Our Future, Our Choice

Our Future, Our Choice

By Dr. M. Sommer

It is possible to be more prosperous and, at the same time, more ecological. We are beginning to assume more responsibilities regarding our way of acting and the effects that our actions have on the environment.

Europe: 6th Framework Program

"The Sixth Program focuses on four important areas of action: climate change, health and the environment, nature and biodiversity, and the management of natural resources.
"The Program is based on an economy based on knowledge, only Science and Technology can produce real added value: they are real engines of growth in Europe, the spring to turn the continent into the most dynamic economic alma mater in the world.
"The importance of involving citizens and companies through innovative formulas.
"Protecting the environment poses problems, but also opportunities. Not only do we have to take into account the aspiration of people to live in a healthy and uncontaminated environment, we must also recognize that the costs and damages caused by pollution and climate change are considerable.
"The Sixth Framework Program alone will not move Europe up from the second rung it occupies in terms of scientific power and place it in first place. Rather, it will act as a lever for change and will require a change in practices from all of us and a new frame of reference.
"Environmental considerations must continue to be integrated into policies such as transportation, energy and agriculture, and the importance of territorial planning and action at the local and regional level to promote viable development.

In this 21st century, the European Commission has adopted a proposal on a new environmental program (SIXTH ENVIRONMENT PROGRAM, November 2002). This new program sets environmental targets for the next 10 years and beyond and determines the actions that need to be taken within 5-10 years to achieve them. Although the program focuses on measures and responsibilities that must be adopted at the national, regional and local levels, as well as in the different economic sectors.

Innovation occupies a new place in the 6th Program. Rather than focus on a differentiated innovation program, as before, much of FP6's innovation activities will be integrated into research projects. A decisive factor for innovation to consolidate its driving role in the development of the European economy will be the creation and strengthening of contacts between universities and industry.

A clean and healthy environment is part of the prosperity and quality of life that we want for ourselves today and for our children tomorrow. We all have the right to demand that the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat are not contaminated; to want to live without annoying noise and to enjoy the countryside and places on the coast or in the mountains that preserve all their natural beauty. To live on a planet on which the threat of climate change does not weigh. If we increase yields, and make better use of natural resources, we can break the link that traditionally links economic growth and damage to the environment. It is possible to be more prosperous and, at the same time, more ecological. We are beginning to assume more responsibilities regarding our way of acting and the effects that our actions have on the environment.

The world population will continue to grow. It is estimated that a person in the western world consumes up to 50 times more in development. The constant economic growth of the industrialized countries together with the increase in the population of the developing countries and their natural aspirations to achieve the same level of material well-being can cause a spectacular increase in the demand for resources. Unless we meet that demand in ways other than now, and more appropriately, the earth's environment will be forced to face unprecedented pressures and impacts.

The last thirty years have seen great strides in creating a comprehensive system of environmental controls in the European Union, especially in the air and water sectors, and a broader commitment to integrating environmental objectives into other policies.

The improvements achieved are the following:

a) Industrial emissions of toxic substances such as lead and mercury into the atmosphere have been significantly reduced.
b) The acidification of forests and rivers due to sulfur dioxide emissions has decreased enormously.
c) Water and wastewater treatment has improved the sanitary status of many lakes and rivers.

Despite the improvements seen in some fields, however, we continue to face a number of persistent problems and the quality of the environment is truly deteriorating. Of particular concern are climate change, the decline in biodiversity and natural habitats, the loss and degradation of soils, the hole in the ozone layer, atomic mergers, the increasing volume of waste, the accumulation of chemical substances in the environment, noise, and some water and air pollutants. In addition, new problems are emerging, such as pollutants that affect the functioning of our hormonal system. There are reviews that suggest that in view of current political and socio-economic trends, many of the pressures that give rise to these problems (transport, energy consumption, tourism activities, occupation of land by infrastructure etc.) will get worse in the next ten years.

The prudent use of the planet's resources and the protection of the global ecosystem are indispensable factors for sustainable development, as well as for economic prosperity and balanced social development, the long-term well-being of society in Europe and the world, and heritage that we will leave our children and grandchildren depends on development being sustainable.

The sixth Program points out the ecological problems that have to be solved for development to be sustainable:
Climate change, excessive use of renewable and non-renewable natural resources, loss of biodiversity and accumulation of toxic and persistent chemicals in the environment. It establishes the environmental objectives and goals that must be achieved and describes how the instruments of the Community environmental policy will be used to try to solve these problems, it also indicates that it is necessary to adopt other measures from other policies. The changes that must take place, for example, in the way we cultivate, in the supply of energy, in transport and in the use of land; it has to come about through changes in the policies that regulate those aspects. This requires integrating environmental protection requirements into other policies, and the Community needs to analyze its current governance systems and try to modify them so that there is coherence between social, economic and environmental objectives and between the means used to achieve this. to them. In this context, the new program underlines the need for Member States to better enforce existing environmental legislation, which is why the Commission announces that it will increase pressure on Member States, giving greater disclosure to non-compliances.

The Program explains the problems, sets the objectives, and lists the priority actions to be undertaken in each of the four priority areas. For various environmental problems, so-called "thematic strategies" are announced, combining various measures to achieve environmental objectives in the most cost-effective way.

The findings of the global assessment and reports on the state and trends of the environment have guided the sixth program towards a number of priority issues, which have been grouped into four main areas:

A) Solve the problem of climate change.
Everything indicates that climate change is taking place here and now. Although climatic variations can occur naturally, it is clear that human activity is increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The scientific community is already firmly convinced that this increase in concentrations will increase the temperature of the planet, with serious consequences for the stability and balance of the climate. The most recent forecasts (third Assessment Report, IPPC, 2000) indicate that climate change will cause an increase in temperatures of between 1 ° and 6 ° by the year 2100, which will cause a rise in sea level of up to 90 cm and changes notable in weather patterns, such as more floods, cold spells, and heavy storms.

