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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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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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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Judgment TTK, of 13 July 2017, clears the air (and land) on environmental liability in the EU as Trump keeps tumbling on climate issues

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by Ana Torres Rego, student of the Master's degree in EU Law of UMinho

Living in the most powerful technological society carries with it advanced innovation and a better quality of life, while simultaneously, a massive number of challenges to deal with, mainly at the environment field. As the progress goes on, the ozone hole gets bigger, the temperatures are crazily increasing, the icebergs in Antarctic are melting and biodiversity is being lost. The planet as a huge ecosystem, where everything flows cyclically and harmonious, is suffering huge threats due to human ambition, every single day.

Constructed under an economic structure, the European Union soon realised that without taking care of Mother Nature, so much progress and improvement would be worthless for the next generations, once their planet would be destroyed if nothing interrupts the rhythm of the consumption of Earth’s resources. Accordingly, the decrease of fossil fuel dependency – which primarily contributes to side effects of global warming caused by the consequent emissions of carbon dioxide – is the trickiest and demanding subject that Member States are concerned about, in the scope of such matters. Actually, that’s because there’s a complex paradox demanding urgent answers between, on one hand, the economic competition and the need to protect the environment through green economic measures, on the other.
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The Almaraz debate – it’s not in Spain, it’s not in Portugal, it’s all around…

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by Sophie Perez Fernandes, Junior Editor

The risk society is a non-knowledge society. Ulrich Beck has long demonstrated that the explosion of the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl (26 April 1986) coincided with an «explosion of non-knowledge» in an entanglement that requires a rethinking of the conceptual and institutional constants of the modern world, such as the concepts of rights and human dignity, as well as those of sovereignty and state government[i].

On January 16, the Portuguese government filed a complaint to the European Commission against Spain concerning the construction of a nuclear waste storage facility at the Almaraz nuclear power plant (the news can be found here). Operating since the early 1980s, the Almaraz nuclear power plant is located along the Tagus River about 100 kilometres from Portugal, bordering the districts of Castelo Branco and Portalegre. The construction of the storage facility is intended to extend the operation of the Almaraz nuclear power plant, which has been presenting several problems, especially security problems. Portugal claims that there has been a violation of the EIA Directive, in addition to requesting the suspension of the construction of the Almaraz nuclear waste storage facility.

The EIA Directive – Directive 2011/92/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2011 – applies to the assessment of environmental effects of certain public and private projects which are likely to have significant effects on the environment. It updates 4 earlier directives (Directives 85/337/EEC, 97/11/EC, 2003/35/EC and 2009/31/EC) and applies from 17 February 2012. Furthermore, Directive 2011/92 has been amended in 2014 by the Directive 2014/52/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 April 2014. The revised EIA Directive entered into force on 15 May 2014 and Member States shall bring into force the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with it by 16 May 2017. It should also be mentioned that safety of nuclear installations is also regulated by EU law, namely by the Council Directive 2009/71/Euratom of 25 June 2009 establishing a Community framework for the nuclear safety of nuclear installations (transposition deadline expired since 22 July 2011), amended by the Council Directive 2014/87/Euratom of 8 July 2014 (transposition deadline expires the 15 August 2017).

As stated above, Portugal claims that there has been a violation of the EIA Directive. The EIA procedure laid down in this directive can be summarized as follows: i) the developer (the applicant for authorisation for a private or public project which falls within the scope of application of the EIA Directive) may request the competent authority to say what should be covered by the EIA information to be provided (scoping stage); ii) the developer must provide information on the environmental impact (EIA report); iii) the environmental authorities and the public (and, as will be explained below, the eventually affected Member States) must be informed and consulted; iv) the competent authority decides, taken into consideration the results of consultations. The public is then informed of the decision taken and can challenge it before the courts.

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