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The Fifth Environmental Action Programme
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In 1972 the year of the first United Nations Conference on the Environment, the European Community adopted its first five-year environmental action programme (1973-1977) setting out the principles and priorities that would guide its policies in the future. This was followed by a second five-year programme (1978-1982).
These two environmental action programmes set out detailed lists of actions to be taken to control a broad range of pollution problems. Principles were listed in the programmes which have been carried in to subsequent programmes. The more familiar principles are:
- prevention is better than cure;
- the polluter pays principle;
- environmental impacts should be taken into account;
- environmental action should be taken at the most appropriate level - now known as the 'subsidiarity principle'.
The third and fourth environmental action programmes, adopted from 1983 tried to provide an over all strategy for protecting the environment and natural resources in the Community. The emphasis shifted from pollution control to pollution prevention, and the concept of environmental protection was broadened to include land-use policy and the integration of environmental concerns into other EU policies.
The Fifth Environmental Action Programme come into force 1 January 1993, and it established the EU legislative agenda for the coming decade. It has its roots firmly anchored in the concept of sustainable development and the broader concept of shared responsibility. It sets out objectives, targets, actions and time frames geared towards the central goal in a way which was not done in previous programmes. It tries to strike the right balance between normal human aspirations towards economic and social improvements and an awareness and regard for the fragility of the environment and the finiteness of the natural resource base.
The Maastricht Treaty of EU has introduced as a principal objective the promotion of sustainable growth respecting the environment (Art. 2). It includes among the activities of the Union a policy in the sphere of the environment (Art. 3(k)), specifies that this policy must aim at a high level of protection, and that environmental protection requirements must be integrated into the definition and implementation of other EU policies (Art. 130r. 2). The Maastricht Treaty also attaches special value to the principle of subsidiarity (Art. 3b), and states that decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the citizens (Art. A).
Furthermore, the EU policy on the environment is required to contribute to promoting measures at international level to deal with regional or worldwide environmental problems (Art. 130.1)
(1) SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT which means 'development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'. The key to achieving sustainable development is seen as the integration of environmental concerns into all areas of EU and government policy. It involves preserving the overall balance and value of the natural capital stock, re-definition of short, medium and long-term cost/benefit evaluation criteria and instruments to reflect the real socio-economic effects and values of consumption and conservation, and the equitable distribution and use of resources between nations and regions over the world as a whole. In the latter context, the Brundtland Report pointed out that the developed countries, with only 26% of the world population, are responsible for about 80% of world consumption of energy, paper, steel and other metals, and about 40% of the worldÕs food.
(2) MEASURES TO CURB ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION. Since our reserves of raw materials are finite, the flow of substances through the various stages of processing, consumption and use should be managed so as to encourage optimum re-use and re-cycling. This avoids wastage and prevents depletion of the natural resource stocks. Other environmental challenges addressed are: climate change, acidification and air pollution, bio-diversity, depletion and pollution of water resources, soil erosion, deterioration of the urban environment and deterioration of coastal zones and waste.
Policy is to ensure that economic growth, efficient and secure energy supplies and a clean environment are compatible objectives.
A strategy for sustainable transport will require the incorporation of the real costs of both infrastructure and environment in investment policies and decisions and also in user costs; development of public transport and improvement of its competitive position; the use of less polluting fuels; improved land-use/economic development planning at local, regional, national and transnational levels.
Respect for nature and the environment, particularly in coastal zones and mountain areas, can make tourism both profitable and long-lasting. If well planned and managed, tourism, regional development and environmental protection can go hand in hand.
While the objective is to assure the availability of food supplies at reasonable prices, changes in farming practices in regions of the EU have led to over-exploitation and degradation of the natural resources on which agriculture itself ultimately depends: soil, water and air.
There is a growing realisation in industry and in the business world that not only is industry a significant part of the (environmental) problem but it must also be part of the solution.
The Programme seeks to explore the range of instruments available to achieve better environmental protection and thereby hopes to influence present consumption patterns and behaviour which are identified as the root cause of environmental degradation.
- The improvement of information about the environment.
- To broaden the range of instruments: legislative, market-based, financial and fiscal.
- That the full cost to society of consumption and production patterns on natural resources are reflected in the market price for goods.
- Environmental auditing.
- Professional training and education in environmental matters.
- Implementation and enforcement.
The EC Treaty amendments agreed at Maastricht have provided the institutional framework for a greater EU role in solving global environmental problems.
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