White Paper on environmental liability to create a ‘change of attitude’

Years of work on how to apply the polluter pays principle to biodiversity protection has taken another step with the European Commission publishing its White Paper on Environmental Liability.

The EC hopes that the creation of a legal framework for compensation following damage to the environment will result in an attitude of increased prevention and precaution. The White Paper will form the basis of a draft directive, planned for the second half of this year.

The liability regime proposed in the White Paper will apply only to areas and species covered by the EU’s Natura 2000 programme. It also states that only ‘significant’ damage to biodiversity will be eligible for compensation – a restriction that has angered Green MEPs and environmental lobby groups.

“Limiting liability to Natura 2000 means that only 10% of Europe’s nature is protected,” Dr Christian Hey of the European Environment Bureau (EEB) told edie. Although EEB would like to see a liability scheme cover more of Europe, the organisation believes that an environmental liability scheme for Natura 2000 represents a good first step. “We understand why the Commission has done this. They want a step-by-step approach,” says Hey.

EEB is, however, very concerned that the burden of proof in liability cases will not rest entirely with the alleged polluter. In earlier versions of the White Paper, the EC was more specific on the subject of alleged polluters having to shoulder the burden of proof once they are accused of environmental damage. EEB feels that the most recent version’s statements on burden of proof are too vague. “We have an earlier version, from 1998, and in that the EC was much more specific on the issue of burden of proof,” says Hey. “That is worrying.”

The White Paper does makes clear that, unlike the draft End-of-Life Vehicles Directive, there will be no retroactive element to the legislation. Another disappointment to environmentalists is the EC’s decision that environmental liability insurance will not be compulsory for operators engaged in commercial activity near or at Natura 2000 sites.

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