Beginner‘s Guide to the 2024 European Parliament Elections

Learn more about the EU elections process and its relevance for you.

We aim to introduce young Europeans to the European Union and raise awareness about the upcoming EU elections in June 2024. We spur every citizen to vote and play a part in shaping how Europe will look like for the coming 5 years.

This toolkit covers a wide range of topics, including:

  • What is the European Union?

  • What is the EU Parliament?

  • How do EU elections work?

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Beginner‘s Guide to the 2024 European Parliament Elections

The impact of climate change on terrestrial & freshwater ecosystems

A Wake-Up Call from the European Environment Agency’s debut climate risk assessment

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What is the Climate Risk Assessment?

The Climate Risk Assessment (CRA) by the European Environment Agency (EEA) is a course assessment of the current risks posed by climate change for Europe, for different sectors. The report identifies and analyses 36 risks from the policy perspective and synthesises current scientific consensus on the topic.

The historic decline in habitat quality experienced by Europe’s ecosystems seems to be continuing. This negatively impacts many different species as well as people’s livelihoods. Climate change is already a major player behind these ecosystem changes. However, not all ecosystems are impacted in the same way, and some face other challenges that exacerbate the effects of climate change. Here follows a summary of the climate risk assessment for each of the main terrestrial ecosystems in Europe.

Forests

The CRA makes clear that climate change affects both the structure of forests and their functioning. This influence on forest functioning and structure is both through direct interactions with the forest system and through indirect interactions with other species or drivers of change that do play a direct role in forest systems. 

Examples of climate drivers acting on forest systems are temperature and moisture. However, habitat fragmentation caused by deforestation is the primary driver behind forest habitat quality degradation.

Furthermore, a lack of sustainable forestry practices like monocultures also made Europe’s forests more susceptible to pressures from climate change.

Some of these challenges are: drought-induced mortality, species range shift, increased incidence of wildfires and pest outbreaks. Fortunately, the forestry sector has adopted measures to create more climate-resilient forests. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how impactful these measures are, given uncertainties surrounding forests’ responses to climate change.

Peatlands

The leading cause of peatland degradation is human development conflicting with the habitat requirements of peatlands. The effects of climate change are just exacerbating these already existing mechanisms affecting peatland water balance.

For example, climate-induced drought reinforces peatland drying that is already happening due to peatland drainage. Unfortunately 50% of peatlands in the EU are degraded (25% Europe-wide). This puts many species dependent on peatlands like the bog orchid (Hamarbya paludosa) at risk of going extinct. Very alarmingly, future projections predict that peatland will become a net carbon emitter under current rates of change. This limits their ability to help us mitigate climate change effects. Peatlands are currently a large carbon sink.

Freshwater systems

Freshwater systems are affected by different climate drivers compared to the previous ecosystems. But most importantly, temperature and precipitation contribute to the most change. The consequences of increasing temperatures include shifting thermoclines or more pronounced thermal gradients in water bodies.

Temperature-sensitive species are also at risk as water temperatures rise. Decreases in precipitation can potentially cause water bodies to dry up significantly, but increases in precipitation can lead to toxic algal blooms. The fact is that surface waters are already increasing at a rate of 0.21-0.45°C per decade. This rate of change is particularly high in northern climates. Widespread eutrophication is already a concern in many European countries.

Arctic and mountain ecosystems

The main drivers of change in arctic and mountain systems are rising temperatures and human use. Both systems are particularly susceptible to climate change as they experience faster warming than on average. Additionally, both systems have a long history of human use, from mining and reindeer herding in the Arctic to grazing in mountain grasslands. The current situation of these systems is one of contrasting extremes.

Both droughts and high water retention are becoming commonplace in the Arctic. This destabilises ecosystem function and the ecosystems provided. Mountains are getting less snowfall leading to glaciers receding and lower snowmelt feeding into rivers.

Unfortunately, these threats are projected to worsen with climate change, as the Arctic region warms faster than most places. Leading to the extinction of arctic species, disruption of livelihoods and disappearance of arctic and mountainous ecosystems.

Urban ecosystems

Though climate change puts more pressure on stressors affecting urban ecosystems like the heat island effect, drought and pollution, the impacts are less strong as urban species are more resilient and adaptable.

Nonetheless, increased urban stress still puts the system balance at risk. Conditions might become more favourable for invasive or alien species. Pests and diseases might also be favoured in these changing conditions. Many of these effects are already being felt across European cities, though it is highly context-dependent.

Future projections also show that on the one hand drought in some cities will become more extreme and in others, floods are to be expected. The rise in urban heat island effect in the future is particularly concerning for tree and shrub species already living at their temperature optimums.

Agro-ecosystems

Climate change-induced changes are fortunately not major drivers of change in agro-ecosystems. However, changes in agricultural practices are changing this ecosystem in unprecedented ways. What is certain, is that agro-ecosystems are facing many challenges. Many ecosystem services like pollination, pest control and water regulation are under threat and declining due to many different drivers.

One of the major changes in this system is the sharp decline in pollinators, a combination of agricultural intensification, climate change-induced phenological shifts and pesticide use are disrupting the intricate interactions between insects and plants. In the future climate change will surely become a major driver behind biodiversity loss in agroecosystems. Furthermore, climate impacts soil conditions, with more extreme droughts and soil erosion to be expected.

