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Sustainable is the Keyword from Lisbon

The Lisbon Treaty lifts the EU's game on climate change

Climate change is explicitly referred to in the Lisbon Treaty as a responsibility of the EU. Article 191:

"...promoting measures at international level to deal with regional or worldwide environmental problems, and in particular combating climate change".

In what way, if any, is this a change from previous agreements?

Although the initial Treaty of the European Union (TEU, Rome, 1957) had no specific environmental policy, it has since accumulated over 500 Directives, Regulations and Decisions concerning the environment. In fact, the protection of the environment has been a core part of EU policies since the 1987 SEA (Single European Act) created the legal basis for EU environmental policy.

UN sustainable development Goal 7
The UN Sustainable Development goals are incorporated in EU policies

The leadership role in international cooperation for protecting the global environment has been taken up by the European Union. The EU's Seventh Environmental Action Programme and the Lisbon Treaty are strong statements of the EU's commitments to international agreements for equitable management of the global commons.

Article 37 of the Lisbon Treaty

'A high level of environmental protection and the improvement of the quality of the environment must be integrated into the policies of the Union and ensured in accordance with the principle of sustainable development.'

Commentators point out that an obligation to maintain a 'high level' of environmental protection does not automatically award a 'right' to citizens to seek legal redress of perceived failure of governments and institutions to meet their obligations towards the environment. The recent case in Holland, in which a class action was brought against the Dutch government for failing to do enough to counter climate change, is an important precedent for how this principle will be applied in practice.

Article 3

‘The Union shall establish an internal market. It shall work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. It shall promote scientific and technological advance.’

This article emphasises that sustainability relates to economic, social as well as environmental development. Where the Lisbon Treaty differs from previous wordings is the external relations aspect of sustainable development.

Rebecca Harms of the Greens-EFA (European Free Alliance) at Budapest
Rebecca Harms of the Greens-EFA. EU environment policies set high standards for itself but also serve the world as an example.

With this policy statement, Europe has put itself forward as a world leader in sustainable development.

Read a biography about Rebecca Harms on

Article by Andrew Bone, January 29, 2016

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