EU Environment Policy

EU Environmental policy is being formulated in environment action programmes since early 1970s:

  • 1st – Programme of Action of the European Communities on the Environment (1973-1976)
  • 2nd – European Community Action Programme on the Environment  (1977-1981)
  • 3rd – Action Programme of the European Communities on the Environment (1982-1986)
  • 4th – EEC Fourth Environmental Action Programme (1987-1992)
  • 5th – Community programme of policy and action in relation to the environment and sustainable development (1993-2000)
  • 6th – the Sixth Community Environment Action Programme (2002-2012)
  • 7th – the Seventh Environment Action Programme (2014-2020)

The 8th Environment Action Programme till 2030

The 8th Environment Action Programme (EAP) will guide the European environmental policy until 2030.

The document supports the environment and climate action objectives of the European Green Deal. It provides an opportunity for the EU as a whole to reiterate our commitment to the 7th EAP’s 2050 vision: we want to ensure wellbeing for all, while staying within the planetary boundaries.

The 8th  EAP calls for active engagement of all stakeholders at all levels of governance, to ensure that EU climate and environment laws are effectively implemented. It forms the EU’s basis for achieving the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals.

The 8th  EAP aims to accelerate the transition to a climate-neutral, resource-efficient and regenerative economy, which gives back to the planet more than it takes. It recognises that human wellbeing and prosperity depend on the healthy ecosystems within which we operate.

Building on the European Green Deal, it has the following six priority objectives:

  1. achieving the 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction target and climate neutrality by 2050
  2. enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change
  3. advancing towards a regenerative growth model, decoupling economic growth from resource use and environmental degradation, and accelerating the transition to a circular economy
  4. pursuing a zero-pollution ambition, including for air, water and soil and protecting the health and well-being of Europeans
  5. protecting, preserving and restoring biodiversity, and enhancing natural capital (notably air, water, soil, and forest, freshwater, wetland and marine ecosystems)
  6. reducing environmental and climate pressures related to production and consumption (particularly in the areas of energy, industrial development, buildings and infrastructure, mobility and the food system)

In order to measure and communicate whether the EU is on track to meeting these objectives, the 8th EAP suggests setting up a new monitoring framework. This will help the EU and its member countries to determine to what extent we are living well, within planetary boundaries.

Full text of the document is available below:

European Green Deal

The EU is at the forefront of international efforts to promote economically, environmentally and socially sustainable development to address the planetary crisis and in particular to fight climate change. On 11 December 2019  the European Commission presented The European Green Deal  – a roadmap for making the EU’s economy sustainable by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities across all policy areas and making the transition just and inclusive for all. 

The European Green Deal is Europe’s structural response and new growth strategy that  sets out ambitions to transform the EU into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy where:

  • There are no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050
  • Economic growth is decoupled from resource use
  • Natural capital is protected, sustainably managed and restored
  • The health and well-being of citizens is protected from environment-related risks and impacts
  • No person and no place is left behind.

The EU Green Deal

  • provides a roadmap with actions to boost the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean, circular economy and stop climate change, revert biodiversity loss and cut pollution;
  • outlines investments needed and financing tools available and explains how to ensure a just and inclusive transition;
  • covers all sectors of the economy, notably transport, energy, agriculture, buildings, and industries such as steel, cement, ICT, textiles and chemicals.

In her State of the Union address on 16 September 2020, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen presented  that  the European Commission has proposed to increase the 2030 target for GHG emission reduction to at least 55% (instead of previous 40 % reduction). This ambitious  target has been approved by the leaders of Member States at the EU summit in December 2020.

‘Climate neutral’ Europe

  • This is the overarching objective of the European Green Deal. The EU will aim to reach net-zero GHG  emissions by 2050. That means updating the EU’s climate ambition for 2030, with a 55% cut in greenhouse gas emissions to replace the previous 40% objective.
  • The Commission plans to review every EU law and regulation in order to align them with the new climate goals.

Circular economy

  • A new Circular Economy Action Plan was adopted in March 2020, as part of a broader EU industrial strategy. It includes a sustainable product policy with prescriptions on how we make things” in order to use less materials, and ensure products can be reused and recycled.
  • Carbon-intensive industries like steel, cement and textiles, will also focus the attention under the new circular economy plan. One key objective is to prepare for “clean steelmaking” using hydrogen by 2030. New legislation was presented in 2020 to make batteries reusable and recyclable.

Building renovation

  • This is meant to be one of the flagship programmes of the Green Deal. The key objective there is to “at least double or even triple” the renovation rate of buildings, which currently stands at around 1%.


Whether in air, soil or water, the objective is to reach a “pollution-free environment” by 2050. New initiatives there include a chemical strategy for a “toxic-free environment”.

Ecosystems & biodiversity

  • A new Biodiversity Strategy was presented in March 2020.
  • Europe wants to lead by example with new measures to address the main drivers of biodiversity loss. That includes measures to tackle soil and water pollution as well as a new forest strategy.
  • More trees are needed both in cities and in the countryside.
  • New labelling rules will be tabled to promote deforestation-free agricultural products.

Farm to fork strategy

  • The new strategy will aim for a “green and healthier agriculture” system. This includes plans to significantly reduce the use of chemical pesticides, fertilisers and antibiotics.
  • New national strategic plans due to be submitted next year by member states under the Common Agricultural Policy will be scrutinised to see whether they are aligned with the objectives of the Green Deal.


  • One year after the EU agreed new CO2 emission standards for cars, the automotive sector is once again in the Commission’s firing line. The current objective is to reach 95g CO2/km by 2021. Now, the need is to work towards zero sometime in the 2030s.
  • Electric vehicles will be further encouraged with an objective of deploying 1 million public charging points across Europe by 2025. Every family in Europe needs to be able to drive their electric car without having to worry about the next charging station.
  • “Sustainable alternative fuels” – biofuels and hydrogen – will be promoted in aviation, shipping and heavy duty road transport where electrification is currently not possible.


