Renewables boost much-needed, but weakening of environmental safeguards inexcusable
The European Parliament plenary today approved an updated Renewable Energy Directive setting a new renewable target of 42.5 per cent by 2030. The changes give a much-needed boost to small-scale solar and heat pumps, but undermine existing environmental legislation. Some renewables will be allowed to skip crucial environmental assessments and more damaging projects will be allowed in the EU’s protected natural areas.
12 September 2023
Reaction to today’s European Parliament vote on the Renewable Energy Directive
The amended directive includes controversial measures exempting renewable energy projects in so-called ‘renewables acceleration areas’ from being subject to project-level environmental impact assessments – and the accompanying public consultations – under certain conditions. This includes highly damaging projects such as forest biomass or hydropower plants.
The new rules also see all renewable energy projects presumed to be of ‘overriding public interest and serving public health and safety’, making it easier to build damaging projects in protected Natura 2000 sites and rivers in good condition.
The changes benefit only renewables projects causing significant environmental harm, as low-impact ones anyway do not require full environmental assessments and can be built in Natura 2000 sites.
Currently, only if a project is likely to significantly harm a Natura 2000 site it is generally not allowed to go ahead. There are exceptions, which should be used sparingly. But the new changes make the exceptions into the rule by presuming that renewables are of ‘overriding public interest’.
Pippa Gallop, Southeast Europe Energy Policy Officer at CEE Bankwatch Network – ‘Sustainable forms of renewable energy undoubtedly need to further speed up in the EU, but scapegoating environmental safeguards is unnecessary, unjustifiable and counterproductive – the biodiversity and climate emergencies must be tackled together.’
‘The amended Directive does tackle some of the real barriers to renewables such as poor spatial planning, lack of digitalisation and understaffing of permitting authorities, but undermining environmental and public participation safeguards is likely to increase public opposition to projects, not decrease it. There are still plenty of low-hanging fruits that need to be picked instead, such as introducing a legal requirement to install solar on new buildings.’
Andrey Ralev, Biodiversity Campaigner at CEE Bankwatch Network – ‘The new rules undermine decades of hard-won EU environmental safeguards and would be a step backwards in the mission to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030. The revised directive allows more projects to go forward in areas where they should be prohibited, such as Natura 2000 sites with priority species, rivers with good water status, and areas crucial for bird populations.’
Campaigners also highlight the negative precedent set by the legislation for other sectors. The European Commission’s proposal for a Critical Raw Materials Act, for example, also contains similar provisions on ‘overriding public interest’ for ‘strategic projects’ in the mining sector. 
 Article 7 of the European Commission’s proposal for a Critical Raw Materials Regulation, 16 March 2023.
Southeast Europe Energy Policy Officer
CEE Bankwatch Network
+385 99 755 9787
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