Editorial of August 2021

By Daniel Silva (Master’s student in EU Law, UMinho) 

The fight against greenwashing in the EU

In January of 2021, the European Commission and national consumer authorities shared their conclusions pursuant to a screening of websites performed to identify breaches of EU consumer law in online markets focused on greenwashing practices[1]. This screening included a variety of online green claims from a wide range of business sectors, including cosmetics, clothing, and household equipment. The results estimated that 42% of analyzed claims were exaggerated, false or deceptive and could even potentially be considered unfair commercial practices under EU law. The sweep also concluded that the practice of greenwashing has been growing as consumers demand in green products also grows.

The term greenwashing was coined by the American environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986, at the time regarding the practice of the hotel industry incentivizing the reuse of towels for environmental reasons, when in fact it was a ploy meant to increase their margin of profit[2]. The EU defines greenwashing as “companies giving a false impression of their environmental impact or benefits”. This, however, does not seem to encompass the magnitude and many facets that greenwashing has. There is not a unanimous agreement on a precise definition of the term, however, most definitions agree on two aspects about greenwashing: there is repression on information that suggests the company might be environmentally unfriendly and a strong push on having an environmentally friendly image. Hence, we can see greenwashing as a phenomenon of selective information disclosure on the environmental impact of a certain product or service that does not necessarily correspond to reality or is even false. We can look at greenwashing as somewhat of a marketing strategy, capitalizing on the growing consumer environmental conscience that has been on the rise in recent years. Therefore, the companies that practice greenwashing do not actually have any real environmental concern, focusing purely on economic gain.

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An instrument out of tune: the EU –Mercosur Trade Agreement

Nataly Machado (Master’s student in EU Law, UMinho)

Brazil is one of the countries with the largest environmental heritage in the world. However, in breach of the existing legislation that helps protect the environment, Brazilian biomes are increasingly threatened by the poor political and environmental management of this country in recent years.

If we consider the Amazon biome, the largest tropical forest in the world, which occupies 59% of Brazil’s territory, holds a large part of the available freshwater in the world and is home to the largest number of species of flora and fauna in the world, the numbers of environmental setbacks are alarming (to say the least). For example, in April 2021, record shows that deforestation reached 778 km2, which is the highest rate for that month in the last ten years[1].

The gap between the discourse of goals and commitments to take care of the Brazilian forests and what happens in practice – an old and repeated script in the history of unbridled destruction of the Amazon – has not worked as a strategy to consolidate the trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay), which has been the breeding ground for controversy before the final approval of the EU Member States and the European Parliament.

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Editorial of July 2021

By Carlos Abreu Amorim (Professor of Administrative and Environmental Law, UMinho)

European Climate Law – the point of non-return of environmental protection

There are a number of reasons for how significant the European Climate Law (ECL), the final text of which was adopted in May 2021 should be considered. It is not only because it is the first binding legal instrument to come from the European Green Deal (EGD). Not even because of its primary intention: to convert this environmental plan launched by the Commission of Ursula von der Leyen in December 2019 into a fundamental European plan of energy decarbonisation targets and mandatory commitments with the intention of transforming the generality of production processes on the path of climate neutrality.

Even more than the reasons mentioned in previous paragraph, the success of the ECL has now become a sine qua non test for the European Union’s integration project.

European integration has increasing economic, political, geostrategic, ambitions for social achievement and full rights for its citizens. A wide range of purposes and effective peace, happiness and welfare have been achieved like never before in history. Likewise, its path of undisputed success has also seen some setbacks in these and other areas. Nevertheless, more than ever, the scale of the climate emergency and the essential responses that the environmental quality of the planet today requires in terms of public policies clearly outweigh the limited unit of account provided by the unique action of States (even countries that are large in power, population and territory). If it was already a settled truth that there are no nations capable of competing or even subsisting on their own, the deterioration of the planet’s environmental status has raised the need for extended common projects in pursuing sustainable and efficient environmental public policies. Environmental protection is one of the areas of public policies where the natural shortcomings of actions carried out alone within the framework of the old logic of the Nation State are most noted and where the broad integration of these public policies is most necessary. Climate changes will not be able to be fought with success through reactive pipelines, targeted solutions or disunited strategies. Unilateral actions will also not succeed, not even the best designed ones. The urgency of climate responses implies firm resolutions, consistency in the ends, breadth and cross-cutting and supranational scope in public policies. Above all, it requires political choices with a degree of permanence that will only be possible if there is a political consensus and the sharing of these concerns by much of the public.

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“All the world began with a yes”: on the EU strategies towards an environmental citizenship

by Nataly Machado (Master's student in EU Law, UMinho)

In a year of so many turbulences and uncertainties, the last month of 2020 contained dates that must be remembered and questioned about how is possible to improve what was once idealized and started. These are events that reveal changes in growing recognition of the global climate crisis as well as the EU strategies towards achieving environmental protection. 

1 year ago: on 11 December 2019, the European Commission announced the European Green Deal. It is a response with the objective of tackling climate and environmental-related challenges to transform the EU into the first climate neutral continent by 2050 with a just and inclusive transition, a clean, affordable, and secure energy supply, a modernized EU industry, a clean and circular economy and sustainable and smart mobility, with the protection of biodiversity[i].

5 years ago: on 12 December 2015, the Paris Agreement has signed and, as a legally binding international treaty on climate change, is a landmark in the multilateral climate change, in which all abiding nations commit to undertake efforts to combat climate change, in order to limit global warming preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels[ii].