  • To “leave no-one behind,” the Commission proposes a Just Transition Mechanism to help regions most heavily dependent on fossil fuels.
  • The ambition is to mobilise €100 billion precisely targeted to the most vulnerable regions and sectors. The proposed €100bn instrument has three legs: 1) A just transition fund that will mobilise resources from the EU’s regional policy budget; 2) The “Invest EU” programme, with money coming from the European Investment Bank; 3) EIB funding coming from the EU bank’s own capital.
  • Every euro spent from the fund could be complemented by 2 or 3 euros coming from the region. EU’s state aid guidelines will be reviewed in that context so that national governments are able to directly support investments in clean energy.
  • Regions will also be offered technical assistance in order to help them “absorb” the funds while respecting the EU’s strict spending rules. However, any state aid would have to be vetted by the Commission as part of new regional transition plans submitted beforehand to Brussels.

R&D and innovation

  • With a proposed budget of €100bn over the next seven years (2021-2027), the Horizon Europe research and innovation programme will also contribute to the Green Deal.
  • 35% of the EU’s research funding will be set aside for climate-friendly technologies under an agreement struck in 2019.
  • A series of EU research “moonshots” will focus chiefly on environmental objectives.

External relations

  • EU diplomatic efforts will be mobilised in support of the Green Deal. One measure likely to attract attention – and controversy – is a proposal for a carbon border adjustment (tax). As Europe increases its climate ambitions, it expects the rest of the world to play its role too. But if not, Europe is “not going to be naïve,” and will protect its industry against unfair competition.

Climate ambition

  • Proposal on a European ‘Climate Law’ enshrining the 2050 climate neutrality objective
  • Comprehensive plan to increase the EU 2030 climate target to 55%
  • Proposals for revisions of relevant legislative measures to deliver on the increased climate ambition
  • Proposal for a carbon border adjustment mechanism for selected sectors
  • New EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change

Clean, affordable and secure energy

  • Assessment of the final National Energy and Climate Plans
  • Strategy for smart sector integration
  • ‘Renovation wave’ initiative for the building sector
  • Evaluation and review of the Trans-European Network – Energy Regulation
  • Strategy on offshore wind
  • EU Industrial strategy
  • Circular Economy Action Plan
  • Stimulation of markets for climate neutral and circular products in energy intensive industries
  • Proposal to support zero carbon steel-making processes by 2030
  • Legislation on batteries in support of the Strategic Action Plan on Batteries

Strategy for sustainable and smart mobility

  • Funding call to support the deployment of public recharging and refuelling points as part of alternative fuel infrastructure
  • Assessment of legislative options to boost the production and supply of sustainable alternative fuels for the different transport modes
  • Revised and revision of legal acts (proposal for a Directive on Combined Transport, the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive and the Trans European Network – Transport Regulation)
  • Initiatives to increase and better manage the capacity of railways and inland waterways
  • Proposal for more stringent air pollutant emissions standards for combustion-engine vehicles

Greening the Common Agricultural Policy / ‘Farm to Fork’ Strategy

  • ‘Farm to Fork’ Strategy: Measures, including legislative, to significantly reduce the use and risk of chemical pesticides and antibiotics

Preserving and protecting biodiversity

  • EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 (Measures to address the main drivers of biodiversity loss)
  • New EU Forest Strategy (Measures to support deforestation-free value chains)

Towards a zero-pollution ambition for a toxic free environment

  • Chemicals strategy for sustainability
  • Zero pollution action plan for water, air and soil
  • Revision of measures to address pollution from large industrial installations

Mainstreaming sustainability in all EU policies

  • Proposal for a Just Transition Mechanism, including a Just Transition Fund, and a Sustainable Europe Investment Plan
  • Renewed sustainable finance strategy
  • Initiatives to screen and benchmark green budgeting practices of the EU MS including taxonomy for classifying environmentally sustainable activities
  • Review of the relevant State aid guidelines, including the environment and energy State aid guidelines
  • Align all new Commission initiatives in line with the objectives of the Green Deal and promote innovation

The EU as a global leader

  • To continue to lead the international climate and biodiversity negotiations, further strengthening the international policy framework
  • Strengthen the EU’s Green Deal Diplomacy in cooperation with Member States
  • Bilateral efforts to induce partners to act and to ensure comparability of action and policies
  • Green Agenda for the Western Balkans

Working together – a European Climate Pact

  • Launch of the European Climate Pact
  • Proposal for an 8th Environmental Action Programme


There is an important interaction between agricultural and the environmental policies. The recently published Farm to Fork strategy is aiming to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly. Another important legislative framework is EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), that has been increasingly adapted for integrating environmental concerns and to serve sustainability purposes better.

On 12 May 2021 the EU action plan “Towards a Zero Pollution Ambition for air, water and soil“ was published

Water related legislation relevant to agricultural practices:

Other related: 

Air Quality

The EU strategies and legislation covers most, but not all elements of air quality assessment and management system. Certain issues are regulated by the EU and are binding for all Member States (e.g. definitions, air quality standards, rules for assessment, emission limit values, reporting, permitting procedures) while others are to be provided by national legislation (e.g. institutional setting or economic instruments). From the regulatory point of view, the Community legislation sets the basic standards mandatory for all Member States but often allows Member States to lay down more stringent requirements at the national level (provided that requirements do not create barrier to the Joint Internal Market).

The content of this section is based on the information materials developed in the framework of the project “Air Quality Governance in ENPI East Countries” (EuropeAid/129522/C/SER/Multi). More information on this project is available here

The 6th Environment Action Plan of the European Community 2002 – 2012 (6EAP) represents the basic general environmental policy document. Under the priority area Environment and Health, the following air quality related measures are envisaged:

  • improving the monitoring and assessment of air quality, including the deposition of pollutants, and the provision of information to the public, including the development and use of indicators;
  • strengthening a coherent and integrated policy on air pollution to cover priorities for further actions, the review and updating where appropriate of air quality standards and national emission ceilings with a view to reach the long term objective of no-exceedance of critical loads and levels and the development of better systems for gathering information, modelling and forecasting;
  • adopting appropriate measures concerning ground-level ozone and particulates;

As prepared in accordance with the 6th Action Plan, the 2005 Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution represents the main strategic document in the field of air quality assessment and management.

The priority impacts addressed by the Thematic Strategy are:

  • Health impact: Fine particles (PM2.5) and ozone,
  • Acidification (sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and ammonium) and Eutrophication (nitrogen deposition above the critical loads),
  • Non health impact of ground level ozone on vegetation.

The priority measures following the Thematic Strategy are:

  • Euro 5 standards for cars and vans,
  • Euro VI standards for HDV,
  • Revision of national emission ceilings,
  • Regulation of small scale combustion installations,
  • Reduction of ammonium emissions from agriculture,
  • Revision of air quality legislation.

