Healthier environment Aug03


European Union environmental legislation impacts directly on our lives in West Suffolk. To date, this legislation has controlled pollution through economic policy like the landfill tax, climate change levy and emissions trading; encouraged changes in resource management of water and waste through recycling; preserved and protected the natural environment of habitats, birds and fish and covered funding for local government using the “LIFE” instrument.


Recent reports of the European Environment Agency confirm that this legalisation has resulted in substantial progress, visible in the enhanced quality of our environment. Better waste disposal and efficient recycling of waste, the collection and disposal of harmful electrical equipment, recycling of disposed vehicle tyres and better management of vehicle exhaust fumes have all helped in reducing overall pollution.


Curbing CO2 emissions is the big environmental challenge over the next ten years and the EU must make every effort to shift to the use of biofuels, wind, solar and tidal energy. Most EU countries are experiencing difficulty in meeting the Kyoto targets, with the exception of those countries that are shutting down their coal and/or steel industries. In general, northern European countries generally observe the EU laws on CO2 emissions and implement these however high the cost. In particular, I welcome recent announcements by the British government to expand the amount of electricity generated by offshore wind power. Southern European countries, however, sign up to the laws but tend to take longer to implement them, whilst Eastern European countries, with long derogations for current EU laws, are not expected to comply.


The European Environment Agency should be empowered to establish teams of independent inspectors who will monitor the situation in each EU Member state. Such teams should submit regular reports to identify the level of compliance and action should be taken, if necessary, to enforce change. Far too often, such monitoring is left to NGOs but whilst such organisations are vigilant in northern Europe, they are not so “active” in southern and eastern Europe.


The “polluter pays” principle should continue to guide future legislation and every attempt should be made to encourage manufacturers to design products that can be, at least in part, biodegradable. It may be appropriate to have a proportional system that allows an indirect tax, such as VAT, to be levied according to a product’s degree of biodegradability i.e. a product that is totally biodegradable should be zero rated for VAT whilst those unsuitable for recycling would attract the full level of the tax. Such an economic measure would stimulate many manufacturers to redesign their products to maximise their profits. Such a policy would minimise recycling expenditure for our local government in West Suffolk and benefit our community both in reduced local taxes as well as a better environment.