Topical German examples that have prompted public debates include the takeback agreement for cars, the voluntary agreement made by a number of industries on a CO2 reduction by the year and the voluntary agreement made by the automobile industry on the development of energy-efficient cars.
Proponents of voluntary agreements argue that this instrument provides incentives to the business sector for the development of efficient, innovative and environmentally-friendly solutions. Analysing the examples mentioned above, we conclude that it is hard to detect solutions derserving such attributes.
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These agreements are unlikely to produce results that go beyond what industry would have done in any case and they avoid using economic incentives. The agreements are non-binding and unenforceable, with the negotiating process leading to a watering down of the environmental goals government had originally aimed at. A preference for negotiated solutions on principle, as currently espoused by the Federal Government in Germany, seems to be 'counterproductive'.
If the government clearly signals its willingness to refrain from using regulatory or economic instruments in favour of industry agreements, it weakens its negotiating position.
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Levels of highly fluorinated substances have increased and contaminated drinking water. Persistent substances that are dispersed in the environment or stored in products and buildings can affect people and the environment over a long period of time. Growth in consumption is increasing production of chemicals and other products, and with it the spread of dangerous substances.
Environmental voluntary agreements
In many cases, we still know very little about how chemicals affect human health and the environment. Chemical risks need to be prevented by a better understanding of the hazardous properties of substances, information on how they are used and, in certain cases, regulations to restrict their use. In recent decades, the use of many hazardous chemicals has been reduced by Swedish environmental laws, stricter EU legislation and international agreements.
Voluntary measures, such as ecolabelling, environmental management systems in companies, and organic farming, have also contributed to progress. To further limit the spread of dangerous substances, all these measures must continue to be developed. It is not possible to achieve the environmental quality objective by on the basis of policy instruments already decided on or planned.