EU taxonomy also aims to tackle chemical pollution –

The EU’s green finance taxonomy is not just limited to climate finance, it is also an opportunity to improve our health and well-being by phasing out polluting chemicals, write Timothy Suljada and Charlotte Wagner.

Timothy Suljada is Head of Climate, Energy and Society at the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). Charlotte Wagner is a scientist at UTE.

1 in 8 deaths in the European Union can be attributed to environmental pollution, including air and noise pollution, events associated with climate change and chemical pollution. The European Environment Agency estimates that 62% of chemicals (by volume) consumed in Europe in 2016 were hazardous to health. The taxonomic criteria for pollution and the circular economy under consideration by the European Commission at present provide an opportunity to address serious threats to human health and to make the EU a role model to follow. global scale. However, the opportunity may be lost if these criteria are not tightened.

The formal Commission proposal is expected in the coming months, and the stakes are high: global sales of chemicals are expected to double over the next decade, and 84% of Europeans are already worried about the impact of the products. chemicals in consumer products affect their health. However, our analysis of the criteria currently being examined by the Commission reveals that more could be done to meet the ambition set by the European Green Deal.

One of the founding principles of the European Green Deal is to improve the health and well-being of Europe by transforming the European economic model. Enabling private investment is essential for developing sustainable economic activities and implementing the Green Deal. The EU Taxonomy for Sustainable Activities is intended to guide businesses and investors towards sustainable products and portfolios by formalizing criteria for what is considered sustainable. A key objective of taxonomy is to reduce environmental pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions and chemical and plastic pollution.

The strength of the criteria defined in the taxonomy will determine the ability of the taxonomy to eliminate economic activities that harm the environment and compromise human health and well-being. It will determine whether the taxonomy allows private investments to stimulate the realization of the Green Deal or simply legitimizes unsustainable and harmful economic activities in Europe.

The ambition is clear in the pollution prevention strategies published to date as part of the Green Deal roadmap. They promote the transition from chemical regulation by chemical product to a comprehensive fight against chemical pollution in the Zero pollution action plan and its strategy on chemicals.

Steps are also being taken to reduce the volume of waste by shifting product value chains from the predominant production-use-disposal model to innovative circular business models in the Circular Economy Action Plan. The chemicals strategy recognizes that regardless of the relatively sophisticated chemicals policies in the EU, the substitution of harmful chemicals has been slow, and stronger political and financial support is needed to drive the transition to safe and secure chemicals. sustainable.

Taxonomic criteria not in line with the ambition of the Green deal

However, the taxonomic criteria for pollution prevention and control currently being considered by the European Commission build on existing regulations rather than the ambition of the Green Deal roadmap, as we highlight in our submission. for public consultation.

In the case of chemical pollution, the criteria taken into account exclude only the use of regulated substances of concern, which means that economic activities using compounds already proven to be dangerous by science but not yet regulated could be considered as sustainable. and even “inherently safe”.

In addition, the recommended pollution prevention criteria aim to reduce pollution by comparing chemical releases to the average emissions associated with the best available pollution control techniques, echoing the approach taken for greenhouse gas emissions. tight.

However, when considering chemical pollution of soil, water and air, the toxicity and potential for exposure, in addition to the magnitude of the releases, determine the overall impact on human health. and that of ecosystems. Focusing only on the magnitude of the releases opens the door to regrettable substitutions where manufacturers replace a known dangerous chemical with an unregulated alternative that has not been thoroughly investigated and which could be equally or more toxic.

The criteria currently under review would not prevent the continued accumulation of plastics and their harmful effects on health and the environment. The criteria intended to promote a transition to a circular economy do not prioritize plastic for reuse over recycling, nor do they take into account end-of-life releases of chemicals, chemicals or the manufacturing of organic products. ‘plastic packaging. This is in direct conflict with the end-use hierarchy favoring less transformation set out by the EU Circular Economy Action Plan.

A potential orientation model for sustainable investments

First of its kind, a well-designed taxonomy could become a guiding model for sustainable investments well beyond its legal jurisdiction in the EU. As a transparency tool, it will force some companies and investors to disclose their share of taxonomy-aligned activities and protect private investors from greenwashing.

As a financial tool, it will enable businesses to become more sustainable, reduce market fragmentation and move investments where they are most needed. Taxonomy presents a huge opportunity to meet the ambition of the Green Deal and examine the impact of economic activities on human health and well-being in a holistic way, thus shaping the economic landscape for decades to come.

The Commission is expected to present its formal proposal on the remaining criteria for the circular economy, pollution, water and biodiversity in early 2022. The coming months will determine whether the taxonomy is truly up to the task of defining activities. sustainable economic development and meet the ambition of the Green Deal.

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