Conclusion

Not surprisingly, climate change is causing significant changes in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Marine and coastal ecosystems are disproportionately affected by these changes and thus require urgent action. Policy-wise, long-term prioritisation and planning are required to facilitate adaptive management. So how do we move forward? Stronger policy at the EU level is required and in addition, states must work together to tackle our shared risks posed by climate change.

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The impact of climate change on terrestrial & freshwater ecosystems

State of the world’s migratory species

44%, that is the percentage of migratory species listed under the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) on the path to extinction. The CMS recently published a first of its kind report on the state of the world’s migratory species. This landmark report shows us that we need to take immediate action in order to preserve these amazing animals that know no borders. 

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What is the CMS?

The Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals is a United Nations (UN) treaty. The goal of this treaty is to promote the sustainable use and conservation of migratory species and their habitat throughout the world. Under this treaty governments and wildlife experts must collaborate to address the issues surrounding animals that make migratory journeys on land, in the air and sea. The Convention has 133 members spread across every continent, except North America.

Visual summary

Looking closer at the conservation status of migratory species.

We often hear the words critically endangered, endangered and many more terms thrown around, but what do these terms actually mean for the CMS species being categorised and their conservation? 

Let’s explain with an example, the Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae).  After a major decline in population size to 450 individuals from 27,000, the western South Atlantic  sub-population has reportedly recovered 93 % of its population size. This puts the global population of this majestic creature at around 80,000 individuals. For this reason the Humpback whale is classified as least concern. But the same can not be said for other sub-populations of the Humpback whale. Most are still endangered. So we must be careful when discussing threat level classifications. As global classifications do not always reflect regional or local conservation status of species.

Across the board, the extinction risk is rising for migratory species under the CMS. The report highlights that in the period of 1988 to 2020, 70 listed species experienced a deteriorating conservation status, hence leading to a higher Red List threat category. On the other hand only 14 listed species had a genuinely improving conservation status. Something very important that the report mentions is that, globally 399 migratory species are not listed under the CMS. These species are mostly fish and birds. This is an unfortunate fact as these species can not benefit from CMS protection. They deserve more investigation by the CMS countries and scientists.

Of the species listed under the CMS the future of migratory  fish are particularly concerning. 97% of these fish are threatened with extinction. Furthermore, most have a declining population. Compared to fish, mammals and birds are doing a bit better overall. 78% of birds and 44% of mammals have a population of least concern. However, in reality this still means that 134 (14%) birds and 63 (40%) mammal species are still threatened with extinction.

For us here in Europe, there is some good news. As the report says that in the past 10 years,  migratory species listed under the CMS in Europe have increased in numbers. Which means a more positive Red List threat status. Fortunately, this is also the case for migratory species in the Caribbean, South and Central American regions.

Revealing threats to migratory species: human activities in the spotlight 

Navigating across vast distances, migratory species encounter significant challenges caused by human activities, not only during their journeys but also at pivotal locations for their feeding and reproduction processes. The CMS indicates that 58% of monitored sites, vital for CMS-listed species, are at risk due to anthropogenic reasons. 

The report’s in-depth analysis exposes the two most pressing human-induced threats impacting migratory species:  

  • Overexploitation

Migratory species globally face the risk of overexploitation serving various purposes such as food consumption, transformation into products, pets, belief-based practices, and sport hunting. Their vulnerability intensifies as most species return to specific sites during predictable times of the year, impacting migratory terrestrial mammals and birds through unsustainable and/or illegal taking. The oceans, too, witness the consequences of overfishing and the unintended capture of non-target animals, posing a significant challenge to marine migratory species worldwide.

  • Habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation 

Migratory terrestrial and marine movements are increasingly restricted by both anthropic physical and nonphysical barriers, disrupting vital connectivity for a large range of species. The rapid expansion of energy and transport infrastructures emerges as a major concern regarding habitat fragmentation and its impact on migratory behaviours. In addition, agriculture expansion causing the loss of natural lands and intensification of practices to meet growing human food consumption are key threats to numerous migratory species.

The report reveals other pressures faced by migratory species such as climate change and pollution. These findings highlight the urgent need for immediate intervention to address these threats and ensure the survival of these species and the habitats they depend on.

Unifying efforts to protect migratory species : a wake-up call fo urgent action 

After detailing the numerous pressures confronting migratory species, the CMS issues a clear call to immediate, collaborative and international action. Governments, communities, the private sector, and other stakeholders are urged to come together to ensure the survival of migratory species. 

While the State of the World’s Migratory Species report presents a concerning scenario, it also highlights successful conservation efforts and policy changes from local to international, demonstrating that viable solutions exist. Achievements include multilateral initiatives to tackle illegal taking of migratory birds and the establishment of international task forces like the CMS Energy Task Force, aiming to reduce renewable energy projects impacts on migratory species. However the report emphasises the need to amplify and expand these efforts globally to achieve conservation objectives. 

To combat overexploitation of migratory species, the report’s priority recommendations for action include implementing stricter national legislation, improving monitoring of legal developments, and reinforcing initiatives to tackle illegal, unsustainable taking along with mitigating incidental catch. Addressing habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation requires additional identification and effective protection of crucial sites for migratory species, getting further knowledge on the threats they face, ensuring their ecological connectivity and restoring them when necessary. Urgent attention should be directed towards nearly extinct species, especially CMS-listed fish species. Proposals also include completing the CMS listings with overlooked endangered migratory species, demanding national and international attention. The report finally advocates for implementing ambitious initiatives to tackle climate change and light pollution. 

