Europe must revamp ambition on environment

4th March 2015

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  • Pollution & Waste Management ,
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Amy Ratcliffe

Europe will fail to meet its environmental targets unless it implements more robust policies, according to a report from the EU's official adviser on the environment.

Despite having cleaner air and amassing less waste, Europe is a long way from achieving its objective of "living well within the limits of the planet" by 2050, the European Environment Agency (EEA) states in its five-yearly assessment of the state of the environment.

The report concludes thatneither current environmental policies nor economic and technology-driven efficiency gains will be sufficient to achieve the target, which is an objective of the EU's seventh environmental action programme. Goals to halt biodiversity loss, reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and improve freshwater quality are all off-track, it finds.

Natural resources are being used more efficiently than previously, but the resource base people rely on is still being degraded, the agency says. Climate change and biodiversity loss are major problems, it adds.

Alongside more ambitious policies, Europe needs to make smarter investments aimed at fundamentally transforming systems such as food, energy housing, transport, finance, health and education.

The EEA observes that the financial crisis contributed to the reductions in some environmental pressures, but adds that it remains to be seen whether improvements will be sustained.

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA executive director, said: "We have 35 years to ensure that we live on a sustainable planet by 2050. This may seem like a distant future, but to achieve our goal, we need to act now. Many of the decisions we make today will determine how we are going to live in 2050."

Other findings include:

There was a 19% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions between 1990 and 2014 despite a 45% increase in economic output.

Biodiversity continues to be eroded, with 60% of protected species assessments and 77% of habitat assessments recording an unfavourable conservation status.

The quality of freshwater has improved over recent years, although around half of Europe's freshwater bodies are unlikely to attain "good ecological status" in 2015.

Marine and coastal biodiversity are particular area of concern. Pressures include sea floor damage, pollution, invasive alien species and acidification. Overfishing has decreased in the Atlantic and Baltic, but the Mediterranean shows a more negative picture, with 91% of assessed stocks overfished in 2014.

Domestic resource consumption was 16.7 tonnes per person in 2007, declining to 13.7 tonnes in 2012, partly due to the collapse of the construction industry in some countries.

Waste management has improved, with less waste generated and less sent to landfill. Recycling rates increased in 21 countries between 2004 and 2012, with an average recycling rate of 29% achieved in 2012, compared with 22% in 2004. Landfilling rates decreased in 27 out of 31 countries over the same timeframe.

Projected improvements in air quality are not expected to be sufficient to prevent continuing harm, while impacts resulting from climate change are expected to worsen. In 2011, about 430,000 premature deaths in the EU were attributed to fine particulate matter.

The environment industry sector grew by more than 50% from 2000 to 2011, and is one of the few sectors to have flourished in terms of revenues and jobs since the 2008 financial crisis.

Jeremy Wates, secretary general of the European Environmental Bureau, said: "This should be president Juncker's wake up call. The report provides compelling reasons for him to add environmental protection to his political priorities and demonstrate that he has not embarked on an ideological crusade to cut environmental regulation."

He added that the report should trigger a complete rethink of president Juncker's political priorities, which virtually ignore the environment apart from climate change, and should make the full and effective implementation of the EU's 7th environmental action programme a priority under a revised Europe 2020 strategy.

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