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Energy, environment and sustainable development
     
 

What else is the EU doing?

This research programme is just one part of an integrated approach to tackling environmental concerns throughout the European Union.

 

The Commission's overall environmental policy is set out in the Fifth Environmental Action Programme. A cornerstone of this programme is achieving sustainability - meeting our generation's needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

As its title 'Towards Sustainability' implies, the programme sets long term objectives and focuses on a global approach. It is underpinned by two major principles:

  • the environmental dimension must be integrated into all major policy areas. It specifically targets five sectors: industry, energy, transport, agriculture and tourism.
  • the command-and-control approach must be replaced with a sharing of responsibility between the various parties involved - governments, industry and the public.

This approach was reinforced by the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam, which represented a breakthrough in addressing environmental issues at the European level. The Treaty enshrined sustainable development as one of the EU's tasks and strengthened the principle that environmental protection must be integrated into all European policies and activities.

Realising these goals requires a wide range of instruments, of which research and development is just one.

One Environment, One Market
European legislation has been setting environmental standards across the continent since the early 1970s. This is achieved by creating a Single Market in environmentally friendly products and processes and thus stimulating their emergence. Over 200 pieces of legislation have been formulated in various sectors, such as air and water quality, noise, waste disposal, chemicals security and the protection of nature. This legislation ranges from limits on specific pollutants, imposed during the 1970s and 1980s, to the broader strategies of the 1990s, which focus more on regulating the consumption of natural resources.

Alongside the regulatory mandate, EU environmental policy is developing a wide range of activities and initiatives. These include improving environmental data - which led to the creation of the European Environmental Agency in 1994 - financial support mechanisms, information and education programmes, promoting ecolabels, and economic measures aimed at incorporating the 'true cost' of environmental protection into the prices of goods and services.

Cleaner, Greener Energy
Sustainable development is also one of the main priorities of EU energy policy, together with reducing Europe's dependence on external supplies and integrating the Community's individual national energy markets.

One of the most challenging issues in sustainable energy is the European commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as agreed at the Kyoto conference in 1997. This puts energy efficiency policy firmly at the top of the list of priorities. In addition, the EU runs a number of programmes devoted to promoting renewable energy strategies, as well as ensuring the safety and security of nuclear materials in Europe.

       
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