Today, the Commission published two crucial legislative proposals to support the clean technology industry and gain independence in the race to net-zero. Yet the shortcuts taken in the acceleration of permits raise serious concerns among environmental NGOs.
The European Commission today unveiled two legislative proposals to put the EU at the forefront of the global race for green industry: the Zero Net Industry Act and the Critical Raw Materials Act.
The aim of these two Acts composing the first pillar of the Commission’s Green Deal Industrial Plan is to make regulation for clean technologies simpler and more predictable; a positive framework that, unfortunately, has been given away to vested interests by confusing clean with not-so-clean technologies and speed with fewer controls.
“It is neither necessary nor desirable that the race to net-zero becomes a race to the bottom on environmental standards. The success of the EU’s industrial policy lies in its robust regulation and carbon pricing—and policymakers should not be fooled by comparisons to the US context, where power, but not guaranteed efficiency, lies in subsidies alone,” says Patrick ten Brink, Secretary General, EEB.
These are the main areas of concern of the EU proposal for environmental organisations:
Non future-proof technologies
"We must be cautious in opening up public coffers to technologies that have not proven their readiness. It would be extremely dangerous and costly to gamble decarbonisation on expensive technologies such as small nuclear reactors or carbon capture and storage. In fact, diverting large amounts of funds from renewables and energy saving measures to non-future proof technologies will only give extra life to fossil fuels. We do not have that precious time,” says Luke Haywood, Head of Climate policy at the EEB.
Speed at the cost of public participation and due diligence
“Fast-tracked permitting procedures may come at the cost of environmental legislation, and the involvement of local communities and transparency in strategic projects will be a pressing concern. The language around public acceptance makes clear that the objective is to pressure communities to say yes in the end. There is no guarantee of free-prior and informed consent or a democratic decision-making process where communities have a seat at the table as equals,” says Diego Marin, Policy Officer for Raw Materials and Resource Justice, EEB.
No attention to wider environmental impacts
“The definition of "net-zero technologies" is very limited, since it refers to low, zero or negative greenhouse gas emissions, failing to consider other environmental impacts and disregarding the EU zero pollution ambition. What is needed when awarding public resources are very clear indicators in terms of GHG and pollution emission reduction rates, saving of natural resources, recycling and reuse of raw materials,” says Riccardo Nigro, Senior Policy Officer for Zero Pollution Industry, EEB.
The EEB welcomes the positive circular economy measures set out in the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA). Particularly promising are the specific article on environmental footprint declaration and the call to Member States to come up with a database for the recovery of minerals in EU mining waste, which would reduce our material need.
However, we are deeply concerned about permitting and due diligence measures in the regulation. The lack of robust due diligence language and the reliance on voluntary industry standards is hardly reassuring, being effectively a free pass into industry-self-regulation.
The EEB is also concerned about the lack of recognition of impacts on local communities, especially indigenous peoples, who will be affected by many of these projects. The language on meaningful engagement is a step forward compared to previous years, but is contradicted by the absence of international instruments in the Annex. Moreover, the CRMR mentions twice that the EU should ‘facilitate public acceptance’ of mining projects suggesting a lack of interest in genuine public engagement.
The EEB is worried that the Net Zero Industry Act (NZIA) mentions carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) as Strategic Net-Zero Technology, since it will not encourage the basic switch from combustion-based processes. Also, hydrogen should be carefully deployed due to its high impact on water quantity and quality.
The criteria mentioned as to how to rate “innovative” technologies in regards to the sandboxes (art 28c) go in the right direction but are too vague in the absence of qualitative performance indicators. If the EU is to be considered the environmental frontrunner, clear reference points are needed. The call for digitalisation of the permitting procedures is welcome but fails to provide for meaningful environmental performance and compliance promotion. Data reporting should enable tracking of progress in regards to the zero pollution ambition (see related EEB demands here).
Furthermore, the Commission has simply introduced faster deadlines for completing permitting procedures. This might address the problem of slowness, but does nothing to address the quality of the permitting process. To fix this financial resources should be dedicated to Member States for increasing capacity to handle permitting procedures, and for decisively pushing towards their digitalisation.
In general, permitting procedures can be sped up to transform our industry towards climate neutrality and the zero-pollution ambition. This should however be based on very clear indicators in terms of GHG and pollution emission reduction rates, saving of natural resources, and recycling and reuse of raw materials. The quicker the procedure, the higher the standards must be.
The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) is Europe's largest network of environmental citizens’ organisations, standing for environmental justice, sustainable development and participatory democracy. Our experts work on climate change, biodiversity, circular economy, air, water, soil, chemical pollution, as well as policies on industry, energy, agriculture, product design and waste prevention. We are also active on overarching issues such as sustainable development, good governance, participatory democracy and the rule of law in Europe and beyond.
We have over 180 members in over 38 countries.