MEPs wave through raft of Green Deal legislation as elections loom

MEPs wave through raft of Green Deal legislation as elections loom

Legislation on car pollution, methane emissions, green phones, paint and pesticide labelling, industrial emissions, waste shipment and electronic waste has been approved by MEPs, bringing a raft of key Green Deal policies to the finish line ahead of European elections due in June.

The European Parliament’s environment committee on Thursday (11 December) endorsed half a dozen provisional legal texts agreed between MEPs and governments – deals brokered late last year by Spain, which at the time chaired the EU’s Council.

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Lawmakers from the Green group voted against the most contentious of the laws, pollution limits for new cars and vans, as did half of the social democrats on the committee. They objected to thresholds for major air pollutants like nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) being frozen at current levels.

The law, in the end backed by 55 votes to 26, includes for the first time limits on harmful particles produced by wear and tear on brakes and tyres, which are set to become the main source of air pollution from cars when exhaust pipe carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are outlawed as of 2035. That date marks the likely end of the internal combustion engine in favour of fully electric cars.


While CO2 is most often linked to climate change, the main ingredient of natural gas, methane, is actually a far more potent contributor. The environment committee endorsed a new Methane Regulation that bans routing, venting and flaring – all means by which the gas can enter the atmosphere – and requires fossil fuel companies to monitor and report leaks.

Crucially, given that most of the natural gas burned in the EU comes from outside the bloc, from 2027, new contracts for imports into the EU will only be permitted where the provider follows the same monitoring protocol.

Climate Action Network Europe, a lobby group, welcomed the incoming methane law as a “positive first step”, but criticised a three year delay in which the European Commission will draft detailed rules for a maximum methane intensity threshold.

“Delaying action and allowing methane emissions from non-EU producers, which constitute the largest share of gas consumed in the EU, to remain dangerously high until 2030 poses a serious risk to our climate,” the group’s gas policy expert Esther Bollendorff said.


European rules on the sustainability of everyday products have previously focused chiefly on energy efficiency, but a new regulation on ecodesign for sustainable products, also endorsed on Thursday, extends them to cover durability and carbon footprints, as well as new products such as mobile phones.

The new law requires that products last longer and be easier to repair, upgrade and recycle, and bans the destruction of unsold shoes and clothes.

“Extensive in scope and ambition, these new rules mark the beginning of an era of sustainable design,” said Valeria Botta, a circular economy specialist at the Environmental Coalition on Standards, a campaign group.


MEPs endorsed two separate pieces of waste legislation. The new Waste Shipments Regulation seeks to ensure EU countries take responsibility for the rubbish they produce, all but banning exports to other member states. Amid concerns over plastic waste ending up in landfills or furnaces in the developing world, the new rules also prohibit exports outside the bloc unless they meet strict waste management standards.

The committee also agreed to revise the Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, which regulates one of the fastest growing kinds of rubbish. Tentatively agreed by MEPs and government negotiators in November, the amendments respond to an EU court ruling and clarify that producers must pay the cost of photovoltaic panels sold from 2012.

Industrial emissions

MEPs also waved through plans on the seemingly intractable problem of air pollution. A new Industrial Emissions Directive applies the strictest scientifically feasible emissions standards to industrial installation, including mines and battery factories. A bitter row that erupted during negotiations saw lawmakers reject the European Commission’s proposal to bring intensive cattle farms – sources of methane and ammonia, among other things – within scope. There is no such exemption for large pig or poultry farms.

The reform also seeks to increase transparency and public participation in decisions over the licensing and operation of industrial plants, with fines of up to 3% of annual EU turnover for the worst offenders.

Chemical labelling

Also given the thumbs up was an update to EU rules on the classification, labelling and packaging of chemicals, which stipulate, for example, how big the warnings must be on paints and pesticides. During talks, MEPs added a prohibition on the use of “green claims” for substances or mixtures classified as hazardous.

After committee approval, a confirmation vote by the full parliament is likely to be a mere formality. Belgium, which took over the EU Council presidency this month, is rushing to complete a hat-trick of remaining Green Deal files by brokering similar compromises on packaging waste, truck and bus CO2 emissions, and certifying the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.


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