With the increasing economic interdependence between different parts of the world, we have seen a rise in environmental disasters, especially in ports and coastal areas: this the European Union’s response to this challenge.
In the light of the more and more pressing issue of climate change, in 2004 the European Parliament and the Council approved the Environmental Liability Directive with the purpose of establishing a framework of environmental liability to prevent and remedy “environmental damage”.
What, then, should be understood under the notion of “environmental damage”? According to this directive, it is a damage with significant adverse effects on protected species and natural habitats, on waters and on lands, which could, in turn, create a significant risk on human health.
Furthermore, the term “environmental damage” encompasses not only the aforementioned natural resources, but also the natural services they provide, i.e. the functions they perform for the benefit of other natural resources or the public, thus taking into account the ties between ecosystems and how the disruption of one may harm another.
As far as liability is concerned, there need to be one or more identifiable polluters, the damage should be concrete and quantifiable, and a causal link should be established between the damage and the identified polluter: for this reason, it is necessary to introduce the concept of “baseline condition”, i.e. the condition of the natural resources and services prior to the environmental damage, in order to compare it with the condition after the occurrence of the harmful event.
The preservation of marine waters and the prevention of harmful occurrences:
To begin with, what are “marine waters”? According to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008), the definition of “marine waters” reads: “waters, the seabed and subsoil on the seaward side of the baseline from which the extent of territorial waters is measured extending to the outmost reach of the area where a Member State has and/or exercises jurisdictional rights”.
With regards to marine waters, an environmental damage is an occurrence that disrupts their “environmental status” and should always be assessed with reference to the baseline condition.
Due to the importance of marine waters and their ecosystems, as well as for the food source they provide, preserving a good environmental status, defined as “marine waters with ecologically diverse and dynamic oceans and seas which are clean, healthy and productive[…], and the sustainable use of the marine environment, thus safeguarding the potential for uses and activities by current and future generations”, is fundamental.
Moreover, considering the time sensitivity of marine water damages, EU law emphasizes the importance of damage prevention activities and lists “shipping activities” among the most relevant and frequent causes for damage to marine waters.
In order to mitigate the negative impact deriving from oil and NHS spills from shipping activities, the BE-READY projects aims to strengthen preparedness and proactivity in addressing environmental emergencies through the development of a reliable and comprehensive Environmental Decision Support System (EDSS) that helps end users in responding to marine pollution occurrences.
The key success factors of the project lie not only in state of the art technical equipment, but also in its transnational dimension: cooperation between different States proves to be pivotal in the fight against marine pollution, making BE-READY a valuable asset.
- Guidelines providing a common understanding of the term ‘environmental damage’ as defined in Article 2 of Directive 2004/35/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on environmental liability with regard to the prevention and remedying of environmental damage (2021/C 118/01)
- Directive 2004/35/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 April 2004 on environmental liability with regard to the prevention and remedying of environmental damage (1) (the ‘Environmental Liability Directive’ or the ‘Directive’)
- Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive)