New report shows massive environmental benefits to the 13 EU candidates upon compliance

A new European Commission report shows that the health of the 13 applicant nations’ people, air and water quality, waste systems and nature protection will all benefit significantly upon their compliance with European Union directives.

The Benefits of Compliance with the Environmental Acquis for the Candidate Countries shows that reduced air pollution from compliance with EU directives will lead to a reduction of between 15,000 and 34,000 cases of premature deaths in candidate countries by 2010, with particulate emissions falling by between 1.8 and 3.3 million tonnes. In spite of an estimated 2% growth in waste generation, implementation of the Landfill Directive will lead to up to a 200% reduction in landfilled waste by 2020, while the percentage of land protected will increase by more than 500% in Slovenia, with significant gains in other nations. Improvements in water quality will also lead to significant health improvements, and up to 30% of households receiving their first water supply.

The six frontrunners for entry, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Estonia, Slovenia and Cyprus, could become EU members in a little over two years, although, in many cases, compliance with environmental directives has had to be extended (see related story).

In financial terms, including health costs, the resulting lower emissions of particulates, sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), volatile organic compounds and ammonia will account for 95% of benefits. Poland will gain most from particulate reductions, seeing premature deaths reduced by between 7,000 and 14,000 by 2010. Between 43,000 and 180,000 cases of chronic bronchitis will be avoided by the same year through compliance with EU air directives, especially in Turkey, where low quality lignite is currently used in power stations. Total SO2 emissions in the 13 nations will decrease from a predicted seven million tonnes to four or five million tonnes by 2010, while NOx emissions are expected to fall from around three million to two million tonnes.

On water quality, around 10 million household are expected to benefit from connection to drinking water, including 30% of Estonians and 29% of Turks, and for those already connected there will be significant benefits from improved drinking water quality. River water quality will also drastically improve, with the number of “good” quality rivers more than doubling in Bulgaria. The implementation of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive will lead to a vast improvement in the quality of coastal waters, rivers and lakes, particularly as a result of reduced eutrophication from better waste water treatment. Poland will see the biggest falls in discharges of nutrient (67%) and phosphorous (71%), reducing danger to fish stocks and boosting tourism. This country’s compliance challenges were tackled in a recent edie news feature (see related story).

Implementation of the Landfill Directive is expected to reduce the waste disposed in landfills from some 59 million tonnes in 1998, to around 35 million tonnes by 2020 if the candidate countries grant priority to recycling and around 20 million tonnes if incineration is the preferred option. In light of the Packaging Directive, recycling levels will, by the year 2020, have increased by 1.6 million tonnes for paper, 39,000 tonnes for aluminium and for all the recyclables together, around 3.7 million tonnes, or 22 kg per capita. Waste directive compliance will also decrease methane emissions by between one and six million tonnes annually.

Compliance with related legislation such as the Habitats Directive, will significantly boost the area of land protected, especially in Slovenia, where the percentage of territory under protection will increase from 6% in 1997 to 32%. The protection of threatened species will also be significantly improved.

However, the largest federation of European environmental NGOs, the EEB, is worried that the candidate countries have finished negotiations on adopting EU environment legislation without fully ensuring that this will be properly implemented. The group is especially concerned that EU applicants are excluded from the Union’s Sustainable Development Strategy (see related story), and says that without their participation prior to accession it will not work.

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