The Court recognized the practical effect of having certain nations applying the Union standard in regard to an environmental protection and others not applying them. This recognition resulted in the Court's developing a principle to by-pass this discrepancy. This principle known as "the direct effect" has been applied by the Court in cases where the provisions of the directive are (i) sufficiently precise and clear, (ii) the alleged rights are unconditional, (iii) the provisions thoroughly define the legal relationship (implementation and application requirements), and, (iv) the time allowed to a Member State for implementation of the directive has expired. The practical effect of this application by the Court is to afford parties to any litigation the full legal rights set forth in the Union directive even though the specific nation involved has not enacted the directive as controlling law. Unfortunately, the Court of Justice has used the "direct effect" rule only in cases involving a citizen and a member nation and only when it benefitted the citizen and not the state. In essence, it has allowed the citizen to elect what application of the law he or she would prefer.
Beyond the authority of the Union to enter into environmental protection agreements with foreign nations and the authority of the members nations to enter into their own such agreements there is a third agency involved in the environmental arena inside Europe. This additional agency, known as the European Environment Agency, has been in existence since 1990. The purpose of this agency, which has no enforcement authority either inside or outside the borders of Europe, is to physically collect and analyze data regarding a variety of environmental concerns. Because the agency has no enforcement authority it is limited to providing technical and scientific support to the Union and its various member nations. In time, it is expected that this agency will be empowered with enforcement authority similar to that possessed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency but said action is still in the future.
As previously noted, the European Union has been active in the area of environmental protection since the inception of the Union. Over the years the Union has issued hundreds of regulations relative to the protection of the environment covering areas such as fish and wildlife, water and air quality, waste management, chemical use and disposal, and the use of nuclear energy. These directives also include the financing of educational programs, the formation of consumer advocacy organizations, and the organization of agencies intended to promote and/or implement specific sectors of the Union's environmental policy.
The European Union's role in the enactment, signing, and ratification of the Kyoto Protocols was a significant. Without the encouragement of the Union and it applying political pressure to a number of participating members who were less than enthusiastic regarding some or all of the provisions there is little likelihood that the international body would have agreed to even the provisions that were contained in the Kyoto Protocols. The European Union came into the Kyoto meeting expecting far stricter provisions but quickly adopted a more moderate position to ensure that they could get some guarantee of a movement forward relative to greenhouse emissions. Once the Union members left the Kyoto meeting they began immediately to work on adopting stricter standards within the European community. Under the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, signing nations were to attempt to reduce gas house emissions to 5.2% below the 1990 levels by 2012. The European Union nations, however, since the Kyoto Protocol have enacted legislation calling for its member nations to reduce their emissions by 20% of the 1990 levels. The Union's goal, consistent with its attitude for a number of years, was to now get the "rest of world to get on the same track," said EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas (Dimas).
In their effort to encourage similar compliance by other developed nations such as the United States and Australia the European Union has offered to deepen its cut even further. Some have suggested that the Union might raise its emission cuts to 30%. The Union has also pledged to assist developing nations such as China or India and to encourage other developed nations to assist as well if the developing nations will agree to decrease their emissions as well.
Since its signing and ratification the Kyoto Protocol has met with both support and criticism. From the point-of-view of most of the European community and the European Union the Kyoto Protocol did not go far enough in setting environmental protection standards while the other nations such as Japan and the Netherlands feel that the standards are too stringent and that what the EU feels is a small step is actually too long a stride. The debate regarding this matter can be expected to continue for some time but the Union is insistent that certain nations, specifically China, the United States, India, Japan, Russia, and Brazil should, because they are predicted to be the world's leading economies of the future should play a significant role in any future global emission's restrictions (Purushothamen).
In the early 1990's climate control and global warming were issues receiving considerable international attention. The Berlin Wall had fallen, Communism had ceased to be a significant political influence, and nations in Eastern Europe were eager to join the European community in order to promote their infant economies. A new era of cooperation had developed as evidenced by the growth of the European Union to 27 members. The aftermath of 9/11 changed everything as the world turned its attention toward security issues. Environmental issues took a back seat and presently remain there as little attention is being afforded to global warming, climate change or waste management.
The European Union remains strong in its support for environmental protections. The Union continues to encourage other developed nations to join the Union in reducing green house emissions and to do so in an aggressive manner. The Union is insistent that emissions should be kept as low as possible through a cooperative effort between developed nations and developing nations but the Union leadership is also pragmatic enough to recognize that such cooperation is not likely due to the lack of an international agreement involving many of the world's leading economic nations including the United States and China.
With the changing political landscape and world economy that is struggling environmental matters are receiving less attention. The European Union has attempted to maintain a leadership role in regard to the environment but the cost of doing so is becoming prohibitive and causing the Union some political difficulties as they continue to insist that certain developed nations contribute more significantly to the green house emission battle. Someone besides the Union must also take a lead but the most likely candidates such as the United States and China have failed to do so.
The Kyoto agreement is due to expire in 2012 and a significant number of nations (150) have agreed to enter into further discussions on restriction beyond Kyoto. Most of the nations have expressed a willingness to bind themselves to strict regulations but have not agreed to any regulations that include enforcement procedures. Only the European Union has voluntarily agreed to restrictions beyond green house emissions by agreeing to work on legislation curbing aircraft emissions. The United States, meanwhile, is working on brokering its own deal outside the precedent set by the United Nations Convention on Climate Change with several Asian nations.
Unfortunately for environmentalists recent events do not bode well for their efforts at environmental protections. The events surrounding the Japanese earthquake, specifically the Fukushima power plant meltdown, suggest that the world may retreat suddenly to the use of dirty power such as coal and hydrocarbons. Nuclear power as a clean alternative will be placed under increased scrutiny. In light of the fact that Japan was already balking at the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol, this does not make the negotiations for a new agreement any easier.
The United States, Russia, and Japan have been opposed to the Kyoto Protocols and have fought the expansion of any stricter regulations. What occurs once the Protocols expire is unknown at the present time? Several of the developed countries continue to object to the failure of certain developing countries such as China and India to be subject to the same restrictions as the developing countries. Working out this disagreement is essential to any long-term agreement. The after effects of the Japanese earthquake will make reaching such an agreement more difficult.
The European Union has been a leader in environmental protection for several decades and it remains so. Even in light of recent developments the…