The Thematic Strategy laid down the policy background for the “new generation” of legislation, namely new Air Quality Framework Directive (2008/50/EC) and new IPPC Directive (2010/75/EU) as well as for on-going revision of the National Emission Ceilings Directive (2001/81/EC).

On 18 December 2013, the European Commission adopted a Clean Air Policy Package. This package was based on an extensive review of the EU air policy to date. This policy package includes a Clean Air Programme for Europe, as well as a proposal for Directives on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants (the NEC Directive) and on limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from medium combustion plants (the MCP Directive).

More recently 8th Environment Action Programme, which will guide European environmental policy until 2030, aims to accelerate the transition to a climate-neutral, resource-efficient and regenerative economy, which gives back to the planet more than it takes. Two of the its six priority objectives are:

  • pursuing a zero-pollution ambition, including for air, water and soil and protecting the health and well-being of Europeans.
  • protecting, preserving and restoring biodiversity and enhancing natural capital,
  • notably air, water, soil, and forest, freshwater, wetland and marine ecosystems..

Moreover, as part of the 8th Environmental Action Programme, the new monitoring framework will be established, building on. It will be in full coherence with ongoing work streams following the EGD deliverables, such as new Biodiversity and Zero Pollution monitoring, as well as updated Circular Economy monitoring.

Air quality assessment

Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe (Air Quality Framework Directive) creates a framework for air quality assessment at the Community level and repeals and replaces the previous Air Quality Framework Directive (96/62/EC), three “daughter directives” (1999/30/EC, 2000/69/EC, 2002/3/EC) and Council Decision 97/101/EC. The main provisions are:

  • Air quality limit values for the protection of human health with mandatory compliance deadlines of 2005 or 2010 (sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, PM10, carbon monoxide, benzene and lead),
  • Critical levels for the protection of vegetation (sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides),
  • Target values for the protection of human health and of vegetation with conditional compliance deadline in 2010 for ground level ozone,
  • Alert thresholds for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone,
  • Information threshold for ozone,
  • Long-term objective for the protection of human health and of vegetation for ozone,
  • Quantified requirements for PM2.5 with gradual deadlines up to 2020 (national exposure reduction target, exposure concentration obligation, target value, limit value),
  • Detailed rules for air quality assessment (upper and lower assessment thresholds, measurement, modelling, combination, data quality objectives),
  • Detailed rules for measurement (number and siting of sampling points, reference methods),
  • Establishment of zones and agglomerations,
  • Preparation of air quality plans and short-term action plans and (including their detailed content),
  • Information to be available to the public.

Directive 2008/50/EC is supplemented by the Directive 2004/107/EC relating to arsenic, cadmium, mercury, nickel and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in ambient air, which provides for target values for As, Cd, Ni and benzo(a)pyren as marker of PAHs with conditional compliance deadline is 31.12.2012. In the case of Hg, no target value is laid down but measurements are required. Other provisions are similar to those provided for by the Directive 2008/50/EC (rules of assessment, zones and agglomerations, siting and number of sampling points, data quality objectives, reference methods). The difference between “limit values” and “target values” is presented in Box below:

Definitions for the purpose of air quality standards in the EU 

  • ‘limit value’ shall mean a level fixed on the basis of scientific knowledge, with the aim of avoiding, preventing or reducing harmful effects on human health and/or the environment as a whole, to be attained within a given period and not to be exceeded once attained;
  • ‘target value’ shall mean a level fixed with the aim of avoiding, preventing or reducing harmful effects on human health and/or the environment as a whole, to be attained where possible over a given period;
  • ‘long-term objective’ shall mean a level to be attained in the long term, save where not achievable through proportionate measures, with the aim of providing effective protection of human health and the environment;
  • ‘critical level’ shall mean a level fixed on the basis of scientific knowledge, above which direct adverse effects may occur on some receptors, such as trees, other plants or natural ecosystems but not on humans;
  • ‘alert threshold’ shall mean a level beyond which there is a risk to human health from brief exposure for the population as a whole and at which immediate steps are to be taken by the Member States;

Source: Directive 2008/50/EC

Air Quality Management

At the “macro-level”, the Directive (EU) 2016/2284 on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants reflects the UNECE CLRTAP Protocol to abate acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozone (updated version of  Gothenburg Protocol) and lays down national emission ceilings for relevant pollutants. These national emission ceilings are to be complied with by 2020 and 2030. In addition, the Member States are required to prepare regular emission inventories and projections and to adopt National Emission Reduction Programs.

At the “micro-level”, the Directive 2010/75/EU on Industrial emissions (IPPC) represents the major regulatory tool for certain important stationary sources (large combustion plants, waste incinerators, installations using organic solvents, installations within the scope of former IPPC Directive). This directive gradually repeals and replaces 7 directives: Directive 96/61/EC concerning integrated pollution prevention and control ( Directive 2008/1/EC), Directive 1999/13/EC on the limitation of emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in certain activities and installations (as amended by the Directive 2004/42/EC), Directive 2000/76/EC on the incineration of waste, Directive 2001/80/EC on the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from large combustion plants and three directives concerning titanium dioxide industry (78/176/EEC, 82/883/EEC and 92/112/EEC). The main provisions are:

  • Emission limit values and technical requirements for operation of large combustion plants (dust, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide), waste incinerators and co-incineration plants, installations using organic solvents, titanium dioxide industry,
  • Rules of integrated permitting for large combustion plants, waste incinerators an co-incineration plants, installations using organic solvents, titanium dioxide production installations and other important industrial and agricultural installations,
  • Best available techniques (BAT), BAT reference documents (BREFs), BAT conclusions.

Besides the IPPC directives, the Directive 2004/42/EC on the limitation of emissions of volatile organic compounds due to use of organic solvents in certain paints and varnishes lays down maximum VOC limit values for paints, varnishes and refinishing products and provides for labelling and for placing on the market of such products.

Several directives provide for quality of fuels, in particular:

  • Directive 2009/30/EC as regards the specification of petrol, diesel and gas-oil and introducing a mechanism to monitor and reduce greenhouse gas emission, amending Directives 98/70/EC and 1999/32/EC and repealing Directive 93/12/EEC,

– Directive 2003/17/EC relating to the quality of petrol and diesel fuels.