The alarming decline of migratory species populations and broader biodiversity loss due to numerous anthropic threats raises an urgent imperative: a collective and global acceleration of efforts to ensure their future existence is necessary. The CMS, serving as a worldwide cooperation platform, plays a critical role in providing solutions and mobilising forces at every level. 

As youth we also have a role to play. Whether we are volunteering for local environmental organisations, advocating for the environment or getting involved in political discussions our voice can stimulate change!

More articles on Biodiversity

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Dive into action with UK Youth4Nature | Members’ Spotlight

Learn about UK Youth 4 Nature's Creative Campaigning for Biodiversity and Nature Conservation.

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About UKY4N

UK Youth 4 Nature (UKY4N) is the leading UK youth movement calling for urgent action on the nature crisis, and they have been cherished members of YEE since 2022. UKY4N’s mission is to mobilise and empower young people to advocate for decisive action on biodiversity in the UK, emphasising the importance of protecting and restoring nature and wildlife to address the consequences and issues of climate change. March 14th marks the International Day of Action for Rivers, and we find this the perfect occasion to put the spotlight on UKY4N and its creative river projects.

 

Started in 2019 as a simple Whatsapp group with the mission of bringing nature into stronger focus within political discussions, UKY4N has rapidly evolved into an active organisation with a solid volunteer base all across the UK. The organisation has strategically focused its campaigning efforts on nature rather than climate issues and has today successfully positioned itself as a prominent advocate for biodiversity. We have met with co-director Ellen Bradley, to hear more about UKY4N’s creative campaigning and imaginative projects on rivers, hoping to inspire others to take action on this important topic!

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How can you help freshwater?

  • Support nature-friendly farmers, where possible buy organic, local food.

  • Banish pesticides and herbicides from your garden!

  • Celebrate freshwater ecosystems and raise awareness of the threats, share a photo on social media, tag UKY4N and use the hashtag #NotSoFreshwater

  • Research and learn more about the state of freshwater in the UK, sign up for the UKY4Ns newsletter to keep up to date with our campaign.

  • Join the team! UKY4N is always looking for new members to help fight for nature. Email UKY4N at ukyouthfornature@gmail.com to find out more.

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Making waves for freshwater conservation 

Freshwater ecosystems are the lifeblood of our planet. In the UK, around 3% of land is covered by freshwater and with an intricate network of 200,000 km of streams and rivers the freshwater ecosystems in the UK are of international importance. Thousands of lakes, ponds and ditches provide homes for diverse wildlife species, ranging from dragonflies to water voles. And yet, no rivers in England, Wales or Northern Ireland are considered to be in high ecological health, and in Scotland, as much as 92% of rivers do not meet these standards either. 

Recently, freshwater systems gained more media focus on regulating sewage and plastic pollution, advancing freshwater protection. However, agricultural pollution, affecting 40% of all freshwater bodies in England, remains overlooked. In addition to that, targets for cleaning up waterways, such as the goal set for 2027, have been pushed back to 2063, giving the protection of freshwater systems in the UK an urgency that cannot be ignored.

With the campaign Not so Freshwater, UKY4N launched an awareness campaign giving agricultural pollution a much-needed spotlight. The goal is to cut the use of pesticides in half by 2023 as well as restore field margins and riverside ecosystems to reduce field run-off. Ellen emphasises creative campaigning to facilitate positive change, celebrating sustainable farmers and advocating for political action.

On the 23rd of May 2023, UKY4N was able to host a successful event, summoning a variety of politicians and NGOs. The Chemical Cocktail Bar was one of the highlights of the event, which received a big positive response and even more importantly, political attention. The concept behind the Chemical Cocktail Bar is simple, creative and yet effective. Cocktails, named after UK rivers like the Mersey and Thames, the bar creatively highlighted freshwater pollution. Presented as beautifully designed cocktail recipes, these cards added a lively touch with real added proof of the urgency of freshwater pollution, proving that campaigning for political change does not have to be boring or dry. 

Beautifully designed recipe cards show the pollution of some of the biggest freshwater systems in the UK in a fun and engaging way.

The event successfully brought together young people and politicians in a positive atmosphere, fostering constructive discussions on environmental challenges, as Ellen tells us. UKY4N maintained a balance of fun and passion, ensuring engagement while addressing urgent issues facing our natural world.

UKY4N offers practical guidance for individuals to make a difference in preserving freshwater systems, including a five-step guide for reducing pollution. Additionally, they provide a template for a letter to your regional Member of Parliament to advocate for improved chemical standards and freshwater regulation. Later this year, UKY4N will host The Senedd, an event in Wales, allowing young people to engage with Welsh politicians on nature and freshwater issues.

With its campaign Not So Freshwater and a creative, positive and fun approach UKY4N inspires us to get involved in the movement for cleaner waterways and a more sustainable future. Let yourself be inspired too!

The UKY4N team during the event promoting the end of chemical pollution in freshwater systems in the UK (from left to right: Juliette Bone, Ellen Bradley, Lottie Trewick, Hannah Branwood, Joe Wilkins)

Crafting change with creative campaigning 

The fun and creative methods used in the Not So Freshwater project were not a one-off, but rather lie at the very heart of UKY4N’s approach to advocating for nature. Creative campaigning entails using creative and imaginative methods and employs artistic, cultural and interactive strategies to make an impact. Ellen tells us that the main goal of this approach is to get young people excited about an issue and encourage them to make a positive contribution, even if they are not experts on issues such as the environment, sustainability or politics. That way, different people can contribute in different ways, and that makes it more diverse and even more impactful! 

