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Commissioner Sinkevičius: Unexploited RES potential in Cyprus – Why are you being taken to the EU Court of Justice

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    Important steps in Cyprus in green investments, there is untapped RES potential, says Sinkevičius in KYPE – Why are you being taken to the Court of Justice of the EU &#8211? On the island on Monday

    Cyprus's contribution to the EU's renewable energy targets “so far is significantly lower than what is foreseen by EU legislation”, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginios Sinkevitsius, tells CYPE. >noting, however, that the country has taken “significant steps” to implement green reforms and investments, and underlining that in the country “there is an untapped potential of renewable energy sources”, for the utilization of which the revised national Recovery and Resilience Plan is an important tool.

    In an interview he gave to KYPE in view of his visit to Cyprus on Monday, Mr. Sinkevičius also referred to the Commission's decision on referral of Cyprus to the Court of Justice of the EU for insufficient compliance with the provisions of the regulations on Natura areas,and the ongoing separate process for developments in such areas despite some progress being made, stressing that “conservation areas will not function properly unless appropriate measures are implemented”. However, according to the Commissioner, tourism development and environmental protection are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

    He also spoke at length about the Common Fisheries Policy and how the sector can adapt to environmental challenges, while ensuring sustainability for those involved in fishing professionally.

    Mr. Sinkevičius also referred to the role of the EU in supporting bi-communal environmental cooperation in Cyprus through technical assistance and financing, as well as projects with an environmental footprint that benefit both sides.

    The Commissioner also answered questions for the prevention of increased forest fires due to climate change, reforestation policies, but also air pollution and ways to deal with the more frequent fall of dust in Cyprus.

    Renewable energy sources

    Commenting on the imminent preparation of the Cyprus National Energy and Climate Plan (NEPC), the Commissioner recalled that the Commission has published its assessment and draft recommendations in December, and that Member States must submit their final plans by June 2024.

    Asked how he assesses the development of renewable energy sources in Cyprus, Mr. Sinkevičius replied that the country “has recently taken important steps towards the implementation of reforms and investments to accelerate the development of renewables”.

    “However, the contribution to the EU's renewable energy targets so far is significantly lower than what is foreseen by EU law,” he added.

    According to the Commissioner, an important tool for Cyprus will be the updated €1.22 billion Recovery and Resilience Plan which was approved by the Commission in the autumn and 45% of which funds are related to the green transition, and measures that regulate and facilitate the participation of individual consumers in the transition to renewables.

    “There is an untapped renewable energy potential in the country and Cyprus should make the most of the various funding sources” to increase its ambitions in the renewable sector, which will contribute to the effort to reduce pollution.

    < p>The preparation of the final NEPC “is a great opportunity for the Cypriot government to show the necessary ambition and exploit the renewable energy potential of the country”, he added.

    Natura 2000

    Commenting on the two recent decisions of the Commission concerning violations regarding the legislation for the protection of Natura 2000 areas, and answering a question as to whether he has seen progress from the Cypriot authorities, Mr. Sinkevičius clarified that these are two different cases.

    Regarding the case of the procedure that started in June 2021 and resulted in the referral of Cyprus to the Court of Justice of the EU, the Commissioner noted that “despite the efforts made to address some issues, they were not enough”. He explained that Cyprus has officially designated 37 areas as special conservation areas under the Habitats Directive, “but has not yet put in place the necessary conservation measures for 28 of these areas”.

    “Conservation areas are not will not function properly if appropriate measures are not implemented,” he pointed out, adding that the targets for five areas analyzed in detail by the Commission were not found to be sufficient, “which means that the species and habitats in these areas are not properly protected”.

    “Despite some progress in defining the Special Conservation Zones, the Cypriot authorities have not fully addressed the complaints and therefore we continued the case” by taking it to the CJEU, he noted.

    The second case as explained by the Commissioner concerns the licensing of economic activities in Natura 2000 areas, recalling that under the relevant directive, plans and projects that may have significant effects on a Natura 2000 area must undergo an impact assessment before their approval , and be approved only if they do not harm the integrity of the region, subject to certain exceptions such as in relation to security.

    As Mr. Sinkevitsius said, the Commission sent a warning letter to Cyprus in November 2019 for the improper evaluation of projects, but since then “continues to receive complaints from citizens regarding the approval of new projects”.

    “The Commission found that the structural and continuous practice of licensing economic activities in Natura 2000 areas continues in a way that is not consistent with the Habitats Directive,” he added, explaining that for this reason he sent a reasoned letter to Cyprus, a step before the referral to the CJEU.

    Asked to comment on how the need for tourism development in areas of natural beauty can be consistent with the need to protect them, the Commissioner emphasized that “these two goals should not negate each other”. The relevant directives on birds and habitats “support the principle of sustainable development and integrated management” as he said, and “do not exclude socio-economic activities in Natura 2000 protected areas”.

    “As we invest in tourism it is also important to set conservation objectives for Natura 2000 areas” he noted, stressing that the objectives “should reflect the importance of the area for the species and habitats in question, so that they continue to enjoy a favorable conservation status, as well as address threats degradation or destruction”.

