EU Environment Ministers discussed the adaptation to climate change, pollution of the oceans and the circular economy at a meeting in Malta

EU Environment Ministers discussed the adaptation to climate change, pollution of the oceans and the circular economy at a meeting in Malta

At their informal meeting in Malta Environment Ministers of the EU Member States talked about the climate change adaptation strategy in the context of the Paris Climate Agreement, about the protection of the environment and climate in the oceans as well as the circular economy and plastic waste management. The Czech Republic was represented at the Environment Council by Mr. Vladislav Smrž, Deputy Minister for the Environment.

The first topic discussed by the Ministers of the twenty eight EU countries focused on the possibilities of how to contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the spirit of the Paris Climate Agreement.

"From the perspective of the Czech Republic we consider water regime and water management to be of substantial importance and furthermore we need to concentrate on agriculture and forestry as well as ecosystem services," said Mr. Vladislav Smrž, Deputy Minister for the Environment, adding that when it comes to the role of the EU in the issues of adaptation to climate change, its task is in particular to provide the Member States with informational, financial, methodological, but also political support. "However, for the specificity and varied conditions in the given Member State, the actual adaptation measures should remain in the hands of individual countries," added Deputy Smrž. Moreover, he would welcome greater EU activity in the area of soil protection. "Soil plays a very important role in adaptation to climate change, due to its ability to retain water. For example, in the Czech Republic the soil should be able to retain about 9 billion cubic metres of water and today it is estimated that this figure is down to a mere 5 billion. In order to turn this dismal situation around we first prepared the Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change in the Czech Republic [1] and secondly we adopted the National Action Plan [2] addressing it. In addition, we are striving to achieve a change by employing grant funding from European or national resources, which can be targeted at water management and the increase of the water retention capacity of the landscape. For example this week we are going to launch a brand new programme for citizens focusing on rain and greywater management. In this pilot phase we will distribute 100 million crowns among people," revealed Deputy Smrž. The said adaptation strategy was adopted by the Czech Government in October 2015 – even before the Climate Conference in Paris, which took place at the turn of November and December 2015.

The next topic was the oceans, their role in the context of climate change and also the protection of the marine environment. "Although the Czech Republic has no access to the sea, the climate in Central Europe is strongly influenced by the ocean, and we firmly believe that the oceans play a key role in climate protection," stressed Deputy Smrž. However, the increasing amount of greenhouse gas emissions has a negative impact on oceans, such as causing damage to coral and ocean acidification, leading to the reduced ability of the oceans to lessen the effects of climate change. Therefore, it is important to limit the greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible. As regards the options for ocean energy utilisation, the Czech Republic lacks the conditions for it, but it recognises the significance of offshore wind parks [3] for the transition to a low-carbon economy. "Nonetheless, the difficulty of balancing the supply of energy from wind power stations and consumption may also have adverse effects on the grids in neighbouring countries. Consequently, the development of renewable resources should be connected with the development of these grids to prevent their instability," said Deputy Smrž.

Furthermore, in connection with the oceans the Ministers also focused on the problem of waste in the sea and on the forthcoming strategy on plastics. The topic was also put in the context of the circular economy, which in the opinion of the Czech Republic represents a great opportunity to introduce new cleaner technologies and to strengthen Europe's competitiveness.

"We believe that an important contribution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will also be made by landfill restrictions and the ban on landfill of mixed household, recyclable and recoverable waste from 2024, since the landfills are a relatively large source of CO2. In addition, the landfills are a major obstacle to a circular economy, where there is no room for them at all," said Jaromír Manhart, Director of the Waste Management Department under the Ministry of Environment, emphasizing one of the Czech priorities. "For several years the Czech Republic has had an effective system for the collection of packaging waste from municipal waste systems, where recovery and recycling was recorded at the level of 61.4% in 2015,” he added.

The solution to the problem of plastic waste management is also crucial for dealing with waste in the sea, as it is plastic that forms a substantial part of the waste which is difficult to biodegrade. "We consider the issue of marine littering to be one of the major global challenges for the environment, therefore, the Czech Republic will contribute to the reduction of the impacts of plastic waste in the aquatic environment by decreasing the amount of plastic carrier bags [4]," said Director Manhart. In accordance with the conclusions of the ministerial meeting in June 2016, the European Union proposes setting a quantitative target for the reduction of littering in the currently discussed waste rule package relating to the circular economy. So far the Czech Republic has had a reserved attitude to this issue. "In the case of future discussions on the quantitative target we deem it necessary to focus on the determination of clear methods and criteria for assessing its implementation. This is not a simple task, especially in view of the requirements placed on landlocked countries," explained Jaromír Manhart. However, according to him, the prevention of littering can also be aided by landlocked countries by the prevention of the contamination of rivers and the environment as such with plastic waste. “We consider raising awareness about the proper collection and sorting of waste as well as active engagement by the public to be of crucial importance – an example of such is the regularly held clean-up campaigns, such as the initiative of Clean up the Czech Republic, Clean up the World and many others," concluded Director Manhart.

Notes:

[1] The Adaptation Strategy of the CR was approved by the Czech Government on 26. 10. 2015 and is based on the observed climate changes at the global, European and national level, and it also presents the prerequisites for further climate development, including the possible impacts on the territory of the Czech Republic. These concern extreme weather such as torrential rain or prolonged drought. The document was jointly prepared by the Ministry of the Environment with meteorologists, scientists and other authorities relating to 8 departments in particular. It identifies the priority areas of the economy and the environment that the climate change impacts will affect the most, and summarises suitable adaptation measures. For more on the Adaptation Strategy For more on the Adaptation Strategy.

[2] The National Action Plan for Climate Change Adaptation was approved by the Government in January 2017, elaborating the Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change in the Czech Republic. For more on the Adaptation Plan.

[3] The offshore wind farms are located in convenient areas directly in the sea and attached to the sea bed. They take advantage of the wind blowing above sea level and lack of the necessity to occupy space on the mainland. Large wind parks are operated in the North Sea for example.

[4] With the target of reducing the consumption of plastic bags the Ministry of the Environment prepared the obligatory legislation of the Packaging Act, which was already approved by the Senate last week and which prohibits retailers across the Czech Republic from providing free plastic carrier bags from January 2018.

For more information
Jana Taušová
Deputy Spokesperson for the Ministry of the Environment
Tel.: +420 267 122 944 nebo +420 739 242 379
E-mail: tiskove@mzp.cz