Distribution of petrol is regulated by the Directive 94/63/EC on the control of VOC emissions resulting from the storage of petrol and its distribution from terminals to service stations and Directive 2009/126/EC on Stage II petrol vapour recovery during refuelling of motor vehicles at service stations.

In the case of mobile sources, the emission from both road vehicles and non-road mobile machinery are regulated by the following main directives:

  • Directive 2005/55/EC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the measures to be taken against the emission of gaseous and particulate pollutants from compression-ignition engines for use in vehicles, and the emission of gaseous pollutants from positive-ignition engines fuelled with natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas for use in vehicles,
  • Directive 2002/88/EC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to measures against the emission of gaseous and particulate pollutants from internal combustion engines to be installed in non-road mobile machinery, amending Directive 97/68/EC.

In addition to the transposition of requirements laid down by the above mention directives, particular Member States adopt additional legal requirements to cover stationary sources which are not regulated at the Community level (mainly emission limit values for combustion plants below 50 MW and for industrial and agricultural installations). German Technical Instructions on Air Quality Control (TA Luft) is a leading example of such national “approach”.

Besides the directives which provide for air quality management explicitly, the implementation of certain directives in the field of climate change mitigation and energy efficiency may lead to considerable reduction of air pollution, in particular:

  • Directive 2010/31/EU on the energy performance of buildings,
  • Directive 2006/32/EC on energy end-use efficiency and energy services.

Finally, several “horizontal” legal acts are relevant from the point of view of air quality assessment and management, in particular:

  • Directive 85/337/EEC on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment, as amended by the Directives 97/11/EC, 2003/35/EC and 2009/31/EC (EIA),
  • Directive 2007/2/EC establishing an infrastructure for Spatial information in the European Community (INSPIRE),
  • Directive 2004/35/EC on environmental liability with regards to the prevention and remedying of environmental damage,
  • Directive 2001/41/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain programs and plans on the environment (SEA),
  • Directive 2003/35/EC providing for public participation in respect of the drawing up of certain plans and programs relating to the environment,
  • Directive 2003/4/EC on public access to environmental information.

The Community legislation provides for certain types of regulatory instruments, mostly of the command-and-control type, in particular:

  • air quality standards
  • emission limit values for certain pollutants and certain technologies (limited number of both)
  • generally binding technical requirements for the operation of certain stationary sources
  • automatic emission control measurements by installation’ operators
  • fuel quality standards
  • emission requirements for road vehicles and non-road machinery
  • standards for certain products.

The Community legislation provides for certain types of regulatory instruments, mostly of the command-and-control type, in particular:

  • air quality standards (see Box above)
  • emission limit values for certain pollutants and certain technologies (limited number of both)
  • generally binding technical requirements for the operation of certain stationary sources
  • automatic emission control measurements by installation’ operators
  • fuel quality standards
  • emission requirements for road vehicles and non-road machinery
  • standards for certain products.

Economic or market based instruments in the field of air quality management are not provided for at the Community level.

As for voluntary instruments, EMAS (Eco-management and Audit Scheme) or eco-labelling  may be relevant to air quality management.

The EU legislation provides especially for detailed rules of permitting and of enforcement without dealing with specific institutional arrangement. At the EU level, institutions active in implementation and enforcement are organized in the organization IMPEL (European Union Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law), which can be joint by any national, regional or local authority which is competent for the implementation or enforcement of EU environmental law, e.g. ministries, regulators, agencies and inspectorates, provided that the authority is based in a Member State of the European Union, in an acceding or candidate country of the European Union or in an EEA country. Current list of IMPEL members presented bellow shows the diversity of institutional arrangements in particular Member States:

  • Ministry (e.g. Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain)
  • National inspectorate (e.g. Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia)
  • Agency (e.g. Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, UK)
  • Other (e.g. Belgium)

Both EU as a whole and all Member states are parties to all relevant MEAs, mainly to the CLRTAP and all its protocols.


The European Commission published the EU Chemicals strategy for sustainability on 14 October 2020. It is part of the EU’s zero pollution ambition, which is a key commitment of the European Green Deal.

Other related legislation: 

Circular Economy and Waste Management

Circular economy is a regenerative system in which resource input and waste, emission, and energy leakage are minimised by slowing, closing, and narrowing energy and material loops. This can be achieved through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling. This is in contrast to a linear economy which is a ‘take, make, dispose’ model of production.

In 2015, European Commission adopted the first circular economy action plan.

In 2018, Commission adopted circular economy package that included communication on monitoring framework for the circular economy. And additional supporting legislation on plastics: 

A Europe-wide EU Strategy for Plastics in the Circular Economy  followed up by Directive on single-use plastics in 2019 (2019/904/EU)

In March 2020, European Commission adopted new circular economy action plan, including revised legislative proposals on waste.

Waste management in an environmentally sound manner and making use of the secondary materials they contain are key elements of the EU’s environmental policy. 

There are two main laws: Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) and other EU waste laws:

Climate Change

EU climate action and the European Green Deal

The EU is fighting climate change through ambitious policies at home and close cooperation with international partners. It is already on track to meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2020, and has put forward a plan to further cut emissions by at least 55% by 2030.

By 2050, Europe aims to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent.

Alongside reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the EU is also taking action to adapt to the impacts of climate change. By 2050, Europe aims to be a climate-resilient society.

EU was and is actively participating in all key climate negotiations including:

  • UN climate convention
  • Paris Agreement
  • Kyoto Protocol
  • UNFCCC meetings-
  1. Conferences of the Parties (COP)
  2. Meetings of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP)
  3. Subsidiary bodies
  4. Other international fora
  5. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
  6. G8 and G20
  7. Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF)
  8. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
  9. International Energy Agency (IEA).

More information here:

The EU has set itself an ambitious target to reach climate-neutrality by 2050, achieving an economy with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. This objective is at the heart of the European Green Deal and in line with the EU’s commitment to global climate action under the Paris Agreement. To accomplish it, climate and energy targets for 2020 and for 2030 are set.

For the year 2020 there are three set key targets:

  • 20% cut in greenhouse gas emissions (from 1990 levels);
  • 20% of EU energy from renewables;
  • 20% improvement in energy efficiency.

For the year 2030 there are three set key targets:

  • At least 40% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions (from 1990 levels);
  • At least 32% share for renewable energy;
  • At least 32.5% improvement in energy efficiency.

