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News article25 March 2021Directorate-General for Environment2 min read

Environmental Liability: Commission announces guidelines to identify when environmental damage needs to be prevented and remediated

The Commission has adopted guidelines which clarify the scope of the term 'environmental damage' in the Directive on environmental liability. These guidelines will help Member States to better assess whether damage to water, land and protected species and natural habitats must be prevented or restored by explaining the scope of each of these categories in detail. They will provide greater legal clarity and harmonisation of its interpretation and application.

Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said:

Nature is under severe pressure from human activity and pollution, and halting the loss of biodiversity is a huge challenge for us all. These new guidelines will help towards achieving the objectives of our Biodiversity Strategy and our upcoming Zero Pollution Action Plan by making it clearer when actors are liable for environmental damage that they cause.

The notion of ‘environmental damage' is also closely related to requirements of other EU laws, notably the Birds Directive, Habitats Directive, the Water Framework Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. The guidelines therefore also contribute to fulfilling the objectives of these laws, and of the 2020 Biodiversity Strategy, by clarifying the links with environmental damage.

A legal requirement to produce such guidelines was inserted into the Directive in 2019. An earlier Commission evaluation had shown that there was a lack of common understanding amongst Member States and stakeholders of how the term ‘environmental damage’ should be applied, and that this had weakened the Directive’s implementation.

Next steps

These guidelines are part of a wider effort by the Commission to strengthen implementation of the Directive on environmental liability, and more generally to strengthen how Member States follow up problems related to environmental harm and non-compliance with EU environmental legislation. The Commission will work with Member States and stakeholders to ensure that the guidelines are used correctly in the implementation of the Directive.


The Directive on environmental liability aims at establishing a framework of environmental liability, based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle, to better prevent and remedy environmental damage. The Directive makes operators liable to prevent and restore any environmental damage caused by their activities. Such activities include the running of industrial or waste facilities and water abstraction and impoundment. Damage can arise from accidents, incidents or inadequate management. It can also arise from illegal occupational activities such as operation of illegal landfills, illegal logging or illegal peat extraction. Remediation can include for example restoration of damaged habitats listed in the Habitats Directive.

More information:


More information about the Environmental Liability Directive


Publication date
25 March 2021
Directorate-General for Environment

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