The Compliance Committee of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), which enforces the Aarhus Convention, has released its final findings and recommendations regarding the case presented by Mr. Pat Swords, a chemical engineer from Ireland (1). In a nutshell, the UN is saying that if the EU wants to be in compliance with the said Convention, to which it is a party, it must have its 27 Member States properly reassess their National Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAP), and submit them to popular consultation. The Aarhus Convention requires that, in matters affecting the environment, the citizens be consulted in a transparent manner before any policy is embarked upon. The Convention applies principles adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro.
Essentially there has been a complete failure to comply with the principle of 'environmental considerations in decision making'. Clearly there are issues related to democratic accountability, which would be the focus of UNECE. However, by having by-passed the environmental considerations in decision making, there was no knowledge before the programme was initiated of the emissions savings to be achieved, no knowledge currently to date of the emissions savings from the huge number of wind farms installed (100,000 MW in the EU-27) and what will be achieved by expanding the programme even further.It has to be remembered that the financing method for this programme is by preferential access to the grid and preferential tariffs. This is State Aid, which is justified by environmental protection. Except what is that environmental protection? The programme (Renewable Energy Strategy and NREAP) was adopted without consideration of environmental issues, while the Strategic Environmental Assessment, which was completed after its adoption was extremely enlightening:
- UK Energy Policy Environmental Report AoS EN-1 Section 3.3.1 on Climate Change: "The contributions to climate change objectives whilst potentially positive are consequently also uncertain, given the range of economic and technological factors that may influence the successful implementation of low carbon energy sources".Simply put, one cannot distort the market economy on nonsense such as this. If one looks at the Guidelines for State Aid for Environmental Protection it is clear in Section 1.3.5 on the Proportionality of the Aid, while there are repeated references to clear, transparent, non-discriminatory criteria.
So while the Aarhus ruling demonstrates the breach of law in relation to public participation, there is a bigger picture, in that the whole State Aid funding process is equally flawed from a legal perspective. This is an important point to realise: the two, i.e. (a) public participation and (b) State Aid for environmental protection are inherently linked.This is a point which very few are aware of to date. The cost, both financial and environmental of this appalling programme are simply unacceptable.