The informal meeting of EU environment ministers has begun in Sofia on 10 April 2018. On the first day of the two-day meeting, the ministers of the 28 EU Member States, the Western Balkans and EFTA partners and the European Commission exchanged views on ambient air quality and better regulation, calling for urgent action and better coordination between different levels of governance.
“The time has come to reconsider our approaches to solving issues related to air quality, to move from visions and ambitions to real actions and tangible results. Effective action to reduce the impact of air pollution requires profound changes in policies, lifestyle and attitudes”, stated Neno Dimov, Bulgarian Minister of Environment and Water, who chaired the meeting.
Air pollution is the most important environmental risk to human health. Therefore, the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU has designated air quality improvement as one of its top environmental priorities. After the 21st Eco-innovation Forum on air quality held in Sofia in February, the informal meeting of EU environment ministers is yet another opportunity to make progress on this vital topic.
A problem this complex, whose origins and consequences are of a complex nature, requires complex solutions. The delegates agreed that although air quality in the EU is improving, more urgent action is needed. The discussion highlighted the need for better coordination among the different levels of governance and the various economic sectors involved. The role of socio-economic conditions in the fight for cleaner air was another focus of the discussion.
When it comes to improving air quality, funding is key. Therefore, the delegates discussed the opportunities to revise the way in which EU funds support the clean air efforts in the framework of a debate on the EU Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2030.
The leading role of eco-innovation was noted as the way forward towards cleaner technologies, new business models and more jobs. Eco-innovative solutions are available – the challenge is to deploy and distribute them, delegates underlined, noting the role of EU regulations and financial mechanisms.
The delegates united around the vision of a clearer and more easily applied legislation, without excessive regulation and administrative burden, with functioning reporting, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. The discussion highlighted the need to improve coordination between different levels of governance, since a large part of the EU’s environmental legislation is applied by regional and local authorities. Greater coherence between interlinked policies (environment, energy, agriculture, transport) and raising the awareness of national administrations in charge of these sectors were highlighted as instrumental. The delegates also exchanged views on the existing opportunities for exchange of information, expertise and best practices with the European Commission and among Member States.
The discussions during the second day of the meeting will be dedicated to the international climate change negotiations and the so-called Talanoa dialogue*. The focus will be on the challenges the EU is facing in view of the upcoming Conference of Parties to the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the end of 2018 (COP24). The latter is expected to facilitate an agreement on the Paris Agreement work programme and thus push forward the global climate agenda. The Talanoa dialogue should assess the collective efforts to achieve the long-term goals set out in the Paris Agreement and increase action in that direction.