Another example of UKY4N’s bold creative campaigning was in their project Nature Loss: Lines in the Sand. On March 23, 2022, a 50-metre drawing depicting biodiversity in Britain was created on Scarborough Beach, featuring four biologically significant species that are declining. This symbolic act aimed to address the alarming depletion of nature in the UK, urging authorities to prioritise conservation efforts. Their creative ways received public recognition and an international audience, and if you look at the pictures of this impactful mural it is easy to understand why!

An overhead shot of the beautiful mural created by UKY4N on Scarborough beach.

UKY4N also regularly hosts workshops to introduce young people to creative campaigning, the next one to be held in Brighton on the 23rd of March 2024

In addition, UKY4N is currently dedicating their time to work relating to the general elections coming up in the UK this year. With the voting turnout among people in the age between 18 to 24-years in the UK in 2019 reaching 47% (compared to over 74% in the group of over 65-year olds), getting young people more enthusiastic and interested in the election is a crucial issue. As Ellen shares with us, only 50% of young people in the UK think they learn sufficiently about politics in school, so another focus of UKY4N lies on knowledge-sharing and capacity-building on the voting system. In order to be able to navigate the different and sometimes confusing party manifestos, UKY4N explains each programme from relevant political parties for everyone to understand. The main reason for that is to underline the importance of casting your vote to support certain policies and causes, as they so aptly put it on their website, “[n]ature cannot vote in elections. But many of us can!” With important elections coming up across Europe this year, not to mention the European Parliament elections, this is something many of us can keep in mind!

And with that being said, it is easy to see the problems that unite us. UKY4N is tackling the problems of the depletion of nature in the UK, but we are seeing similar problems worldwide. Although freshwater ecosystems are so important to nature and human well-being, they are also the most threatened in the world. Since 1970 freshwater species have experienced an 83% decline – twice the rate experienced within terrestrial or marine sources. Let us therefore stand united on this International Day of Action for Rivers, and reflect on the importance each and every one of our actions plays in the protection of our water systems!

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Read More

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Dive into action with UK Youth4Nature | Members’ Spotlight

EU Marine Action Plan

YEE Calls for Ambitious National Roadmaps for EU Marine Action Plan Implementation, including a ban on bottom trawling in MPAs

More than a year since the EU Marine Action Plan was adopted, there is a critical need to ensure that both the European Commission and Member States are held accountable for its effective implementation. The success or failure of this initiative will hinge upon the national roadmaps to be submitted by each Member State by the end of March. The publication of these national roadmaps will be closely monitored, especially considering the tendency of Member State governments to oppose ocean protection matters, often favouring economic interests over environmental ones. This also became evident in the disappointing response of the European Parliament (EP) to the Communication, which rejected the majority of its content. 

 

Youth and Environment Europe strongly supports the gradual phasing out of bottom trawling in all marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2030 as proposed in the Marine Action Plan. This would be in line with an agreement made between 196 countries, including the EU, during the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) to reach a 30% target of protected land and oceans by 2030 in a landmark agreement for the protection of biodiversity. The method of bottom trawling is notorious for its detrimental impact on marine ecosystems due to several reasons, one of which is significant by-catch, such as marine mammals, seabirds, and other fish species. Bottom trawling can also cause extensive damage to sensitive habitats, disrupting the balance of marine ecosystems and damaging biodiversity. Not least because of the use of bottom trawling, European seas are in a severe environmental crisis. The European Environment Agency recently reported that “almost all marine species groups appear to be in bad condition throughout Europe’s seas, with mixed recovery trends”.

 

The Parliament had a chance to advocate strongly for ocean conservation shortly before the elections and urge the EU Member States to align its fisheries with nature protection policies. They missed this opportunity: Their report on the Marine Action Plan takes a concerning stance towards the use of harmful fishing equipment, suggesting to continue using bottom trawling within MPAs. The European People’s Party (EPP) holds the view that the proposed ban of bottom trawling in MPAs puts the future of fishermen at risk, labelling the Action Plan “discriminatory”. While coastal communities and the impact of the Marine Action Plan on fishers must not be ignored, YEE believes that this pure focus on the economic impact is too short-sighted. The livelihoods of coastal communities ultimately depend on seas with good environmental status and healthy fish stocks, which can simply not be reconciled with the practice of bottom trawling in MPAs. We need cross-cutting and forward-thinking policymaking to address economic concerns in the fisheries sector alongside the climate and nature crises, including support  to fishers in transitioning away from destructive fishing gear to minimise negative socio-economic effects.

 

As Youth Environment Europe, we call upon all EU Member States to commit promptly and effectively to implementation of the Marine Action Plan, and urge the Commission to conduct and publicly release science-based assessments of their national roadmaps. Furthermore, we demand that any identified weaknesses be addressed by Member States, and call for close monitoring and enforcement to ensure their timely implementation. Only through concerted effort and accountability can meaningful progress be made towards safeguarding our marine environment for future generations.