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Thinking about the post-COVID-19 world is putting the European Green Deal into practice: this is the time for the European Union to respond in line with “green”

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 by Nataly Machado, Master's student in EU Law, UMinho

There are several reports of reductions in pollutant emissions caused by the global shutdown due to the pandemic. Images taken via satellites and drones show us the record of abrupt drops in air and water pollution levels[i].

Unfortunately, there are also news about increased deforestation in areas such as the Amazon and the Pantanal[ii], concomitant with the new coronavirus crisis. In addition to what happens during the pandemic, the concern exists for the forthcoming post-crisis, which may show a sharp increase in the level of pollutant emissions due to the economic recovery, as occurred in other post-crises, such as the Spanish flu in 1918, the Great Depression in 1929 and the financial crisis in 2008[iii].

It is a reality that the new coronavirus has changed and will change, drastically, the people’s and public authorities’ priorities. Life must be protected. Until a vaccine is developed, public health control measures combined with strict social and economic measures will be implemented to handle the consequences that have already affected many countries around the globe.
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Editorial of June 2020

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 by Carlos Abreu Amorim, Professor of Administrative and Environmental Law, UMinho


The European Green Deal as a model of world leadership in the recovery of Covid-19 crisis

In July 2019, the candidate for President of the European Commission, the German Ursula von der Leyen, presented a program entitled “My Agenda for Europe, Political Guidelines for the Next European Commission 2019-2024”. Concrete goals were set there during her tenure, such as “An European Green Deal”; “An economy that works for people”; “A Europe fit for the digital age”; “Protecting our European way of life”; “A stronger Europe in the world”; “A new push for European democracy”. Those axis were reaffirmed on 1st December 2019, when she took office as president of the new college of commissioners.

Although these priorities are necessarily interlinked and can be considered as similar challenges, we highlight the European Green Deal as a remarkable turning effort in the institutional logics of environmental protection adding a desired projection of the will of the European Union (EU) to assert itself as a world leader in the defense of the values of justice, solidarity and quality of life, amongst which safeguarding the environment is the indispensable background of our times.

This is not the first European plan for environmental protection, of course. The history of the EU’s environmental policy is long, notably since the Paris Summit, held from 19th to 21st October 1972, following the then hopeful and innovative success of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which took place a few months earlier in Stockholm from 5 to 16 June, through the modifications of the Treaties which enabled the express consecration of the protection of environmental values with the Single European Act (1986) until the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (2007).[i] In this context, the EU has already approved seven multi-annual environmental action in the field of the environment since  1973, the latter of which was adopted by the Council and Parliament in 2013  to be in force until 2020.
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1st August 2018, Earth Overshoot Day

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 by Sophie Perez Fernandes, Junior Editor

According to data from the Global Footprint Network, August 1 is Earth Overshoot Day 2018.

Earth Overshoot Day is an initiative of Global Footprint Network, a non-profit international research organization dedicated to the development and promotion of tools to promote sustainable development. The date of Earth Overshoot Day is calculated by comparing two metrics: the Global Ecological Footprint, humanity’s total yearly consumption, with biocapacity, Earth’s capacity to regenerate renewable natural resources in that year. Both metrics are calculated each year with National Footprint Accounts and using UN statistics and data from additional sources.

As explained in the website, Earth Overshoot Date marks the date when all of humanity have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the entire year. According to the information disclosed last June, humanity will have exhausted on August 1, that is, in just over seven months, its entire nature’s resource budget of 2018. As from that date, the world will live on credit in 2018 – an environmental credit that, according to the data disclosed, is contracted earlier and earlier. Exceeding in 1961, planet Earth registered the first deficit in its environmental budget in the 1970s. Since then, the growing ecological footprint that accompanies the demographic and economic growth of the planet explains that Earth Overshoot Day occurs ever earlier – until the earliest date calculated of August 1 in 2018.
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Editorial of November 2017

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by Sophie Perez Fernandes, Junior Editor


The forest fires in Portugal and the EU

The Author of this post took the photo above during a common episode of her daily life, returning from work. While I was waiting for someone I stared at the landscape around me. Sadly, I realized, on that sunny, bright and warm October day, that the surrounding green I’d been accustomed to had partially disappeared. And I photographed it. I will not bother the reader with the reasons – these are personal and subjective. That is not the case of the reasons for its disclosure with this post.

The place photographed will not be revealed. The place is not the point – and not being the point, it is the point. It could be anywhere. That landscape is not only the one I photographed in that spur of the moment. Anyone present in that place, at that moment, was contemplating the same landscape – it was not a matter of me, but of us. And similar landscapes are, sadly, scattered through Portugal today and will remain for a long while – us is so much bigger than that place, at that moment.

And because the forest fires that ravaged Portugal in 2017 are so much bigger than that place (Portugal), at that moment (2017), the European within me was on alert as well.

The forest fires that occurred in Portugal were impressive not only because of their dimension and their impact, but also because of the unusual period of recent occurrences. In addition to the heavy human losses – the number of fatalities tragically exceeds a hundred – and to the equally heavy ecosystemic damage – associated with the loss of biodiversity always linked to any phenomenon of forest degradation/destruction –, the anomalous character of the forest fires recorded on October 15 and 16 also generates awareness to the reality of climate change.

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