The EU is taking action in several areas to meet the targets – emissions trading system (ETS), national emission reduction, renewable energy, innovation and financing, energy efficiency.

The 40% greenhouse gas target is implemented by the EU Emissions Trading System, the Effort Sharing Regulation with Member States’ emissions reduction targets and the Land use, land use change and forestry Regulation. In this way, all sectors will contribute to the achievement of the 40% target by both reducing emissions and increasing removals.

All three pieces of climate legislation will now be updated with a view to implement the proposed at least 55% net greenhouse gas emissions reduction target. The Commission will come forward with the proposals by July 2021.

More information here:

The EU emissions trading system (EU ETS) operates in all  EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway). The EU ETS is a cornerstone of the EU’s policy to combat climate change and its key tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions cost-effectively. Set up in 2005, the EU ETS is the world’s first and biggest international emissions trading system, accounting for over three-quarters of international carbon trading. The EU ETS works on the ‘cap and trade’ principle.

A cap is set on the total amount of certain greenhouse gases that can be emitted by installations covered by the system. The cap is reduced over time so that total emissions fall. Within the cap, companies receive or buy emission allowances which they can trade with one another as needed. Trading brings flexibility that ensures emissions are cut where it costs least to do so. A robust carbon price also promotes investment in clean, low-carbon technologies.

To achieve climate neutrality in the EU by 2050, including the intermediate target of an at least 55% net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, the Commission is working on revision and possible expansion of the scope of the EU ETS.

More information here:


The Effort Sharing legislation establishes binding annual greenhouse gas emission targets for Member States for the periods 2013–2020 and 2021–2030. These targets concern emissions from most sectors not included in the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), such as transport, buildings, agriculture and waste.

The Effort Sharing Decision forms part of the EU’s climate and energy policy framework for 2020. It sets national emission targets for 2020, expressed as percentage changes from 2005 levels. It also lays down how the annual emission allocations (AEAs) in tonnes for each year from 2013 to 2020 are to be calculated and defines flexibilities.

The Regulation on binding annual emission reductions by Member States from 2021 to 2030 (Effort Sharing Regulation) adopted in 2018 is part of the Energy Union strategy and the EU’s implementation of the Paris Agreement. It sets national emission reduction targets for 2030 for all Member States, ranging from 0% to -40% from 2005 levels.

To achieve a climate-neutral EU by 2050 and the intermediate target of an at least 55% net reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, the Commission is proposing to revise Effort-sharing Regulation. Works on revision are currently in process.

More information here:


New technology development is essential to enable Europe to meet EU and global climate change objectives. It is also a major contributor towards the EU’s innovation, jobs and growth agenda.  New and innovative low carbon technologies help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create new employment and growth.

The Innovation Fund is one of the world’s largest funding programmes for the demonstration of innovative low-carbon technologies. It will provide around EUR 10 billion of support over 2020-2030 for the commercial demonstration of innovative low-carbon technologies, aiming to bring to the market industrial solutions to decarbonise Europe and support its transition to climate neutrality.

The goal is to help businesses invest in clean energy and industry to boost economic growth, create local future-proof jobs and reinforce European technological leadership on a global scale.

This is done through calls for large and small-scale projects focusing on:

  • innovative low-carbon technologies and processes in energy-intensive industries, including products substituting carbon-intensive ones
  • carbon capture and utilisation (CCU)
  • construction and operation of carbon capture and storage (CCS)
  • innovative renewable energy generation
  • energy storage

More information here:


Transport represents almost a quarter of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions and is the main cause of air pollution in cities. The transport sector has not seen the same gradual decline in emissions as other sectors: emissions only started to decrease in 2007 and still remain higher than in 1990. Within this sector, road transport is by far the biggest emitter accounting for more than 70% of all GHG emissions from transport in 2014.

With the global shift towards a low-carbon, circular economy already underway, the Commission’s low-emission mobility strategy, aims to ensure Europe stays competitive and able to respond to the increasing mobility needs of people and goods. By midcentury, greenhouse gas emissions from transport will need to be at least 60% lower than in 1990 and be firmly on the path towards zero.

More information here:

EU legislation to protect the ozone layer is among the strictest and most advanced in the world. The international community established the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer in 1987. Policies put in place by the EU and its Member States often go beyond the requirements of the Montreal Protocol.

The Ozone Regulation is the cornerstone of EU legislation to protect the ozone layer.  Objectives of the Ozone Regulation:

  • Fulfil the obligations of the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer to which the EU and its Member States are parties;
  • Where technically and economically feasible, ensure higher level of ambition in the EU.

This is achieved by:

  • Prohibiting all uses of ozone-depleting substances for which alternatives are feasible;
  • Controlling and monitoring exempted uses of ozone-depleting substances where alternatives are not feasible;
  • Controlling and monitoring other ozone-depleting substances which are not regulated under the Montreal Protocol but have the most significant impact on the ozone layer.

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Forests and agricultural lands currently cover more than three-quarters of the EU’s territory and naturally hold large stocks of carbon, preventing its escape into the atmosphere. Draining of peat land, felling of forest or ploughing up grassland generates emissions, while actions such as afforestation or conversion of arable land into grassland can protect carbon stocks or result in carbon sequestration. EU Member States have to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions from land use, land use change or forestry are offset by at least an equivalent removal of CO₂ from the atmosphere in the period 2021 to 2030.The Regulation on the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions and removals from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) implements the agreement between EU that all sectors should contribute to the EU’s 2030 emission reduction target, including the land use sector. Also there has been established the REDD+ initiative at international level to combat deforestation and forest degradation in the tropics, where the vast majority of forest destruction takes place. REDD+ also has major implications for agriculture (the source of another 12% of global GHG emissions), rural development and adaptation to climate change in some of the most vulnerable parts of the world.

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Fluorinated gases (‘F-gases’) are a family of man-made gases used in a range of industrial applications. Because they do not damage the atmospheric ozone layer, they are often used as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances. However, F-gases are powerful greenhouse gases, with a global warming effect up to 23 000 times greater than carbon dioxide (CO2), and their emissions are rising strongly. The European Union is therefore taking regulatory action to control F-gases as part of its policy to combat climate change. By 2030 it will cut the EU’s F-gas emissions by two-thirds compared with 2014 levels. The expected cumulative emission savings are 1.5 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent by 2030 and 5 gigatonnes by 2050.