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EU Marine Action Plan

Nature Restoration Law: Youth needs your support

YEE and other youth organisations have sent this letter to European Parliament Members, ahead of the plenary vote on the Nature Restoration Law on Tuesday, February 27, 2024

On behalf of European youth, we are reaching out to you as a coalition of youth organizations representing more than 20 million young Europeans with the European environment at heart. On Tuesday the 27th of February, the European Parliament plenary meeting will take place in Strasbourg. We want to underscore the absolute necessity to vote in favor of the provisional agreement on the Nature Restoration Law, for our future, and the future of our and your children.

As young people, we are inheriting a degrading environment and climate which makes us currently see a gloomy future ahead of us. Every day, we witness more species becoming extinct and ecosystems continuing to degrade. It is proof that existing measures so far have been critically insufficient. We are even more worried due to the recent and ongoing watering down of environmental policies and laws at the EU and national level. 

This EU Nature Restoration Law is the only opportunity for us to get the chance to see nature improving across Europe and benefit from a healthy environment and climate. 

Opposing or further weakening the law would mean condemning our future and fully ignoring all the good things that nature brings to our society. It would mean that young people and future generations, the least responsible for the current crises, will have to address environmental emergencies at a great cost and risk. This is extremely unfair from an intergenerational equity perspective.

On Tuesday, you will cast a vote on our future. The outcome will greatly impact generations of Europeans to come, so we need your vote in favor of the Nature Restoration Law. 

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Learn more about the #restorenature campaign

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Nature Restoration Law: Youth needs your support

What are countries doing about plastic pollution?

A reflection of a INC-3 youth delegate.

Shellan, a Youth4Ocean Forum member and INC-3 observer, reflects on the challenges facing the UN Plastic Pollution Treaty, which aims to be completed by the end of 2024.

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The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of YEE.

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The “Nairobi Spirit”

At the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA 5, 2022) at the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya Resolution 5/14 entitled “End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument” was passed to start the process of the plastic pollution treaty.

This historic moment marked the beginning of what several major news organisations have called the most important environmental deal in all fields since the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. This paved the way for the establishment of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution (INC) to develop “the instrument”, which is to be based on a comprehensive approach that addresses the full life cycle of plastic, including its production, design, and disposal” (UNEP) (See timeline below).

Five rounds of negotiations (INC) have been proposed for countries to come to an agreement and close negotiations by the end of 2024. This treaty will be the first-ever global agreement on addressing plastic pollution and aims to tackle the full life-cycle of plastic.

Plastics are currently one of the last unregulated industries contributing to the climate crisis and increased carbon emissions. Currently, 430 million metric tons of plastics are produced every year and without intervention, this could triple by 2060. The majority of plastic is neither recycled nor reused (UNDP).  It follows that a plastics treaty is not only necessary for human health but also for future generations. This statistic was emphasized in the most recent negotiations (INC-3) in Nairobi, Kenya in November 2023.

Timeline of the INC Process

Jun 2023
Apr 2024
Dec 2022
Nov 2023
Nov 2024

The third round (INC-3) was held from 13 to 19 November 2023 at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. After countries voted to create a Zero Draft at INC-2. The Zero Draft was a collection of ideas and views from member states submitted during the international negotiations in INC-2. The draft was released during the inter-sessional period between INC-2 and INC-3, when countries began negotiating the Zero Draft version of the treaty. During a preparatory meeting for INC-3 on November 11th,  Iran announced a low-ambition coalition with other gas-driven countries called the Global Coalition for Plastics Sustainability. There was very little to no mention of the coalition during the rest of the negotiations. Countries negotiated a specific text in three smaller groups called contact groups. Each group debated the following parts of the treaty:

Contact group 1: Part I and Part II of the Zero Draft

Contact group 2: Part III and IV

Contact group 3: Addressed elements not previously covered at previous INCs including principles, scope, and definitions.

While negotiations progressed throughout the week, the “Nairobi Spirit” died at the very last minute late on the last night of negotiations after contact group 3 could not come to a consensus on important intersessional work due to be completed between INC-3 and INC-4. Low-ambitious countries successfully used stalling tactics to threaten an ambitious treaty being drafted by the end of 2024 and aimed to be in place by 2025. While countries are eager to work and close negotiations by the end of 2024, there appear to be a lot of ideas for the treaty which are ultimately hindering progress.

More ideas than agreements after INC-3

The negotiations ended with more ideas than conclusions. During INC-3 the secretariat received over five hundred submissions from member states on the treaty. Due to the number of submissions at one point, some member states were arguing that their voices and inputs were not being heard. This led to threats by some states to quit negotiations.

The result was a revised draft expanded from thirty-one pages released after INC-2 to 71 pages. Some sections such as the scope have sixteen different options on text while several other options have four or more options. This was instead of a first draft that was expected after INC-3, a revised zero draft was released on December 26, 2023.

Low-ambitious, gas-driven countries such as Iran, Russia, and Saudi Arabia are arguing for a treaty focused on recycling, waste management and voluntary action, while other countries that are part of the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution, co-chaired by Norway and Rwanda, are arguing for a treaty that focuses on global mandates by aiming at reducing plastic and targeting the full lifecycle of plastics. Along with more ideas, the lack of an agreement on intersessional work resulted in more setbacks.