    Noting that through conservation plans conservation objectives and measures can be set “in an open and transparent way”, the Commissioner added they can also become tools “for building consensus on long-term management solutions among all stakeholders and specialist groups interests, and to create a sense of shared ownership and responsibility for nature”.

    Fisheries policy

    In relation to the development of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in the midst of new challenges, Commissioner Sinkevičius explained that the most recent reform in 2013 was oriented “to the regulation of fishing activities to ensure the sustainable management of fish stocks, the conservation of marine ecosystems and the livelihood of fishing communities”.

    In particular, the reform introduced tools to address environmental challenges, such as the landing obligation and the requirement to set the total allowable catch at the maximum sustainable yield, in other words the “obligation to ensure the sustainable exploitation of fish stocks” to ensure the sustainability of the fishery of the EU and the food supply.

    Mr. Sinkevičius clarified that the complete re-evaluation of the CFP that he recently announced does not necessarily mean that it will be revised again. “Through the evaluation, an informed assessment will be made of whether the CFP is still fit for purpose or where lessons can be learned for its improvement,” he noted, adding that the evaluation will be the basis for the next Commission to decide whether needs revision.

    In relation to how the EU can prevent any backlash in the fisheries sector due to measures to deal with the effects of climate change, similar to those in the field of agricultural policy, Mr Sinkevičius noted that the CFP “is more relevant than ever , because it protects the oceans that are home to 80% of biodiversity and on which the livelihoods of fishermen and many coastal communities depend.” Its implementation is supported by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), he explained.

    The Commission, he noted, “is actively involved in supporting the sector to adapt to climate change, combat marine pollution and halt the loss of marine biodiversity, while strengthening the resilience of our fishermen”, referring to last year's fisheries package and oceans, and in particular the implementation of a participatory pan-European program on the future of the role of fishermen which started in October 2023.

    Bi-Community cooperation is essential for environmental protection

    Speaking about the EU's role in promoting bi-community cooperation to protect the environment and biodiversity in Cyprus, the Commissioner emphasized that “environmental challenges do not stop at the Green Line, so bi-community cooperation is essential to ensure that they are addressed in a coherent manner throughout the island”.

    As he said, bi-community cooperation in this area is promoted through projects funded by the EU Aid Program for the T/k community, through for example encouraging contacts of “environmental professionals from the two communities through capacity building and awareness-raising “.

    “The EU has provided technical assistance, trainings and workshops for individuals and environmental bodies on waste management issues , recycling and wastewater, as well as integrating ecology into other policy areas» he noted, while cooperation with civil society has led to bi-communal projects on marine pollution or the use of pesticides.

    He also pointed out, although implemented in the Turkish Cypriot community, other projects for the conservation of bird species and the sustainable use of resources allowed the creation of ties with corresponding Greek Cypriot bodies, while the Commission is investigating the possibility of expanding the bi-community dimension to other programs related to the environment, such as LIFE+.

    He also added that the cooperation through the bi-community technical committees is also financially supported by the EU, supporting to date “the organization of bi-community study visits and exchanges not only for turtle conservation, butterfly monitoring and local biodiversity, but also for recycling, e-waste, mining and quarrying”.

    “In addition to encouraging bi-community cooperation, although the Commission does not have a mandate to ensure the protection of nature in the northern part of Cyprus, it actively contributes to facilitating the work of those who play a role” he continued, explaining that in this context it provides support to local professionals from Member States' experts.

    At the same time, he continued, “although they are in the northern part of the island, projects such as the three sewage treatment plants built by the EU, the closure of the landfill in Dikomos or the restoring the wetlands in Kouklia benefits the entire island”.

    Fires and reforestation

    With regard to the increase in fires due to climate change, an issue that is of particular concern to Cyprus, Mr. Sinkevičius emphasized that, in principle, it is important to work to prevent them, referring to the relevant guidelines published in 2021 by the Commission and which contain examples of practices such as controlled burning of certain trees to maintain forest health and livestock grazing to reduce materials that can burn in a fire.

    “Furthermore, we need to improve the resilience of forests by paying attention to reforestation actions and methods, using locally adapted and resilient tree species,” he added.

    The Commissioner noted that “we will not be able to prevent all fires, but the consequences of fires can be different depending on the species that are planted or regenerated naturally” and mentioned that the Commission published guidelines for EU funding of projects this year afforestation, reforestation and tree planting.

    Air quality

    In response to a question about air quality, particularly in relation to the situation in countries such as Cyprus that are particularly affected by the fall of dust from the Sahara due to climate change, Mr. Sinkevičius noted that these are natural phenomena and that as “are not caused by human activity, Member States have little ability to reduce their significance or duration,” which is recognized by EU pollution abatement legislation .

    “It is important to inform the public if such events cause serious pollution episodes, so that measures can be taken to protect citizens, especially the sensitive population and vulnerable groups, and to indicate what must do to reduce exposure to such incidents,” he noted. However, regarding traffic pollution, he indicated that they can be affected with appropriate measures.

    “The good news is that according to the data provided by the Cypriot authorities, air quality in Cyprus is within the limits set by the current EU legislation governing these two pollutants” he continued, but noting that concentrations are still above the levels recommended by the World Health Organization.

    Source: cyprustimes.com

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