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EU environment laws

Environment MEPs go along with Commission plans to weaken environmental rules
Official flag of the European Union in front of a large windpark with wind turbines

Yesterday (24 October), the Environment Committee in the European Parliament voted on the Commission’s proposed changes to the Renewable Energy Directive, part of the RePowerEU package.

In what WWF said ‘can only be seen as a bad day for the environment’, the committee failed to oppose the weakening of environmental rules proposed by the Commission, setting a dangerous precedent for other infrastructure development and risking public opposition to renewables that could slow down the energy transition.

There were, however, a few small chinks of light – for example excluding marine mammal migratory routes from ‘go-to’ areas.

’A bad idea’

The RePowerEU package was launched in May with the aim of reducing our dependence on Russian fossil fuels – and a rapid shift away from fossil fuels would benefit both the EU’s energy security and climate action.

However, the Commission’s plans to exempt renewable energy projects from important environmental legislation such as environmental impact assessments, which the Environment Committee has just voted to support, is counterproductive. 

‘We need a massive expansion of wind and solar energy, but the way to do that is to fix inefficient bureaucratic procedures, not weaken environmental legislation. The Commission’s plans to exempt renewables from environmental rules are a bad idea, and the Environment Committee should never have gone along with them.’

ALEX MASON
Head of Climate and Energy at WWF European Policy Office

Hydropower and bioenergy

The key to rapid expansion of wind and solar power is better spatial planning and more administrative capacity in permitting authorities, not scrapping rules that facilitate public involvement and nature protection, as WWF already previously recommended.

Instead, this course of action risks generating public opposition and leading to further challenges and delays. 

The European Commission had proposed the designation of ‘go-to’ areas for renewables, which WWF supports.

However, the Environment Committee failed to exclude hydropower and bioenergy from these areas, both of which are extremely problematic in climate and biodiversity terms and must therefore be treated differently from other forms of renewable energy.

Hydropower and migratory fish

WWF ‘regrets’ that the Environment Committee failed to exclude hydropower from go-to areas despite recommendations from NGOs.

Hydropower constructions can be massive obstructions for migratory fish species. Facilitated procedures for the construction of new hydropower plants in go-to areas might affect our rivers beyond the point of no return.

WWF’s Living Planet Report 2022 already shows that freshwater species populations have seen the greatest overall global decline (83%) among all species groups.

The exclusion of small hydropower plants from the exemption of environmental impact assessment (EIA), introduced as a compromise by the main political groups, is only a cosmetic change as authorities often do not require an EIA for such plants.

‘The signal sent by science is clear: we cannot allow further fragmentation of European rivers, including by hydropower barriers. The RePowerEU proposal has already led to increased interest in building new hydropower plants or reintroducing controversial ones, which should be stopped as soon as possible.’

CLAIRE BAFFERT
Senior Water Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office

Marine mammal migratory routes

In better news, marine mammals will see their migratory routes protected, with MEPs voting to exclude marine mammal migratory routes from ‘go-to areas’ for offshore renewable energy, and to require these areas to align with an ecosystem-based approach to maritime spatial planning.

This follows the requirements of the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive, under which all Member States must develop ecosystem-based strategies to sustainably manage their marine areas, from nature recovery and protection to offshore renewables and fisheries. 

‘Today marks a milestone, with Parliament underscoring how essential sound planning of our seas is to secure harmony between new infrastructure like offshore wind and space for nature to thrive. The EU’s shift to renewables must go hand-in-hand with effective nature restoration and protection – these are key ingredients in the formula for a truly sustainable EU blue economy.’

HELENA RODRIGUES
Ocean Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office

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