The consequences of a lack of consensus

The initial timeline proposed important inter-sessional work which, as agreed at INC-2, should have happened between INC-3 and INC-4. This intersessional work was supposed to bring in experts on different technical and scientific topics related to plastics, finance, and implementation issues. Many of these topics would help delegates have a better understanding of what they are discussing and negotiating as well as different perspectives to fill in knowledge gaps. 

This would have helped advance negotiations further at the upcoming INCs. At the last minute, the United States tried to reopen negotiations with Brazil agreeing to try to come to a consensus on work for the inter-sessional period (months between INC-3 and INC-4), but Russia and Saudi Arabia struck down the idea. After hearing member states’ opinions, the Chair decided not to reopen negotiations delaying hopes of progress towards an ambitious plastic reduction treaty.

An ambitious treaty threatened by lobbyists

As countries argue the direction of the treaty, several issues externally and internally towards an ambitious treaty remain. The treaty has gained attention from the fossil fuel and chemical industry. According to the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), “143 fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyists have registered to attend the third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3) to advance a global plastics treaty, gaining access to the negotiations at a time when the talks are entering a critical phase”. The article goes on to say this is a 36% increase from previous INCs.

The fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyists outnumbered the scientist coalition by over 100 people and 70 of the smallest member state delegations, and they will likely increase in the coming INCs. One of the potential solutions to preventing fossil fuel and chemical lobbyists from interfering with the negotiations would be to pass a Conflict of Interest Policy in the upcoming United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-6) or future meetings related to the plastics treaty such as the future Conference of Parties (COP). A Conflict of Interest Policy has been requested by several observers. By passing this policy it could prevent a weak treaty.

Lack of representation in the treaty

The treaty continues to lack representation from key groups impacted by plastics and the effects of plastic pollution in the revised Zero Draft text: its seventy-one pages only mention “Indigenous” twenty-eight times, while “youth” and “children” combined are only mentioned ten times. Other vulnerable groups such as women, waste pickers, and workers in plastic value chains are even mentioned less. There are several vulnerable groups not yet mentioned in the treaty such as the disabled (physically and visually-impaired), people of color, and displaced people. Also, the term vulnerable populations/groups remain undefined. This could cause problems during the implementation of the treaty, leaving certain groups at risk of the effects of plastic pollution and unable to benefit from the treaty. 

Final thoughts and looking ahead

The UN Plastic Pollution Treaty faces an uphill battle to be completed by the end of 2024. It is still unknown if the treaty will focus more on waste management and recycling or reduction. Several important groups remain voiceless in a treaty critical for their health and livelihoods. The next two INCs are scheduled to be INC 4 in Ottawa, Canada in April and INC 5 in Busan, South Korea in November.

Many key elements of the treaty such as scope, definitions, and principles remain undecided, which will add to the additional challenge of cutting text and cementing a clearer direction the treaty will take. This will make it more challenging for member states to complete the negotiations by the end of 2024. If the treaty stays on schedule, the Diplomatic Conference will be held in 2025 to adopt it and for member states to sign. This would also be when a governing body will be established for future Conference of Parties (COP) to be held on the treaty.

INC-4 will be critical for countries to decide the direction the treaty will take. The secretariat will provide an update in February UNEA-6 on the status of the treaty. While history has shown it is not impossible, it is going to require total focus and compromises from member states to achieve a historic plastics treaty by the end of 2024.

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Speeding up history in the face of war: How the invasion of Ukraine has shaken up the EU’s energy transition plan

The war in Ukraine has highlighted the significance of energy policy as a major power issue. It is an opportunity to break toxic dependence in geostrategic and climate terms.

Written by

Disclaimer

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of YEE.

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In its latest report, the International Energy Agency shows that the geopolitical context since the war in Ukraine has had an unprecedented impact on the energy transition. While a number of changes had already been initiated, such as those concerning renewable energies, the war in Ukraine seems to have accelerated them. In addition, European sanctions have massively reduced Russian gas imports into Europe. Under European sanctions, Russia reduced the flow of its gas pipelines to the EU by around 80%, prompting European states to find alternatives in a short space of time. This episode was an opportunity for many member states to reflect on their energy policy and, above all, the energy transition. 

The war in Ukraine revealed that energy policy is a major power issue. This is illustrated by the expression “war ecology” defined by Pierre Charbonnier. According to him, the war in Ukraine is an opportunity to break a toxic dependence, both in geostrategic terms and in terms of climate policy. Achieving energy sufficiency would kill two birds with one stone, by aligning the imperative of coercing the Russian regime with the imperative of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, “the period 2020-2021 was marked by a radical shift in the balance of competitiveness between renewables and existing fossil fuel and nuclear energy options”. So let’s take a look at how the war in Ukraine has affected the energy transition – has it accelerated or slowed it down?

What responses has the EU put in place? 

First of all, there is a desire at the European level to promote the EU’s independence, while also attempting to take account of the climate objectives set out in the European Green Deal.

This is illustrated first and foremost by the introduction of the RePower EU plan. What does this plan consist of? This plan, proposed by the EU a few weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and in line with the demands of the 27 member states, aims to massively reduce Russian gas imports, to do without them altogether by 2027. This strategy is based on four pillars: saving energy, replacing Russian fossil fuels with other hydrocarbons, promoting renewable energies and investing in new infrastructures such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals.

