28th EEAC Annual Conference to be hosted online

Given the likelihood that the Covid-19 crisis will still be ongoing in October, the National Economic and Social Council and the Board of the EEAC Network have now decided to opt for a virtual conference format. This format will ensure, regardless of possible public health restrictions, that the 2020 Annual Conference will go ahead. This is important since the crisis has made this conference more important.

The public health crisis is transforming economies, societies, and the environment in ways that cannot yet be fully understood. In the face of what is unprecedented change and uncertainty we believe that Just Transition can, and indeed must, provide guidance and practical support to policy makers across Europe.

By going online, the conference will be held over the three days, from Tuesday 27 October to Thursday 29 October. In this short video address, Dr Larry O’Connell, Director of NESC, shares further details of the online conference. More information about the conference can be found here

Online policy briefing on the agenda of the German Presidency of the Council of the European Union

Germany started its Presidency of the Council of the European Union on July 1st 2020. Rarely have there been so many sustainability related topics on the agenda – plus the opportunity to put the billions of euros earmarked for the coronavirus recovery to transformative use. Therefore, expectations seem high.

However, due to the Covid19 crisis Germany will not be able to execute its previously stipulated Presidency agenda. This raises the question what changes the Covid19 crisis might bring to the agenda, and what the possible risks and opportunities of these changes are. Furthermore, the focus will be on the Presidency’s ambitions regarding issues such as climate change, digitalization, environmental policies and the complex Multi Annual Financial Framework negotiations.

Karsten Sach, Director General International and European Policy at the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety provided insight into the Presidency’s agenda during an EEAC exclusive policy briefing. The briefing aimed to inform EEAC members about the focus of the German Presidency of the European Council, with special emphasis on issues related to climate change and environmental and sustainable development policies.

European sustainability councils call for a boost in the post-pandemic shift to rail for international travel

1 July 2020 – Europe can and must do more to improve international passenger travel by rail. This will contribute towards the EU’s environmental goals, will enhance the economic competitiveness of agglomerations and stimulate sustainable tourism. Moreover, the transport sector will need support from the EU to prevent decline in the wake of the current COVID-19-crisis. This support can be used as an incentive for a post-pandemic shift to a more sustainable and efficient mobility system throughout the European Union. Now is the time to support a shift from aviation to trains, specifically for short-haul flights. A European consortium of governmental advisory councils therefore urges the European Commission to take this opportunity to boost international passenger rail.

Lack of international cooperation due to focus on domestic needs
Up until now, the international rail network consists primarily of interlinked national systems which are optimised to meet domestic needs. This pushes the needs of the international traveller to the background. The councils conclude that the lack of international cooperation persists because public authorities, rail carriers and infrastructure managers are primarily held to account for their performance in providing domestic services and to a lesser degree for international services.

Travel info, ticketing and passenger rights
The quality of international travel information and ticketing is below par. Travelers want a single service point and a single ticket for their international train journey. In a short space of time, much can be achieved by providing adequate travel information, simplifying ticketing, and improving passenger rights. To that end, there is urgent need for better EU regulation on travel information and ticketing and the ongoing revision of the EU Regulation on passengers’ rights presents an opportunity to improve just that.

Need for a corridor authority
The councils see a need for an improved international coordination on the main rail links between the major urban centres in Europe. The councils are in favour of an EU regulation establishing an European governance structure for the rail network, as better coordination on this level is essential for improving  international rail connectivity. This pan-European initiative could start with international coordination along separate core corridors for passenger transport within Europe: Rail Passenger Corridors. Ultimately, a European corridor authority should be able to supervise and monitor international rail traffic. This authority should also be able to coordinate between public and private rail parties concerned, to accommodate with international rail services in the interests of international rail passengers.

Call for a major boost
The councils call upon the European Commission to give priority to further improvement of international passenger transport by rail. So far the European approach has leaned heavily on stimulating market mechanisms, harmonising regulations and technical standardisation. This has not yet brought about the development of a thriving international rail market. The major boost that is needed implies an increase in political attention, speeding up policy effort and stimulating all parties concerned to improve international passenger rail even further. Better coordination across the European rail network should provide easy accessibility to excellent railservices for international travellers and bring about a huge improvement. However improvements to the speed and connectedness of the network itself are also fundamental. Read More

New recommendation: Making hydrogen a sustainable decarbonisation option

The German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) issued a recommendation to the Federal government in response to the government’s National Hydrogen Strategy.

In its recommendation RNE argues that if fossil energy from coal, oil and gas is to be almost entirely replaced by renewable energy
sources by 2050 at the latest, hydrogen needs to be made a partner to the renewable energies in order to achieve sector coupling and storage, and thus also both security of supply and sustainable prices.

RNE does not consider an energy transition based solely on electrification to be realisable. Electrons and molecules are consequently a
necessary synthesis for a promising energy transition within industry and society. The RNE therefore fundamentally welcomes the National Hydrogen Strategy adopted by the Federal Government on 10 June 2020 and explicitly supports the establishment of a hydrogen industry being given a major boost in the stimulus package.

RNE does, however, recommend that the proposed measures be substantiated in the upcoming implementation process and that they be turned into political action quickly and based on partnership. The RNE believes it is time to think big and act swiftly. At the same time, the council is aware that some of the issues such as the establishment of international partnerships, the reduction of carbon emissions and the needs-based availability of hydrogen still need to be discussed and negotiated in detail.  Read More

Latest statement: For an efficient and area effective insect protection

The German Advisory Council on the Environment, together with the Scientific Advisory Board on Biodiversity and Genetic Resources at the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture launched a statement entitled ‘For an efficient and area effective insect protection’.

