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EU Environment and Climate Change Law Review

The current EU environment and climate change policy objectives are set out in the Seventh Environmental Action Programme, which guides EU environment policy until 2020.  The objectives are to protect, conserve and enhance the European Union’s natural capital; turn the European Union into a resource-efficient, green and competitive low-carbon economy; and safeguard the European Union’s citizens from environment-related pressures and risks to health and well-being.

Recent initiatives include overhauling the European Union’s current environmental legislative framework ‘to make it fit for purpose’ and further encouraging ‘Green Growth’ to turn the European Union into a resource-efficient, green and competitive low-carbon economy.

The European Commission also recently announced a Plastics Strategy and proposed new rules banning or reducing consumption of single-use plastics.  The European Union is committed to its 2030 targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent and to improve energy efficiency by 27 per cent.

In the wake of the Paris Agreement and reflecting the European Union’s prominent role in combating climate change impact, the political focus remains on environmental sustainability and tackling climate change.  This is further reflected in the Commission’s new long-term strategy to reach a climate-neutral economy by 2050. The importance of reducing CO2 emissions by 2030 was underscored by the President of the European Commission in his 2018 State of the Union Address. The proposed EU budget for the period 2021 to 2027 also foresees increased funding to support environment and climate action.

Environmental Protection Legislation

The European Union has developed a complex regime of environmental protection legislation on air and water quality, chemicals, and solid and hazardous waste, which is law in EU Member States. Other initiatives of the European Union (e.g., concerning single-use plastics) are only at an early stage at present.

Air quality

Air Quality Framework Directive 2008/50 on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe (Air Quality Framework Directive (AQFD)) updates and draws into one instrument almost all EU directives on air quality management, including air quality standards and targets for particular pollutants such as SO2, NOx, lead (Pb), carbon monoxide (CO), benzene, PM-10, PM-2.5 and ozone. more

Industrial emissions

The Industrial Emissions Directive (IED)68 sets up a scheme whereby large-scale industrial installations must obtain permits in order to operate. In doing so, it aims to reduce harmful industrial emissions. more

Water quality

The European Union’s regulation of water quality standards is primarily through Directive 2000/60/EC, the Water Framework Directive. Addressing both diffuse and point-source pollution, and establishing binding targets for water quantity and quality in relation to a wide range of water bodies, the Directive is both comprehensive and holistic.

There is also issue-specific legislation such as the Directive on environmental quality standards (water policy) and the Directive on groundwater (requiring Member States to take all measures necessary to prevent inputs into groundwater of hazardous substances).  The Water Framework Directive contains four central provisions for pollution control standards in river basin districts – the ‘area of land and sea, made up of one or more neighbouring river basins together with their associated groundwaters and costal waters’.

  1. Member States ‘aim to achieve’ good surface water status, covering inland, coastal and  transitional waters (including both good chemical and ecological status) by ‘ensuring a balance between abstraction and recharging of groundwater’. The CJEU has held that the
    obligation under the Directive to prevent the deterioration of water and to enhance water quality is legally binding.
  2. Member States must ensure that all relevant discharges into surface waters are controlled by emission controls based on best available techniques, applicable emission limit values, or in the case of diffuse impacts, best environmental practices set out in other EU legislation.
  3. Member States are also obliged to cease or phase out the discharge, emission or loss of priority hazardous substances and must also progressively reduce intrinsically hazardous substances, such as heavy metals.
  4. Measures must be put in place to prevent deterioration in the existing quality of surface and ground waters.


Chemicals are regulated at an EU level by the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Regulation. In principle, all chemical substances fall within the scope of that  regulation, whether they are used in industrial processes or day-to-day products, as well as products made of those substances.

Solid and hazardous waste

The overarching regime for the European Union’s regulation of waste is the Waste Framework Directive. The definition of ‘waste’ for the purpose of the Directive is crucial as the Directive’s prescriptions and regulatory controls only apply to waste, but this also creates
difficulties. Waste is defined in the Directive as ‘any substance or object which the holder discards or intends or is required to discard’.

The Directive makes certain exclusions from the scope of waste, such as gaseous effluents emitted into the atmosphere, land (in situ) and uncontaminated soil. It also excludes from its scope certain materials to the extent they are covered by other EU legislation – including
wastewater, animal by-products and carcasses, and mining waste. more

Contaminated land

Land contamination is not regulated at EU level. The Commission had proposed a Soil Framework Directive in September 2006 aimed at filling this gap and providing a common strategy for the protection and sustainable use of soil.  However, after almost eight years
without the proposal being enacted into legislation, the Commission withdrew it in April 2014, with the aim of proposing legislation again in the future.

However, the Seventh Environment Action Programme, which entered into force on 17 January 2014, recognises that soil degradation is a serious challenge. It provides that by 2020 land is managed sustainably in the Union, soil is adequately protected and the remediation of contaminated sites is well underway and commits the EU and its Member States to increasing efforts to reduce soil erosion and increase soil organic matter and to remediate contaminated sites.

Source – Lexology. White & Case LLP

Verde Environmental Consultants can work with you to ensure your compliance with all matters of EU and Irish environmental legislation.

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