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Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. Adaptation strategies are needed at all levels of administration: at the local, regional, national, EU and also the international level. Due to the varying severity and nature of climate impacts between regions in Europe, most adaptation initiatives will be taken at the regional or local levels. The ability to cope and adapt also differs across populations, economic sectors and regions within Europe. he Commission adopted a new EU Adaptation Strategy on 24 February 2021. The strategy is a key part of the European Green Deal, and it aims to increase and accelerate the EU’s efforts to protect nature, people and livelihoods against the unavoidable impacts of climate change.

The EU works on three levels to advance adaptation to climate change:

  • The EU ensures that all its own policies and actions work towards increasing Europe’s resilience to the impacts of climate change.
  • The EU supports national, regional and local authorities as well as partners in the private sector to adapt to climate change.
  • Globally, the EU supports international climate resilience and preparedness by scaling up international finance and encouraging stronger global engagement and exchanges on adaptation.

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The EU budget supports EU climate objectives through most budget programmes. DG Climate Action focusses on two aspects:

  • Supporting the lead services in integrating climate action into the various EU spending programmes, including the achievement of the target of making at least 20% of the EU budget climate related;
  • Managing a €864 million programme (LIFE climate action) to develop and implement innovative ways to respond to climate challenges.

In addition to the EU budget resources, DG CLIMA also manages the NER 300 programme for innovative low-carbon energy demonstration projects.

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At European level a comprehensive package of policy measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has been initiated through the European Climate Change Programme (ECCP). Each of the EU Member States has also put in place its own domestic actions that build on the ECCP measures or complement them.

First European Climate Change Programme. The European Commission established the ECCP in 2000 to help identify the most environmentally effective and most cost-effective policies and measures that can be taken at European level to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The immediate goal was to help ensure that the EU meets its target for reducing emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. This requires the countries that were EU members before 2004 to cut their combined emissions of greenhouse gases to 8% below the 1990 level by 2012.

Second European Climate Change Programme. The Second European Climate Change Programme (ECCP II) has explored further cost-effective options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in synergy with the EU’s Lisbon strategy’ for increasing economic growth and job creation. New working groups have been established, covering carbon capture and geological storage, CO2 emissions from light-duty vehicles, emissions from aviation, and adaptation to the effects of climate change.

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Horizontal legislation

The horizontal sector is concerned with environmental legislation on various matters which cut across different environmental subject areas, as opposed to regulations which apply to a specific sector, e.g. water or air. Rather than to regulate a specific area, these items of legislation are more procedural. They provide for methods and mechanisms aimed at improving decision making and legislative development and implementation. 

Product policy 


In March 2020, the European Commission adopted the European Industrial Strategy, a plan for a future-ready economy as a follow up to the Green Deal commitments. 

Directive on medium combustion plants (MCPD)

Directive 1994/63/EC and Directive 2009/126/EC on petrol storage & distribution

Marine and coastal environment

The EU and its Member States have responded to marine ecosystem change and broader marine environmental challenges with a wide range of policies and initiatives aiming to protect coastal and marine ecosystems. The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) is the main legislative framework to protect the marine ecosystem and biodiversity upon which our health and marine-related economic and social activities depend.

Other legislation that is contributing to the health of marine ecosystems: 

Nature and biodiversity

In May 2020, The European Commission has adopted the new EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and an associated Action Plan (annex) – a comprehensive, ambitious, long-term plan for protecting nature and reversing the degradation of ecosystems. 

It aims to put Europe’s biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030 with benefits for people, the climate and the planet. 

The main pillars of nature and biodiversity policies are the following:

Other legislation:


Emissions of noise at source have been regulated in the EU for many years. More recently, measures to control noise from operations and airports, and the regulation of industrial facilities’ noise levels have broadened the control of environmental noise.

The introduction of the Environmental Noise Directive (END) in 2002 sought to monitor the effectiveness of EU emission controls by requiring the assessment of environmental noise. 

Sustainable finance

In the EU’s policy context, sustainable finance is understood as finance to support economic growth while reducing pressures on the environment and taking into account social and governance aspects.

On 21 April 2021, an ambitious and comprehensive package of measures to help improve the flow of money towards sustainable activities across the European Union was adopted. More information on Sustainable finance package can be found here.   


Reducing the adverse effects of transport is an important EU policy goal. The main strands of activity are shifting transport to the least polluting and most efficient modes, deploying more sustainable transport technology, fuels and infrastructure, and ensuring that transport prices fully reflect adverse environment and health impacts.

From 2016, the ‘European Strategy for low-emission mobility’ has identified a more efficient transport system, the rapid deployment of low-emission fuels and the transition towards low- and zero-emission vehicles as priority areas for action. 

Here are the main legislative documents when it comes to transport and environment:


This section provides a brief overview of the legislation that has been developed for the water quality assessment, standards and management system in the EU. The following key legal documents are in the cornerstone of the water management system:

These are described in more detail below.

Information in this section is adopted from the European Commission website.

On 23 October 2000, the “Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a framework for the Community action in the field of water policy” or, in short, the EU Water Framework Directive (or even shorter the WFD) was finally adopted.

The outline below illustrates the key elements of the Directive.

A single system of water management: River basin management 

The best model for a single system of water management is management by river basin – the natural geographical and hydrological unit – instead of according to administrative or political boundaries. Initiatives taken forward by the States concerned for the Maas, Schelde or Rhine river basins have served as positive examples of this approach, with their cooperation and joint objective-setting across Member State borders, or in the case of the Rhine even beyond the EU territory.

Co-ordination of objectives – good status for all waters by a set deadline 

There are a number of objectives in respect of which the quality of water is protected. The key ones at European level are general protection of the aquatic ecology, specific protection of unique and valuable habitats, protection of drinking water resources, and protection of bathing water. All these objectives must be integrated for each river basin. It is clear that the last three – special habitats, drinking water areas and bathing water – apply only to specific bodies of water (those supporting special wetlands; those identified for drinking water abstraction; those generally used as bathing areas). In contrast, ecological protection should apply to all waters: the central requirement of the Treaty is that the environment be protected to a high level in its entirety.

