A year in Europe – looking back over the last 12 months
edie's news editor, Helen André, puts this years European news stories in perspective.
The year began with environmental optimism in Europe, with ambitious plans from the new European presidency of Sweden including a plan to reach agreement on eight new environmental laws.
More good news came out of Austria, with the announcement that the country has cut exhaust emissions by 56% in nine years. On the bad news side, however, fears were raised over depleted uranium sites in Bosnia.
In February, it was revealed that Ireland was facing a waste management crisis, with businesses in some areas having no method of waste disposal. In Spain, amid much protest, the Government approved a 700 billion pesetas (£2.7 billion) plan to divert a river from the north of the country to the parched south . Germany also managed to get itself into hot water with environmentalists over the approval of plans to partially fill in a protected wetland.
In March, it was revealed that 37 large cities were still discharging untreated wastewater into the environment, with many others discharging large quantities of inadequately treated water . The EU’s environment ministers also heavily criticised the European Commission’s 10-year environment programme for a lack of clear targets and timetables . Meanwhile, in Russia, the Government unveiled plans for the world’s first floating nuclear power plant.
April began with an oil spill of the Danish coast, which killed thousands of birds, some strictly protected under the EU Bird Directive. The bad news continued, with the revelation that of all the countries within the EU, only the UK, Germany and Luxembourg were making the greenhouse gas emissions that are necessary to achieve the targets laid down in the Kyoto Protocol.
May was more optimistic, with the opening of the world’s largest wind farm in Denmark, producing four times more power than its nearest rival, and it was revealed that 22 million people in the EU now use district heat and cooling systems. However, back within the realms of bad news, research revealed that even low levels of chronic noise pollution, such as from everyday local traffic, can harm the health and well-being of children.
In June, the European Union completed its environmental deal with three accession countries, namely Hungary, Estonia and the Czech Republic, with the countries being granted several years in which to achieve the required standards for the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, the Packaging Waste Directive, and the Landfill Waste Directive. Meanwhile, Germany voted to end the use of nuclear power , whilst at the same time, Russia voted to accept other countries’ nuclear waste.
In July, the environmental presidency baton was passed to Belgium, with outgoing president, Sweden, being declared, environmentally, a hard act to follow. The cost of fossil fuels would be much higher if environmental and health costs were included in the price, research revealed, and BP announced that it was to create one of the world’s biggest solar cell factories.
In August it was revealed that Russian drinking water is endangering lives, and that despite the European Commission’s tough stance against the US’s fossil fuel fetish at the Kyoto Protocol talks, it was to extend coal subsidies for a further eight years. In the same month, it was announced that the Baltic nations had succeeded in achieving a goal of reducing pollution by hazardous substances into the Baltic Sea by 50%, although, in Paris, attempts to reduce pollution from vehicles was resulting in chaotic congestion even in the month when the city is at its quietest.
Bad news ruled in September, with the revelation that pollution from rocket fuel is causing devastating health impacts on the population of the Russian republic of Altai in southern Siberia. In France, an explosion at a chemicals factory in Toulouse killed 29 people and injured 2,400, which was followed in October by calls in the European Parliament for stricter rules governing such facilities. It was also revealed that 89% of the Black Sea is contaminated. However, in a small Icelandic fishing village, ‘innovation’ was the name of the game, with a proposal to import crocodiles for the disposal of fish waste.
In October, the big news was that there is now a new generation of wind turbines capable of flattening out voltage fluctuations in electricity networks, thereby providing a more consistent source of renewable energy. A more strict set of air quality rules became law across the EU, with the intention of cutting acid rain and smog, and it was revealed that paper recycling within Europe had exhibited a healthy increase .
November saw the European Commission being criticised for its inability to guarantee nuclear safety , and the Commission appeared to be making a U-turn on carbon sinks. In Italy, the government declared a state of emergency in Milan, Venice and Messina , but the good news was that the EU now recycles 50% of its steel packaging.
In December, it was revealed that it is impossible to gauge whether EU environmental legislation is effective; Ireland finally failed in its attempt to prevent the opening of Sellafield’s MOX plant, and Germany announced that it will reach its Kyoto Protocol targets.