The objective of this theme is to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at a level that does not cause unnatural variations in the Earth's climate.

Solving the problem of climate change requires strong international cooperation. The European Union is responsible for approximately 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but it only represents 5 percent of its population. Therefore, Europe must be a pioneer in working to reduce its emissions. A fundamental first step is to meet the goals established in Kyoto, which, in the case of the Community, consists of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent for 2008-2012 compared to the levels registered in 1990. Since it was achieved reducing greenhouse gas emissions until actual concentrations are lowered takes a long time. It is likely that even if emissions could be achieved to remain at sustainable levels, there would still be some degree of climate change induced by the current accumulation of these gases in the atmosphere. For this reason, the Commission calls for more demanding cuts in global emissions, reaching 20 - 40 percent by 2020, and cites the scientific calculation that a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions will be needed in the longer term. 70 percent compared to 1990 -

Some studies reveal that some sectors may experience problems, due to climate change, for example:

1) Energy and transport systems and infrastructure, which have to withstand extreme weather conditions.
2) Urbanism that encourages the creation of more parks and green areas and that favors the use of construction materials that contribute to making cities cooler.
3) Land uses and agricultural practices have to adapt to different climate models.
4) Public health measures aimed at combating diseases (gastric, for example), which can spread throughout Europe with a more humid and warmer climate.

The program points out the need for structural changes to take place, especially in the transport and energy sectors, and calls for greater efforts in terms of energy efficiency and saving, the establishment of a community program for the exchange of emission rights, more research and technological development and public awareness, so that they can also contribute to reducing emissions.

B) Nature and biodiversity - Protect a unique Resource.
Nature provides society with the resources necessary for its survival: air, water, food, fibers, medicine, and building materials. In Europe, 38 percent of bird species and 45 percent of all butterflies are threatened. In northern and western Europe, 60 percent of wetlands have been lost. About two-thirds of the trees in the European Union are under attack, some fish populations are in danger of disappearing and some species of marine fauna that are targets for commercial fishing have been decimated.

The objective of this area is to protect and, if necessary, restore natural systems and stop the loss of biodiversity in the European Union. And in the world, protect soils against erosion and pollution. In addition to executing action plans and research programs in the different sectors, it is necessary to enhance the work to protect biodiversity with more information. In particular, greater knowledge needs to be gained about the state of biodiversity, the pressures that threaten it, and current trends.

C) Action for the Environment and Health.
In recent decades there has been a growing awareness that the quality of air, water, soil and food influences the quality of our health and our lives. It goes from an increase in allergies, respiratory diseases and cancers, to the alteration of the hormonal and reproductive systems of our body and to premature death. The causes of our various environmental health problems are numerous and include pollution generated by transportation, agricultural activity, industrial processes, household effluents and waste.

The general objective in relation to the environment and health is to obtain an environmental quality such that anthropogenic pollution levels, including various types of radiation, do not pose significant risks to human health. The political strategy to be followed in the coming years is as follows:
(1) Determine risks to human health, taking into account particularly sensitive population groups, such as children and the elderly, and set standards accordingly.
(2) See by which routes pollutants reach the human body and determine the most effective way to reduce exposure levels to the minimum acceptable.
(3) Incorporate different priorities in the area of ​​environment and health into sectoral policies and regulations on air, water, waste and soil.

D) Sustainable use of Natural Resources and Waste Management.
The planet's resources, particularly natural and renewable ones such as soil, water, air, wood, biodiversity and fish populations are coming under severe pressure as the world population increases and current ways economic development increasingly deplete these resources. There is growing evidence that the carrying capacity of the environment is being exceeded on several fronts. Current demand for freshwater often exceeds the rate of recovery in many parts of the world. In addition, many areas of the world suffer from alarming desertification, deforestation and land degradation. The use of non-renewable resources such as minerals and hydrocarbons and the production of waste they generate have many repercussions on the environment and human health.

The objective of this area is to ensure that the consumption of renewable and non-renewable resources, as well as their repercussions, do not exceed the carrying capacity of the environment and to decouple the use of resources from economic growth, significantly improving the efficiency of their use by developing a less materialistic economy and preventing the production of waste. Without new initiatives, all forecasts point to an increase in the volume of waste generated in the Community in the near future. Waste management, in addition to requiring valuable soil, involves the release of numerous pollutants into the atmosphere, water and soil, in particular greenhouse gases emitted from landfills and waste transport activities. Furthermore, waste largely represents a waste of valuable resources that are often in short supply and that could be recovered and recycled to help reduce demand for raw materials.

As society prospers and becomes more productive, the demand for products increases. Add to that a decrease in the life cycle of products, the result is an increasing amount of waste from the products themselves and from associated mining and manufacturing activities. At the same time, many products are becoming more complex and use a range of substances, which can exacerbate the risks that waste poses to human health and the environment. It is clear that if society follows current consumption and production patterns, the amounts of waste will continue to increase, a significant part of which will continue to be hazardous.

The objective that will be followed is to decouple the production of waste from economic growth and achieve a significant global reduction in the volume of waste generated through improved waste prevention initiatives, a more efficient use of resources and a shift towards more consumption patterns. sustainable.

In summary, the Sixth Program establishes the strategic framework and general priorities for community environmental action during the next decade. In order to improve the possibilities of establishing feasible measures and effective regulation, the definition of objectives and policy action should be carried out through an open dialogue with all interested groups.

* Dr. M Sommer
Ökoteccum Germany
[email protected]

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