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Air pollution is not the same everywhere. Different pollutants are released into
the atmosphere from a wide range of sources. Once in the atmosphere, they
can transform into new pollutants and spread around the world. Designing and
implementing policies to address this complexity are not easy tasks. Below is an
overview of air legislation in the European Union.
The atmosphere, weather patterns and seasonal variations have long been an object of fascination and observation. In the 4th century B.C., Aristotle’s treatise Meteorology compiled the great philosopher’s observations not only on the weather patterns, but on earth sciences in general. Until the 17th century, air symbolised ‘nothingness’. It was assumed that air had no weight until Galileo Galilei scientifically proved that it has.
Europe has improved its air quality in recent decades. Emissions of many pollutants were curbed successfully, but particulate matter and ozone pollution in particular continue to pose serious risks to the health of Europeans.
We breathe from the moment we are born until the moment we die. It is a vital and constant need, not only for us but for all life on Earth. Poor air quality affects us all: it harms our health and the health of the environment, which leads to economic losses. But what does the air we breathe consist of and where do the various air pollutants come from?
Our climate is changing. Many climate-changing gases are also common air
pollutants that affect our health and the environment. In many ways, improving
air quality can also give a boost to climate change mitigation efforts and vice
versa, but not always. The challenge ahead is to ensure that climate and air
policies focus on win-win scenarios.
The extent of the sea ice in the Arctic reached a new record low in September 2012. Climate change is melting the sea ice in the region at a rate much faster than estimated by earlier projections. The snow cover also shows a downward trend. The melting Arctic might impact not only the people living in the region, but also elsewhere in Europe and beyond.
With population growth, urbanisation and economic development, the demand for freshwater in urban areas are increasing throughout Europe. At the same time, climate change and pollution are also affecting the availability of water for city residents. How can Europe's cities continue providing clean freshwater to their residents?
We need food and we need clean freshwater to produce our food. With growing demand from human activities on the one hand and climate change on the other, many regions especially in the south struggle to find enough freshwater to meet their needs. How can we continue growing food without letting nature go thirsty for clean water? A more efficient use of water in agriculture would certainly help.
When faced with scarcity or increasing pressures on vital resources such as water and land, the question of who decides can be as important as how natural resources are managed and used. Global coordination is often essential but without local endorsement and involvement, nothing can be done on the ground.
Through a series of legislative measures, EU policymakers aim to make Europe more ‘resource efficient’. But how does Europe strike a balance between the economy and nature? In the context of the Rio+20 conference, what does sustainability mean for the EU and the developing world? Here is one point of view.
Most people will remember 2011 as a year of financial turmoil, the Japanese earthquake tsunami nuclear disaster, country bailouts in Europe and mass protests linked to the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Spanish Indignados. Only a few will remember that it was also the year scientists discovered more than 18 000 new species living on our planet. Even fewer can name one species that was declared extinct.
From small enterprises to multinationals, many companies are looking for ways to retain or increase their market shares. In times of tough global competition, the pursuit of sustainability suggests much more than ‘greening’ the corporate image and cutting down production costs. It might mean new lines of business.
Four decades of environmental governance helped us build institutions to better understand and tackle environmental problems. Twenty years after the Earth Summit of 1992, world leaders meet once again in Rio de Janeiro to renew the global commitment to the green economy and improve global governance.
Around one third of the food produced globally is lost or wasted. When more than one billion people around the world go to bed feeling hungry, it is impossible not to ask what can be done. But food waste is not only a missed opportunity to feed the hungry. It also represents a substantial loss of other resources such as land, water, energy - and labour.
From densely populated cities to remote settlements, everywhere we live, we generate waste. Food leftovers, electronic waste, batteries, paper, plastic bottles, clothing, old furniture - they all need to be disposed of. Some end up re-used or recycled; others are burned for energy or sent to landfills. There is not a single way to manage waste that would work everywhere. How we do it needs to take into account local circumstances. After all, waste starts as a local issue. Given its sparse population, long distances between settlements and lack of road infrastructure, here is how the Greenland government approaches the country’s waste issue.
Many developing country economies are centred on exploiting natural resources to lift their populations out of poverty, potentially damaging the natural systems they depend on. Short-term solutions often undermine the population’s well-being in the long-term. Can governments help the markets set the ‘right’ price for nature’s services and influence economic choices? Here is a closer look at what water use in cotton production means for Burkina Faso.
Almost everything we consume and produce has an impact on our environment. When faced with daily choices to buy certain goods or services, we often do not think about their ‘footprints’ on the environment. Their shelf prices hardly ever reflect their true costs. But there are many things we can do to green our consumption and production.
Decades of relatively steady growth in Europe have changed the way we live. We produce and consume more goods and services. We travel more and live longer. But the environmental impacts of our economic activities at home and abroad have become bigger and more visible. Environmental legislation, when implemented thoroughly, achieves results on the ground. After taking a look at what has changed in the last twenty years, however, can we say that we are doing our best
Clean water is a natural resource vital not only for life on Earth but also for the wellbeing of our societies and economy. However, in many parts of Europe, this valuable resource is coming under increasing pressure, often seen in the form of over-exploitation and pollution.
Copenhagen, 2 July 2011. Up to 150 mm of rainfall in two hours – a city record since measurements began in the mid-1800s. Homes destroyed. Citizens and emergency services struggled to cope. This is one example of how excessive extreme weather events can affect a European capital – events that are expected more often under climate change.
For references, please go to http://www.eea.europa.eu/articles/all-articles or scan the QR code.
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