We can therefore see that the EU Commission, while wishing to reduce member states’ dependence on Russia, also aims to achieve the Green Deal’s climate objectives. The strategic objective is linked to the climate objective. Through this plan, it is proposing to increase the EU’s renewable energy target from 40% to a minimum of 42.5% by 2030. To reach this objective, at the end of the year, the EU adopted a regulation aimed at speeding up the procedure for granting construction permits for renewable energy projects. 

Through the RePower EU plan, the EU has also decided to bet on hydrogen, setting a target of 10 million tonnes of domestic production of renewable hydrogen and a similar figure for imports by 2030. The creation of a European Hydrogen Bank is also planned, with the task of investing 3 billion Euros to develop this market on the continent, as announced by Ursula Von Der Leyen during her State of the Union address last September.

Are there any concrete examples of the successful implementation of this plan?

Yes, especially when it comes to the development of renewable energies. After the war, the use of renewable energies rose sharply. Between 2022 and 2023, European renewable energies increased by 57.3 GW. This figure is set to rise further, given that the RED III directive, the result of the RePower EU plan, calls for doubling the share of renewable energies in European energy consumption to 42.5% by 2030. This increase in investment in renewable energies has helped bring prices down. However, their role in heating, and especially in transport, is still limited, although growing.

It’s worth noting that this increase in investment in renewable energies has not been confined to Europe alone, as it is China that has increased its renewable energy production capacity the most (+ 141GW)

What initiatives have been put in place at national levels?

Many member states have also taken steps to reduce their dependence on Russian gas imports. In 2022, for example, Lithuania declared its autonomy from the gas pipeline linking it to Russia, thanks to its LNG terminal and links with its neighbours. Shortly afterwards, Poland was able to put the suspension of Gazprom supplies into perspective, thanks to its LNG terminal and cross-border gas pipelines. Co-financed by the EU, the various cross-border gas pipelines have proved invaluable in times of crisis, embodying the principle of solidarity proclaimed in the Treaty of the European Union.  In coastal areas, LNG terminals, previously under-utilized, have made it possible to diversify supplies, even if technical constraints remain between certain member states. 

States have also sought to find other countries that can provide them with energy. So there has been a revival of confidence in nuclear power throughout the EU. Italy and Germany have also sought to establish or renew bilateral partnerships. However, the diversity of national energy mixes and the differing levels of vulnerability between member states could well lead to a situation where each country is left to its own devices.

Finally, the war in Ukraine was also an opportunity for many states to review their position on nuclear energy, as was the case with Germany. 

Can the EU afford the energy ambitions proposed in its RePower EU plan? 

The plan will cost 210 billion euros, and major investments are needed. That’s why InvestEU, the EU’s flagship investment program, was created. Its original aim was to finance a green and digital revival, but with the crisis in Ukraine, the plan is now part of Europe’s drive for emancipation from Russian oil and gas. At present, the EU’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels costs 100 billion euros a year. To free itself from this, an investment of 210 billion euros is required by 2027. However, the EU has already far exceeded 210 billion euros: the 27 countries have spent a combined total of 314 billion euros, bringing the EU’s bill to almost 450 billion euros.

Will Europe emerge stronger from the energy crisis? 

While the oil shocks saw European states reacting in a scattered fashion (not necessarily contradictorily, incidentally), the gas crisis provoked by Russia has confirmed the timeliness and effectiveness of a European approach. This energy crisis has made European countries realise the strategic importance of energy supply and has been the starting point for in-depth reflection on the importance of ensuring their independence.

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National Energy and Climate Plans | A handbook for youth participation

This handbook works as an explainer to the EU regulated National Energy and Climate Plans, and as a guide to how to participate in the process as a young citizen.

Each EU Member State is required to submit a National Energy and Climate Plan (NECPs), reflecting how various energy and climate targets will be achieved. According to EU regulations, these plans need to be open to public participation and consultation, yet the majority of Member States have failed to provide opportunities for the public to participate in the process.

These handbooks aim to shed light on the ways in which public participation can be improved, and how you as a young person can take part in the process!

This toolkit covers:

  • Explaining NECPs

    National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPS) are plans that each Member State of the European Union needs to prepare. An NECP should reflect how energy and climate targets will be achieved. But what does this mean in practice? What kind of information do NECPs contain?

  • Exploring the role of public participation

    According to EU regulations, all NECPs should be open to public participation and consultation. What is so crucial? And are all Member States fulfilling this requirement?

  • What we as young people can do

    Including the perspective of young people is important for well-functioning NECPs, but participation is not always easy. How can you as a young person take part in drafting NECPs? How can you make your voice heard?

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Youth Participation in the NECPs

The Legal Seeds project has been conducting interviews with young people from 4 different EU member states, in order to report on the status of youth participation in the NECP-process. We have compiled country-specific reports on youth involvement for Cyprus, Italy, Bulgaria (coming soon) and Greece (coming soon). These reports outline both the importance and legal requirements of public- and youth participation, while describing the current status of youth involvement in the NECP-process. These reports also highlight the shortcoming of the national processes, while also including suggestions on improvements to national governments.

Youth Participation in the Bulgarian updated NECP draft

In Bulgaria, youth participation is often seen as a “good to have” addition to the already minimal requirements for participation put in place. However, youth empowerment is growing and is demanding more and more accountability, transparency and engagement from public institutions.

Youth Participation in the Cypriot updated NECP draft

The report raises awareness about Governance Regulation shortcomings in Cyprus, focusing on updating NECPs in 2022/2023. Public participation is not there solely for the sake of participating - it is there to increase the acceptability of divisive policies and unite the Cypriot public.

