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The European Union's environment policy aims to preserve, protect and improve the environment for present and future generations, and to promote the principles of sustainable development.

To this end, the EU’s Environment Action Programme to 2020 defines three key objectives: to protect, conserve and enhance the EU’s natural capital; to turn the Union into a resource-efficient, green, and competitive low-carbon economy; and to safeguard the Union's citizens from environment-related pressures and risks to health and wellbeing.

Initiatives and programmes running under the cohesion policy for 2014-20 contribute to achieving these objectives. Four of the 11 thematic objectives providing the focus for investments under the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) are directly contributing to environment policy. In particular, cohesion policy is meant to support the shift towards a low-carbon economy; promote climate change adaptation, risk prevention and management; preserve and protect the environment and promote resource efficiency; and promote sustainable transport.

In addition, projects bidding for funding through the policy's financial instruments must outline how their proposals might impact on the environment and demonstrate their sustainable development credentials.