Friday, June 21, 2024

EU countries push to weaken greenwashing rules in election run-up

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A majority of EU countries are pushing to water down new rules to prevent greenwashing, as Brussels comes under rising pressure from politicians to ease parts of its landmark climate law ahead of the next electoral cycle.

The weakening of the bloc’s green agenda comes as EU citizens start voting this weekend in a marathon election that will determine the shape of its parliament and set the direction for the next five years of policy.

The EU’s Green Deal, aimed at reaching net zero emissions by 2050, has been a heated campaign issue, with parties on the right blaming the legislation for contributing to the region’s industrial decline and laying a heavy bureaucratic burden on companies.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who proposed the climate legislation in 2020 after a groundswell of support for Green parties in the 2019 election, has backtracked on several key planks in a bid to gain support from more conservative groups in the lead up to the voting.

After the weakening of rules on packaging waste and environmental due diligence during the legislative process, member states are now aiming to soften the green claims directive, according to a document outlining the changes and seen by the Financial Times.

The rules on environmental claims, proposed in March 2023 as part of the Green Deal, were designed to prevent companies making false claims about their eco-credentials.

The veracity of green slogans about products were targeted, for example, purporting to be “100 per cent carbon neutral” or packaging being “50 per cent recycled”.

The commission has said that more than half of the claims it examined in preparing the rules provided “vague, misleading or unfounded information about products’ environmental characteristics across the EU”.

But complaints that verification process would overload companies already facing stricter environmental reporting and tighter rules on pollution and waste, with untenable amounts of paperwork, have prompted a row back.

The EU’s member states have instead introduced a “simplified procedure” during their assessment of the law. Only four countries, including Germany and Austria, have not backed the loosening of the rules.

This streamlined process would allow companies to assess for themselves whether the claims they make are scientifically credible under certain circumstances, to allow “a balance between consumer protection and administrative and financial burden for economic operators”, according to the document seen by the FT.

EU countries have also taken a weaker stance than the European parliament on claims that a product can be deemed “carbon neutral” because a company has in theory offset its emissions by buying into a carbon credits scheme that involves tree-planting or other carbon-saving projects.

Carbon credits have been undermined by investigations that have found several prominent programmes were not underpinned by genuine carbon removals, and are criticised as a distraction for companies from making fundamental changes to their businesses to reduce emissions.

The European parliament, which is yet to agree the final shape of the green claims law with member states, said in March it wanted slogans based on carbon offsets to be banned unless companies have “already reduced their emissions as much as possible and use these schemes for residual emissions only”.

But the EU governments’ position meant that “a highly polluting company such as an airline or oil company could claim to be climate neutral and then only explain in small print that 99 per cent of emissions were offset”, said Margaux Le Gallou, programme manager at the Environmental Coalition on Standards, a non-profit green advocacy group.

An EU diplomat said that member states viewed carbon offsets as a tool that companies “can use at the start of their decarbonisation rather than just to use at the end”.

EU ambassadors have given an initial greenlight to the changes but they must be signed off by ministers at a meeting on June 17.

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