Surface water

Ecological protection

For this reason, a general requirement for ecological protection, and a general minimum chemical standard, was introduced to cover all surface waters. These are the two elements “good ecological status” and “good chemical status”. Good ecological status is defined in terms of the quality of the biological community, the hydrological characteristics and the chemical characteristics. As no absolute standards for biological quality can be set which apply across the Community, because of ecological variability, the controls are specified as allowing only a slight departure from the biological community which would be expected in conditions of minimal anthropogenic impact. A set of procedures for identifying that point for a given body of water, and establishing particular chemical or hydromorphological standards to achieve it, is provided, together with a system for ensuring that each Member State interprets the procedure in a consistent way (to ensure comparability). The system is somewhat complicated, but this is inevitable given the extent of ecological variability, and the large number of parameters, which must be dealt with.

Chemical protection

Good chemical status is defined in terms of compliance with all the quality standards established for chemical substances at European level. The Directive also provides a mechanism for renewing these standards and establishing new ones by means of a prioritisation mechanism for hazardous chemicals. This will ensure at least a minimum chemical quality, particularly in relation to very toxic substances, everywhere in the Community.

Other uses

As mentioned above, the other uses or objectives for which water is protected apply in specific areas, not everywhere. Therefore, the obvious way to incorporate them is to designate specific protection zones within the river basin which must meet these different objectives. The overall plan of objectives for the river basin will then require ecological and chemical protection everywhere as a minimum, but where more stringent requirements are needed for particular uses, zones will be established and higher objectives set within them.

There is one other category of uses which does not fit into this picture. It is the set of uses which adversely affect the status of water but which are considered essential on their own terms – they are overriding policy objectives. The key examples are flood protection and essential drinking water supply, and the problem is dealt with by providing derogations from the requirement to achieve good status for these cases, so long as all appropriate mitigation measures are taken. Less clear-cut cases are navigation and power generation, where the activity is open to alternative approaches (transport can be switched to land, other means of power generation can be used). Derogations are provided for those cases also, but subject to three tests: that the alternatives are technically impossible, that they are prohibitively expensive, or that they produce a worse overall environmental result.


Chemical status

The case of groundwater is somewhat different. The presumption in relation to groundwater should broadly be that it should not be polluted at all. For this reason, setting chemical quality standards may not be the best approach, as it gives the impression of an allowed level of pollution to which Member States can fill up. A very few such standards have been established at European level for particular issues (nitrates, pesticides and biocides), and these must always be adhered to. But for general protection, we have taken another approach. It is essentially a precautionary one. It comprises a prohibition on direct discharges to groundwater, and (to cover indirect discharges) a requirement to monitor groundwater bodies so as to detect changes in chemical composition, and to reverse any antropogenically induced upward pollution trend. Taken together, these should ensure the protection of groundwater from all contamination, according to the principle of minimum anthropogenic impact.

Quantitative status

Quantity is also a major issue for groundwater. Briefly, the issue can be put as follows. There is only a certain amount of recharge into a groundwater each year, and of this recharge, some is needed to support connected ecosystems (whether they be surface water bodies, or terrestrial systems such as wetlands). For good management, only that portion of the overall recharge not needed by the ecology can be abstracted – this is the sustainable resource, and the Directive limits abstraction to that quantity.

One of the innovations of the Directive is that it provides a framework for integrated management of groundwater and surface water for the first time at European level.

Co-ordination of measures 

There are a number of measures taken at Community level to tackle particular pollution problems. Key examples are the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and the Nitrates Directive, which together tackle the problem of eutrophication (as well as health effects such as microbial pollution in bathing water areas and nitrates in drinking water); and the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive, which deals with chemical pollution. The aim is to co-ordinate the application of these so as to meet the objectives established above. This is done as follows.

First of all, the objectives are established for the river basin as outlined in the previous section. Then an analysis of human impact is conducted so as to determine how far from the objective each body of water is. At this point, the effect on the problems of each body of water of full implementation of all existing legislation is considered. If the existing legislation solves the problem, well and good, and the objective of the framework Directive is attained. However, if it does not, the Member State must identify exactly why, and design whatever additional measures are needed to satisfy all the objectives established. These might include stricter controls on polluting emissions from industry and agriculture, or urban waste water sources, say. This should ensure full co-ordination.

The river basin management plan 

All the elements described above must be set out in a plan for the river basin. The plan is a detailed account of how the objectives set for the river basin (ecological status, quantitative status, chemical status and protected area objectives) are to be reached within the timescale required. The plan has to include all the results of the above analysis: the river basin’s characteristics, a review of the impact of human activity on the status of waters in the basin, estimation of the effect of existing legislation and the remaining “gap” to meeting these objectives; and a set of measures designed to fill the gap. One additional component is that an economic analysis of water use within the river basin must be carried out. This is to enable there to be a rational discussion on the cost-effectiveness of the various possible measures. It is essential that all interested parties are fully involved in this discussion, and indeed in the preparation of the river basin management plan as a whole.

Public participation 

In getting our waters clean, the role of citizens and citizens’ groups will be crucial.

There are two main reasons for an extension of public participation. The first is that the decisions on the most appropriate measures to achieve the objectives in the river basin management plan will involve balancing the interests of various groups. The economic analysis requirement is intended to provide a rational basis for this, but it is essential that the process is open to the scrutiny of those who will be affected.

The second reason concerns enforceability. The greater the transparency in the establishment of objectives, the imposition of measures, and the reporting of standards, the greater the care Member States will take to implement the legislation in good faith, and the greater the power of the citizens to influence the direction of environmental protection, whether through consultation or, if disagreement persists, through the complaints procedures and the courts.

Getting the prices right 

The need to conserve adequate supplies of a resource for which demand is continuously increasing is also one of the drivers behind what is arguably one of the Directives’s most important innovations – the introduction of pricing. Adequate water pricing acts as an incentive for the sustainable use of water resources and thus helps to achieve the environmental objectives under the Directive.

Member States are required to ensure that the price charged to water consumers – such as for the abstraction and distribution of fresh water and the collection and treatment of waste water – reflects the true costs.

The Drinking Water Directive (Council Directive 98/83/EC of 3 November 1998 on the quality of water intended for human consumption) concerns the quality of water intended for human consumption. Its objective is to protect human health from adverse effects of any contamination of water intended for human consumption by ensuring that it is wholesome and clean.

The Drinking Water Directive applies to:

  • all distribution systems serving more than 50 people or supplying more than 10 cubic meter per day, but also distribution systems serving less than 50 people/supplying less than 10 cubic meter per day if the water is supplied as part of an economic activity;
  • drinking water from tankers;
  • drinking water in bottles or containers;
  • water used in the food-processing industry, unless the competent national authorities are satisfied that the quality of the water cannot affect the wholesomeness of the foodstuff in its finished form.

