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Environmental Atlas of Europe


The Environmental Atlas of Europe is a UNEP-EEA-ESA joint project showcasing communities responding to environmental change across Europe. The films present a series of these inspirational stories about how people are responding to climate change and in so doing, transforming their lives for a more sustainable…

Key facts and messages
While progress has been made in meeting certain policy objectives, including efficiency and short-term greenhouse gas reduction targets, major challenges remain toward meeting longer term objectives. The European Commission's target of a 60%... more
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Limiting 'land take' is already an important policy target at national or sub-national level. Balancing land-recycling, compact urban development, place-based management and green infrastructure will provide positive effects. more
'Land take' dominates in Europe, with artificial areas and agricultural intensification, resulting in land degradation, worsened by high fragmentation on 30% of land area. Conflicting demands on land impact significantly on the land's potential... more
Emissions of NOX, SOX, NH3 and NMVOC have decreased significantly in most countries between 1990 and 2012. However, air pollution still causes significant harm to health and the environment in Europe. more
The number of countries recycling and composting more than 30% of municipal waste increased from 11 to 17 out of 35, and those landfilling more than 75% of their municipal waste declined from 11 to 8. more
Full and coordinated implementation of water and nature legislation would restore aquatic habitats and foster water efficiency. more
Scientific understanding of the interaction between air pollution and climate change has improved over the last two decades. In particular, there has been a greater realisation that some air pollutants also act as short-term drivers of global... more
There was an increase in passenger transport demand between 2005 and 2012, although overall it has been stable in recent years. However, national trends varied significantly, with demand increasing in 23 countries and decreasing in 10. more
The main EU target of 'halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services' by 2020 remains a serious challenge. more
The EU has adopted two new energy targets: increasing renewables to minimum 27% of EU energy use and improving energy efficiency by a minimum of 27% by 2030. Further efforts beyond currently implemented policies are needed to keep the EU on... more
The EU aims to decarbonise its energy system and cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95% by 2050. To achieve this goal, it has set a binding target of reducing emissions by at least 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2030. Further efforts... more
The world population may rise beyond 9.6 billion by 2050, despite a slowing rate of growth. Most of the increase is likely to occur in urban areas in developing regions. Growing and younger populations in the developing world, the global growth... more
Demographic trends are also likely to increase global resource demand and related environmental pressures. This points to the need for Europe to persist with efforts to decouple resource use from economic development. more
Generation of municipal waste per capita has declined slightly from 2004 to 2012, but it is clearly better managed now than ten years ago. more
Adaptation to the observed and projected impacts in coming decades is needed, complementary to global climate mitigation actions. The EU strategy on adaptation to climate change supports national adaptation strategies and other actions in countries... more
Although air pollutants and greenhouse gases often come from the same sources, international agreements generally treat them separately. One way that European policy seeks to connect climate and air quality policies is through the inclusion... more
Europe's natural capital is under growing cumulative pressure from intensive agriculture, fisheries and forestry, and urban sprawl. A substantial volume of relevant EU legislation already exists but lacks adequate integration in sectoral policies.... more
The majority of countries are making progress towards meeting their 2020 targets under the 2012 revised Gothenburg Protocol. As a result, air quality in Europe is slowly improving. more
There has been progress in energy efficiency policy but there is significant variation in the level of ambition and coherence of policy measures amongst countries. more
Economic output is projected to treble between 2010 and 2050, although growth is expected to decelerate in many countries as they become more prosperous. Rapid economic growth has brought reductions in global poverty and increases in well-being... more
Urban growth is driving land-use change in Europe, with peri-urban areas developing at four times the rate of towns and cities. Integrated urban management could increase the environmental resilience of Europe’s cities, particularly in the... more
The demands of a growing global population with rapidly changing consumption patterns for food, mobility and energy are exerting ever-increasing pressure on the Earth's ecosystems and their life-supporting services. In combination with climate... more
Continued improvements in air pollution levels are expected under current legislation, but beyond 2030 only slow progress is expected. Additional measures are needed if Europe is to achieve the long-term objective of air pollution levels that... more
Exploitation of European seas and coasts is increasing as new industries emerge and traditional ones move further off-shore. The main pressures include: extraction of species and genetic resources, seafloor exploitation, pollution and the spread... more
Nutrient enrichment of Europe's freshwaters is a concern, with pollution from agriculture a cause of poor water quality. more
European agriculture — 40% of the land — serves societal demands for food production, pollination and energy. Long-observed environmental impacts are mixed: decreasing GHG emissions, less pesticide use but exceedance of nutrients, diffuse... more
Average nitrate concentrations in European rivers reduced by over 20% between 1992 and 2012, whilst orthophosphate concentrations more than halved. more
Despite considerable improvements in past decades, air pollution is still responsible for more than 400 000 premature deaths in Europe each year. It also continues to damage vegetation and ecosystems. more