Youth Participation in the Greek updated NECP draft

Young individuals in Greece perceive significant neglect in the National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs). The overall process of engaging in NECPs has been disappointing, failing to meet the state's obligations under the Governance Regulation.

Youth Participation in the Italian updated NECP draft

The report highlights issues with implementing the Governance Regulation in Italy, focusing on updating National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs), namely the lack of public participation in Italian climate and environmental policymaking , higlighting the bigger focus on administrative procedures rather than human rights.

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National Energy and Climate Plans | A handbook for youth participation

Health first: The IED cannot deprive pollution victims of their rights

In 2023, toxic pollution has become the norm in Europe, with industrial complexes illegally polluting and causing harm to people's health. The Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), which governs emissions from various industries, is being updated by EU decision-makers. However, the draft law appears to be inadequate in protecting people from pollution.

Written by

Bellinda Bartolucci, ClientEarth

Alexandros Kassapis, Youth and Environment Europe

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It’s 2023 and exposure to toxic pollution is the norm in Europe.

Across the bloc, people are living in the shadow of industrial complexes that are still polluting illegally, eroding their health, and claiming lives.

This is a rights issue. An estimated 10% or more of Europe’s cancer burden is suspected to relate to pollution exposure, while EU premature deaths related to excessive levels of air pollution chart in the hundreds of thousands each year –
including minors, whose small bodies register big and lasting pollution impacts.

It’s hardly the futuristic picture we’d hoped for.

EU decision-makers are on the cusp of finalising the update of the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED). It governs the emissions of over 50,000 installations, including steelworks, chemicals and plastics facilities, coal plants and factory farms all over Europe – and it needs to be the most powerful tool to protect people that it can possibly be.

But on the contrary – the draft law looks set to blow over in the wind. From strong beginnings, we’re left with a nearly empty shell as far as people’s rights are concerned.

So what do our lawmakers need to do?

On your doorstep – what does industrial pollution
look like in Europe?

Pollution exposure is not just about isolated incidents – the reality is more insidious. From ‘forever chemicals’ to heavy metals, there are dramatic cases of chronic industrial pollution across Europe. Their impacts are startling reminders that industrial operations can cause severe illness and kill, in 21st century Europe.

There are ample examples of European workers and local residents – particularly children – being impacted by industrial pollution. A 5-year-old has died in Taranto, Italy, from a brain tumour – metal and dust particles from the local steel plant (Italy’s largest) were found in his brain. The local waters can’t be used to raise mussels because of iron dust levels.

Those living near antiquated coal plants in Bulgaria and Poland complain of stinging eyes and report respiratory ill-health. Towns near coal complexes in Bulgaria have been blanketed with air pollution for years – coal regions in the country chart the EU’s highest levels of sulphur dioxide pollution. But the government gave one of the local plants ongoing permission to pollute far above EU limits. 

The above cases were from facilities operating within the law. So it goes without saying that, at least in cases of illegal pollution, anyone suffering from its impacts should be able to go to court and stand a chance of receiving compensation for the damage – no? 

They pollute, you pay – why we need a real route to justice

If a facility is polluting beyond the limits allowed by the law, people suffering from health issues due to this illegal pollution must be able to access the courts for compensation. But the legal set-up right now makes it very difficult for anyone to hold Member States or industries to account

The European Commission has acknowledged this injustice and the new IED was supposed to fix this. The law included a new compensation right for victims of illegal pollution. But throughout the process, the real substance of this right has been systematically dismantled over the course of the negotiations – by now, it risks becoming an in-name-only gesture, which contains no actual avenue for people to access their rights.

With the current wording, negotiators have given the chop to the possibility of NGOs standing for sick people in class actions – vital given that in extreme cases, claimants have passed away before they could complete their actions. The law also relieves authorities of all legal responsibility for failing to enforce laws and therefore enabling health damages. 

People across Europe have been pushing for their rights to be reflected in the law. But pressure has been too strong and conflicting information has emerged throughout the process to derail positive lawmaking. This has got in the way of what this law is for: keeping people safe.

Youth and Environment Europe (YEE) have written to EU representatives to urge them to “prioritise health over illegal pollution” and adopt a real, functional compensation right. Along with a host of legal and consumer organisations, we highlighted that an inadequate law would fail people’s fundamental rights – the European Court of Human Rights has confirmed that harmful industrial pollution can give rise to individual compensation.

A turning point for victims of illegal industrial pollution – will lawmakers deliver?

An effective compensation right already exists in competition, data protection, anti-discrimination and consumer laws. It works for all parties involved and it ups compliance from the outset. Why should health be protected less? Contrary to industry claims, none of these types of rules have ever led to excessive litigation. In the case of the IED, only illegal polluters are exposed to the risk of litigation. Companies adhering to the rules have no reason to worry – and will actually benefit from a level playing field across the EU.

There is no justification for failing to apply it in the IED for victims of illegal pollution. This is a no-brainer.

An IED based on justice goes far beyond environmental action –  it is about helping victims on the ground. This is a major opportunity to bring back justice and finally offer protection for citizens across Europe. Missing it would be a statement by EU lawmakers that lawbreakers have officially taken precedence over people’s rights. 

Brussels should take a deep breath and consider this before they give the IED their final seal of approval.

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Health first: The IED cannot deprive pollution victims of their rights