… and the EU laws that are fighting back!
Learning about threats to our environment can be pretty frightening, and gloomy environmental news often feels like we’re in a scary movie. The bright side is, we are not left defenceless: EU laws have the power to fight back, turn the plot around and write a happier ending for people and nature.
Here are five monsters to fear this Halloween, and the EU laws that will keep us safe.
Harmful chemicals haunting our homes v EU ecolabel
One in six Europeans live in a building that makes them sick, as the air inside our houses can be two to five times more polluted than outside. Chemical compounds contained in cleaning products, air fresheners, furniture, paint, wallpaper, carpets and construction materials are a major cause of indoor air pollution, and the way they affect our health is still largely unknown.
Protecting ourselves and our loved ones from this chemical cocktail is not always easy, but choosing safer products can make a big difference, and the EU Ecolabel is there to help us identify them.
The e-waste time bomb v EU ecodesign
From plastic to electronic scrap, waste is on the rise, and our governments are unprepared to properly deal with it. What’s even more scary, a lot of the waste we produce is toxic.
This is particularly true with electronic waste – the fastest growing type of waste in the world. Jean-Pierre Schweitzer, a product policy and circular economy expert working for the EEB, calls it “the next big environmental challenge in today’s digital society – a time bomb waiting to explode.” As recyclers struggle to deal with the growing amount of waste, the electronic goods we discard are buried in landfills or illegally exported to developing countries where they are often treated in informal or dangerous conditions.
Earlier this year, an international scandal broke as some of the most toxic chemicals in the world were found in chicken eggs near a dumpsite in Ghana, where EU countries send massive amounts of hazardous electronic waste every year.
The EU can reduce e-waste by making products more easily repairable and recyclable by design, so that they can last longer. This is the role of the Ecodesign Directive, which sets minimum repairability requirements for several electronics such as TVs, fridges or washing machines. Eco-design can also oblige manufacturers to phase out toxic substances in the design of products.
The black monster swallowing entire villages v ETS, clean air laws, just transition AND clean energy targets!
Coal has long been known as the dirtiest of fuels because of its emissions of greenhouse gases and harmful pollutants. But the human impact of coal goes beyond power plant emissions: from Greece to Germany and Poland, across the countries that are still digging for lignite (also know as ‘brown coal’), entire towns are disappearing, devoured by expanding mines.
It is the case of Keyenberg, Kuckum, Berverath and Westrich, four German villages that risk to be turned into a vast opencast mine because of the expansion of the Garzweiler pit, which already spreads over almost 50km2 to feed two of the EU’s biggest and most polluting coal plants. Determined to defend their homes, the villagers have come together in the group ‘Menschenrecht vor Bergrecht‘ (‘Human Rights Before Mining Rights’) and are ready to mount a legal challenge against any attempt to oust them.
Phasing out coal across member states is key, and EU laws can help make it happen faster. Ending coal subsidies, fixing the European emission trading system in line with the Paris Agreements, supporting a people-centred and just transition away from coal, promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy, and ensuring the enforcement of EU air quality standards are five good examples of EU actions that will take Europe beyond coal.
The sixth great extinction v EU nature laws
The air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat, all rely on a variety of plant and animal life – but today our precious nature is under threat, as we face unprecedented levels of species loss.
Once common flowers, birds, butterflies, amphibians and reptiles are getting rarer by the day, and bees across Europe are in vast rapid decline. We the humans have been playing the part of the monster here, as industrial farming, energy production, increasing urban sprawl, and infrastructure development have heavily contributed to the destruction and fragmentation of ecosystems.
Last week, we reported on how overtourism and decades of intensive agriculture have resulted in the shocking sight of thousands of dead fish washing up on the shore at the biggest coastal lagoon in the western Mediterranean.
The situation is critical, but it’s not to late to invert the trend. From its ground-breaking water laws to the largest network of protected natural area in the world, the EU is already providing a powerful set of tools to restore a thriving nature, and it is up to our national governments to implement them and enforce them.
Climate breakdown v an effective European Green Deal
We are facing a climate emergency. As greenhouse gases emitted from human activities warm up our planet at an unprecedented pace, extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, with a severe impact on our economies, societies and natural world.
In Europe, the Mediterranean area is becoming drier, and southern and eastern countries are getting more vulnerable to droughts and wildfires, while the Nordic countries are becoming significantly wetter and more exposed to winter floods. All across the continent, our cities are exposed to heat waves, flooding or rising sea levels.
Climate breakdown is changing the world as we know it, and the fight for a safe climate is one of the most important challenges of our times. EU laws provide a wide range of tools that must be scaled up and properly enforced to help us win this battle.
Among them, the EU budget is arguably the most important financial tool to boost climate action across the bloc. Ending subsidies to dirty fossil fuels and ensuring EU public money is spent on renewable energy and sustainable solutions will be key to meet the Paris Agreements and create incentives for a just transition towards an EU economy that works within planetary boundaries, policy experts say.
At the same time, the incoming European Commission has put environmental and climate action at the centre of its European Green Deal, and committed to achieve carbon neutrality in the EU by 2050.
If climate breakdown is one of the scariest threats haunting us this Halloween, the good news is the actions we need to take to secure a safe climate will also have multiple benefits for our society as a whole: ultimately, strong laws and policies to cut emissions can help us give our scary movie a happy ending.