Environment and climate change
Regional development policies need to be sustainable. More funding than ever has been allocated to environmentally-friendly initiatives in the 2007-13 period. The environment can be a source of economic growth, either by encouraging innovative clean technologies, fostering efficient energy use, building up eco-tourism, or by enhancing the attractiveness of areas through ensuring the protection of natural habitats.
Ensuring sustainable development and a high level of environmental protection are required in all European Union policies. It is for this reason that Member States have to carry out environmental impact assessments and have to consult environmental authorities and the public when they implement particular classes of projects, also when they are financially supported by cohesion policy programmes. However, beyond issues of compliance, the legal provisions and guidelines underlying regional policy emphasise that economic, social and environmental objectives must be integrated. Regional development can only be sustainable if it respects the environment. EU regional policy therefore contributes to sustainability by promoting environmentally-friendly technologies, and sustainable transport, energy and infrastructure initiatives, as well as measures targeted at the protection of water, air, biodiversity and nature protection.
Regions throughout Europe will be increasingly confronted with the impacts of climate change, and new challenges in terms of energy provision and efficiency. These challenges will vary depending on the region. While 7% of the Union’s population live in flood-prone areas, around 9% live in areas where there are over 120 days a year without rain. The combined impacts of climate change will raise serious questions generally in relation to quality of life for the EU's citizens, but also pose more specific sectoral challenges in some EU regions, for instance in tourism and agriculture.
Cohesion policy can play an important role in supporting efforts to adapt to future climate change and minimise the negative impacts at regional level. It can support adaptation measure in new infrastructures or retro-fitting in existing infrastructures. It supports eco-innovation, environmental risk protection measures and clean enterprises, and can create market opportunities for businesses.
Between 2007 and 2013, the total amount of Structural and Cohesion Funds allocated to environmental programmes has doubled since the previous period to around €100 billion – 30% of the total. Half of this investment will be devoted to direct infrastructure investments related to water and waste treatment, renewal of contaminated sites, pollution reduction, and support for nature protection and risk prevention. The other half will go to indirect investments with an environmental impact on areas such as transport and energy systems, eco-innovation, environmental management for businesses, urban and rural regeneration, and eco-tourism. For example, over €9 billion is earmarked to support energy efficiency and renewable energies.