The two organisations, state that insects are essential components of ecosystems. They provide many services on which we rely and from which we benefit every day, for example the pollination of crops or biological pest control. Data shows a serious loss of insects, the most species-rich class of animals. A further loss of insects and thus fundamental ecosystem services would have far-reaching negative consequences, also for human well-being as well as the environment.

The decline is the result of complex, often cumulative factors. Agriculture is a major contributor to this decline. Two of the most important reasons are the widespread and increasing impoverishment of the landscape structure and the input of nutrients and pesticides. In order to stop the loss of insects, the use of plant protection products and nutrients has to be reduced and monotonous landscapes have to be enriched with small structures such as hedges, trees and field margins. Furthermore, extensive grassland needs to be protected and used sustainably. Read More

Water quantity governance in the context of climate change

Climate change will affect the availability, quality and quantity of the water needed to meet basic human needs. This will inevitably increase risks in energy production, food security, human health, economic development and poverty reduction, and consequently represents a serious threat to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. At the same time, both climate change and the human responses to it will add to the existing pressures on water systems and ecosystems. For this reason, the EEAC Working Group on Fresh Water Affairs dedicated an online session to the challenges of water quantity governance in the context of climate change. Read More

Presidency of the Council of the EU: half a year to make a wholehearted commitment

Germany will soon commence its presidency of the Council of the European Union. Rarely have there been so many sustainability-related topics on the agenda – plus the opportunity to put the billions of euros earmarked for the coronavirus recovery to transformative use, the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) argues. In a post the council sheds its light on issues such as the ‘Next Generation EU’ framework, as well as on issues related to New climate targets, Circular economy, Industrial strategy and energy, the MMF and Agriculture. Read More

New composition SRU approved by Federal Cabinet

The German Federal Cabinet approved the appointment of the members of the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU) for the period July 2020 until mid 2024.

Four university professors from various disciplines have been newly appointed. These four have special scientific knowledge and experience in environmental protection:

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Christina Dornack, TU Dresden, for the field of waste and recycling management
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Köck, University of Leipzig/Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ Leipzig), for the area of environmental and planning law
Prof. Dr. Josef Settele, University of Halle-Wittenberg/Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ Halle), for the field of nature conservation/ecology/biodiversity/land use
Prof. Dr. Annette Elisabeth Töller, FernUniversität Hagen, for German and European environmental policy

Several council members were re-appointed:

Prof. Dr. Claudia Hornberg, University of Bielefeld, for the area of health sciences/toxicology/noise and environmental justice
Prof. Dr. Claudia Kemfert, DIW Berlin, for the area of Economics/Climate Protection/Energy/Transport
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Lucht, PIK Potsdam, for the area of sustainability/earth system analysis

This  item is an English summary of the official press release by the BMU. Press release in German

Updated: One pandemic, numerous lessons and 17 goals that we must not put in lockdown

In a response to the Covid19 crisis that sweep the world, several EEAC member bodies drafted statements or posted blogs.

A new paper from the National Economic and Social Council, The Implications of Covid-19 for Housing in Ireland, argues that it has brought insights about what has been done well, some important lessons and provided food for thought about the future. This paper followed another recent publication, entitled How We Value Work:  The Impact of Covid-19. In this paper NESC argues that the Covid-19 pandemic has made good jobs better and more valuable to the worker; and made poor jobs worse, yet more valuable to society. This recently released papers are part of NESC’s attempt to contribute to Ireland’s policy response to Covid19. The Council dedicated a special area on their website where research reports are published. This research work, in normal circumstances, would be used to produce NESC reports, which would be published following detailed deliberation by the Council. By putting it in the public domain earlier, it is hoped this research can help those now working on the response to Covid-19. Learn more

The German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE)  launched it’s recommendation, entitled: ‘A sustainable recovery from the coronavirus crisis’. In their recomendation, the RNE argues that the strategy for tackling the economic and social consequences of the pandemic should have a sound approach which complements the global Sustainable Development Goals right from the start. There will be no financial leeway for fundamental readjustments later on, the council argues. In their recommendation, the council members of the RNE propose eight steps for a sustainable recovery from the Covid19 crisis. In addition, the council published to articles on how the post-coronavirus restart can become ecological and encounters that leave a smaller footprint.

In addtion, the Luxembourg High Council for Sustainable Development published a statement (FR) in mid-May.  The statement addresses the Government of Luxembourg, and urges to draw lessons from and respond to the Covid-19 crisis and its aftermath. The Council  stresses that no country will be able to emerge from this crisis alone. In the context of Europe Day on 9 May, the Council thus joined the initiative of the EEAC Network, by reiterating the consensus that the pandemic reinforces the need to actively pursue the implementation of the Green Pact for Europe (Green Deal) and Agenda 2030.

The Council for the Sustainable Development of Catalonia earlier released a statement, entitled ‘One pandemic, numerous lessons and 17 goals that we must not put in lockdown’. In this statement the Council argues that the Covid19 pandemic force us to reinterpret the world and the way we live, and it stresses the need for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the importance to act.

The Finnish Expert Panel for Sustainable Development posted a blog based on the statement issued by the Expert Panel to the Parliament’s Committee for the Future on 25 March 2020 regarding the European Green Deal and the implications of the Covid19 crisis. In the blog, entitled ‘Coronavirus fostering the implementation of the European Green Deal and boosting sustainability transformation’ the Expert Panel touches upon the expected consequences of Covid19 for the European Green Deal and describes how the sustainability transformation should rise from the ashes of the crisis.

A grip on hazardous substances

The Dutch Council for the Environment and Infrastructure (Rli) organised an on-line debate session with live presentations,  on Monday, 8 June 2020. At this meeting, the Council presented and discussed its advisory report concerning national and EU policy on hazardous substances. With the discussion and reflection involving experts, stakeholders and NGOs, the Council contributed to the debate on a European level.  Read More