EU to crack down on greenwashing with ‘proportionate’ sanctions | Atmosphere

Companies will have 10 days to justify green claims on their products or face “effective, proportionate and dissuasive” penalties, according to a draft EU crackdown on greenwashing seen by The Guardian.

Inflated claims by companies about the environmental bona fides of their products have grown alongside public awareness of global warming in recent years.

A 2020 EU survey found that 53% of environmental product claims were “vague, misleading or unfounded”. Authorities suspected that 42% of organic product tactics were “false or misleading” in another survey from the same year.

Greenwashing claims can circulate in a wild west market environment for now, but the green claims substantiation directive, due in March, will force companies to comply with a new legal framework.

The European Consumer Organization (BEUC) said it strongly supported the plan to strengthen market surveillance authorities to fight greenwashing. But “a future EU green claims law will only be as good as its enforcement,” said BEUC director Monique Goyens. “Authorities should regularly monitor green claims, publicly disclose their findings, and be able to fine companies that mislead consumers.”

The leaked directive is silent on what sanctions the 27 EU countries should apply.

Goyens said phrases like “climate positive” and “carbon neutral” should be “banned from the market entirely.”

The commission declined to comment on the leaked draft, which says it expects the law to save up to 7 million tons of CO equivalent.2 emissions in a period of 15 years.

An EU official speaking on condition of anonymity said that, along with a proposed consumer empowerment directive, the green claims law “should clean up the environmental claims market, where it’s a bit free and quirky about what manufacturers say about their products (and the reality). These proposals could improve that dramatically.”

There are currently more than 200 eco-labels in use in the EU, based on different methodologies. A commission survey found that half of label verification procedures were weak or non-existent.

UK companies exporting to the EU would have to follow new green claim rules, which the commission expects will cost EU companies between €9bn and €10bn (£7.9bn to £8.8bn). the official said.

While the UK and France already have rules for misleading green ads, the UK code does not fully define what constitutes an “unsubstantiated claim” and the French rules focus on climate concerns, such as “carbon neutrality”. , rather than general sustainability issues, according to Antoine Oger, director of the global challenges program at the Institute for European Environmental Policy.

By comparison, the new directive is set to be “the most specific and far-reaching, as it must set out clear definitions of what constitute green claims and their non-compliance, along with precise criteria for how to substantiate and enforce such claims,” ​​he said. saying.

Requires companies to substantiate green claims through a standardized product life cycle analysis covering all environmental impacts, with important data, including a certificate of conformity, available to the public via QR code or web link .

EU states will have to empower or establish new agencies to launch investigations, carry out regular checks and generally enforce the new law, the draft says.

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Some experts warned that the leaked proposal did not regulate the type of “carbon removal” methods that might be accepted in offset schemes.

After The Guardian revealed that more than 90% of the so-called carbon credits used by companies like Shell were largely worthless, hopes were high that the initiative would plug the hole left by another EU green deal bill. to certify CO2 removals

But the new regime would still allow fossil fuel companies to “offset” their emissions through CO2 removal projects such as forests, which are at high risk of reversal through trees rotting, burning, or moving north due to global warming.

Eli Mitchell-Larson, co-founder of the NGO Carbon Gap, said: “These laws keeping quiet about what companies buying EU-certified removals can do with them would be like inviting students to mark their own homework. It’s very simple: the vast majority of current extractions involve carbon storage in nature. Despite their merits, they should never give you a free ticket to burn fossil fuels.”

Business groups also raised concerns that the initiative could be confused with other EU legislation on how to tackle greenwashing.

“The EU has to avoid the real risk of overlap and contradiction with existing initiatives,” said Pedro Oliveira, BusinessEurope’s director of legal affairs. “The European business community expects the EU to carefully consider and justify any additional rules in this already regulated space in the spirit of ‘better regulation’.”

The EU official said there was some overlap with other green deal proposals because commission staff were originally instructed to prepare legislative files on similar issues for different commissioners.

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