The Directive laid down the essential quality standards at EU level. A total of 48 microbiological, chemical and indicator parameters must be monitored and tested regularly. In general, World Health Organization’s guidelines for drinking water and the opinion of the Commission’s Scientific Advisory Committee are used as the scientific basis for the quality standards in the drinking water.

Principles laid in the Directive are:

  • Planning
  • Regulation (obligations of the Member States and the Commission)
  • Monitoring
  • Information and Reporting

On 1 February 2018 the European Commission adopted a proposal for a revised drinking water directive to improve the quality of drinking water and provide greater access and information to citizens.

Main elements:

  • The proposal updates existing safety standards in line with latest recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and ensure our drinking water is safe to use for the decades to come.
  • It will empower authorities to better deal with risks to water supply and engage with polluters.
  • It will empower consumers by giving them much more information and oversight over the efficiency and effectiveness of water suppliers.
  • It contributes to the transition to a circular economy. It will help EU countries to manage drinking water in a resource-efficient and sustainable manner so as to reduce energy use and unnecessary water loss. It will also help reduce the number of plastic bottles following increased confidence in tap water, improved access and promotion of use of drinking water.

Since the 1970s, the EU has had rules in place to safeguard public health and clean bathing waters. The revised Bathing Water Directive (BWD) of 2006 updated and simplified these rules. It requires Members States to monitor and assess the bathing water for at least two parameters of (faecal) bacteria. In addition, they must inform the public about bathing water quality and beach management, through the so-called bathing water profiles. These profiles contain for instance information on the kind of pollution and sources that affect the quality of the bathing water and are a risk to bathers’ health (such as waste water discharges).

Directive 2007/60/EC on the assessment and management of flood risks entered into force on 26 November 2007. This Directive now requires Member States to assess if all water courses and coast lines are at risk from flooding, to map the flood extent and assets and humans at risk in these areas and to take adequate and coordinated measures to reduce this flood risk. With this Directive also reinforces the rights of the public to access this information and to have a say in the planning process.

The Council Directive 91/271/EEC concerning urban waste-water treatment was adopted on 21 May 1991. Its objective is to protect the environment from the adverse effects of urban waste water discharges and discharges from certain industrial sectors (Annex III of the Directive) and concerns the collection, treatment and discharge of:

  • Domestic waste water
  • Mixture of waste water
  • Waste water from certain industrial sectors (Annex III of the Directive)

Four main principles are laid down in the Directive:

  1. Planning
  2. Regulation
  3. Monitoring
  4. Information and reporting

Specifically the Directive requires:

  • The collection and treatment of waste water in all agglomerations of >2000 population equivalents (p.e.);
  • Secondary treatment of all discharges from agglomerations of > 2000 p.e., and more advanced treatment for agglomerations >10 000 population equivalents in designated sensitive areas and their catchments;
  • A requirement for pre-authorisation of all discharges of urban wastewater, of discharges from the food-processing industry and of industrial discharges into urban wastewater collection systems;
  • Monitoring of the performance of treatment plants and receiving waters; and
  • Controls of sewage sludge disposal and re-use, and treated waste water re-use whenever it is appropriate.

Directive 2010/75/EU on industrial emissions (IED out the main principles for the permitting and control of installations based on an integrated approach and the application of best available techniques (BAT).  BAT is the most effective techniques to achieve a high level of environmental protection, taking into account the costs and benefits. The Directive sets our requirements also for control and minimisation of emissions into water.

The Nitrates Directive of 1991 (91/676/EEC) aims to protect water quality across Europe by preventing nitrates from agricultural sources polluting ground and surface waters and by promoting the use of good farming practices.

The Nitrates Directive forms an integral part of the Water Framework Directive and is one of the key instruments in the protection of waters against agricultural pressures.


  1. Identification of water polluted, or at risk of pollution, such as:
  • surface freshwaters, in particular those used or intended for the abstraction of drinking water, containing or that could contain (if no action is taken to reverse the trend) a concentration of more than 50 mg/l of nitrates
  • groundwater containing or that could contain (if no action is taken to reverse the trend)  more than 50 mg/l of nitrates
  • freshwater bodies, estuaries, coastal waters and marine waters, found to be eutrophic or that could become eutrophic (if no action is taken to reverse the trend)
  1. Designation as “Nitrate Vulnerable Zones”(NVZs) of:
  • areas of land which drain into polluted waters or waters at risk of pollution and which contribute to nitrate pollution; or
  • Member States can also choose to apply measures (see below) to the whole territory (instead of designating NVZs).
  1. Establishment of Codes of Good Agricultural Practice to be implemented by farmers on a voluntary basis. Codes should include:
  • measures limiting the periods when nitrogen fertilizers can be applied on land in order to target application to periods when crops require nitrogen and prevent nutrient losses to waters;
  • measures limiting the conditions for fertilizer application (on steeply sloping ground, frozen or snow covered ground, near water courses, etc.) to prevent nitrate losses from leaching and run-off;
  • requirement for a minimum storage capacity for livestock manure; and
  • crop rotations, soil winter cover, and catch crops to prevent nitrate leaching and run-off during wet seasons.
  1. Establishment of action programmes to be implemented by farmers within NVZs on a compulsory basis. These programmes must include:
  • measures already included in Codes of Good Agricultural Practice, which become mandatory in NVZs; and
  • other measures, such as limitation of fertilizer application (mineral and organic), taking into account crop needs, all nitrogen inputs and soil nitrogen supply, maximum amount of livestock manure to be applied (corresponding to 170 kg nitrogen /hectare/year).
  1. National monitoring and reporting. Every four years Member States are required to report on:
  • Nitrates concentrations in groundwaters and surface waters;
  • Eutrophication  of surface waters;
  • Assessment of the impact of action programme(s) on water quality and agricultural practices;
  • Revision of NVZs and action programme(s)
  • Estimation of future trends in water quality.

Reports and studies

  • The 4-yearly reports produced by the Member States are used as the basis for a 4-yearly report by the European Commission on the implementation of the Directive.
  • In order to assist Member States in implementing the Directive and to extend scientific knowledge on best farming practices for protection of water quality and minimisation of nitrogen losses from agriculture, DG Environment also commissions studies on different aspects of the Nitrates Directive.