, if applicable.

Both the practice of the responsible assessing authorities and the interpretation of the courts have evolved over time. The European Commission has therefore, among other things, issued a Commission notice regarding application of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive, to provide basis for improvement and correct application of the EIA Directive under one roof. However, the Commission states: ‘There are many practical situations, which are often complex, and as the EIA Directive covers a wide range of industries and types of projects, it is not possible to provide an exhaustive list of examples. The competent national authorities may have to apply the requirements of the EIA Directive on a case-by-case basis and assess each case in view of its specific circumstances.’ Member States and competent authorities are therefore invited to participate in the development of a comparative analysis which could lead to future EU-level methodologies for the implementation of the EIA Directive.

How to measure environmental footprint throughout the life cycle of products and organisations?

One of the main goals of the Green Deal is to address greenwashing. Unification rule-setting is needed in a number of areas, including the determination of the environmental footprint in the circular economy, as the environmental parameters of products or organisations are now difficult to distinguish on the market.

Therefore, with the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders (in particular industry representatives, including SMEs), the Commission has developed methods for determining the environmental footprint, which have passed through pilot phases in recent years. On the basis of their results, the Commission has now issued recommendations on the use of these methods. They can now be expected to be used in policies or systems for measuring and communicating the life cycle environmental profile of all types of products, including goods, services and organisations. For example, if companies require a life cycle environmental profile from their suppliers, these methodologies can serve as a consistent and transparent system for this assessment. The methodologies are detailed enough to assess a very wide range of life cycle elements of the ‘circularity’ of goods, services and organisations.

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