Responses to sustainability challenges are dispersed across EU legislation and policies, while the evidence base to track progress is still fragmented. more
Water management should improve with the second round of river basin management plans covering the 2016-2021 period resulting in the realisation of more policy objectives through stringent, well-integrated implementation and public participation. more
The large differences in performance indicate room for further improvement and actions to meet the 2020 target to recycle 50% of municipal waste. more
Global use of material resources has increased ten-fold since 1900 and is set to double again by 2030. Escalating demand may jeopardise access to some essential resources and cause environmental harm. Uneven geographical distribution of some... more
Recent changes in the global climate are unprecedented over millennia and will continue. Climate change is expected increasingly to threaten natural ecosystems and biodiversity, slow economic growth, erode global food security, harm human health... more
Although Europe’s pollutant releases are expected to continue declining, European ecosystems and citizens are likely to be affected by developments in other regions. For example, despite a fall in air pollutant emissions there has not been... more
EU greenhouse gas emissions have been decreasing and are now 19% below 1990 levels. Latest data confirm that the EU is on track to overachieve its 2020 target of a 20% reduction compared to 1990 levels. more
The role of cities is critical in achieving Europe's objectives for a low carbon, resource-efficient and ecosystems resilient society. more
In 2012, the car was the dominant mode of transport in all countries. Car passenger transport has generally decreased in the last three years (2009 to 2012) with a significant drop in some countries. more
Intensive agriculture, urbanisation, energy production and flood protection have altered European hydrological systems and freshwater habitats for decades. Climate change adds to these challenges (higher water temperature, more floods or water... more
The total area of nationally designated protected areas currently covers about 21% of terrestrial territory and inland waters, although further expansion of the marine network is required to meet targets. more
From 1990 to 2012 there was an increase in the share of renewable energy in GIEC in 32 out of 34 countries. more
Designation of protected areas is not a guarantee of biodiversity protection. Effective biodiversity conservation within protected areas also requires management with a focus on species, habitats and ecosystems; measures to tackle the causes... more
Driven by structural change, fast-growing workforces and trade liberalisation, developing regions are rapidly increasing their share of global economic output, trade and investment. more
The ability of soil to deliver ecosystem services — in terms of food production, as biodiversity pools and as a regulator of gasses, water and nutrients — is under increasing pressure. Observed rates of soil sealing, erosion, contamination... more
The economic recession led to reduced pollutant emissions by lowering transport demand. Transport is still responsible for 25% of EU greenhouse gas emissions, and contributes significantly to air pollution, noise and habitat fragmentation. more
For Europe this is a major concern as its economy is structurally dependent on imports. Although growing scarcity and rising prices should incentivise investments in technologies to alleviate supply risks, such innovations will not necessarily... more
Exacerbated by climate change and continued pollution, rates of global habitat destruction and biodiversity loss are predicted to increase, including in Europe. Continued degradation of global ecosystems and their services will influence poverty... more
Europe's biodiversity continues to be eroded resulting in ecosystem degradation. Recent data show that 60% of species and 77% of habitats continue to be in unfavourable conservation status. Constant habitat loss, diffuse pollution, over-exploitation... more
European systems of production and consumption generate diverse environmental, social and economic impacts — supporting livelihoods globally but also creating significant environmental pressures. Household consumption expenditure in Europe... more
A coherent soil policy at EU level would provide the framework to coordinate efforts to survey soil status adequately. more
For Europe, this rebalancing presents competitive threats but also economic opportunities in meeting the demand of a fast growing global middle class. The emergence of a larger and more diverse mixture of major economic powers may, however,... more
In the context of rapid globalisation, governments are facing a mismatch between the increasingly long-term, global, systemic challenges facing society and their more national and short-term focus and powers. more
Forests provide a range of ecosystem services from capturing and storing carbon to providing bio-fuel, timber as well as social benefits. However, our forests, which have increased in area by 17 million hectares since 1990, face growing pressure... more
Seas and oceans act as a coherent ecosystem. Across all of Europe's regional seas, marine biodiversity is in poor condition: only 7% of marine species assessments indicate 'favourable conservation status'. Effects of climate change (e.g. acidification)... more
There are fewer farmers and less arable land but demand for food is growing. Europe faces a continuous challenge to reconcile low environmental impact, food security and the viability of rural societies. more
Reducing agriculture's environmental impacts requires a transition towards innovative, low-input systems. Organic production plays a role in increasing the efficiency of nutrient management and reducing pesticide use. more
The risks of pervasive and irreversible impacts are expected to increase. They could, however, be reduced by further emissions abatement and adaptation measures, building on past actions in Europe and internationally. Key risks for Europe include... more
Global climate change impacts Europe in many ways, including: changes in average and extreme temperature and precipitation, warmer oceans, rising sea level and shrinking snow and ice cover on land and at sea. These have led to a range of impacts... more
EU-28 domestic material consumption declined by 10% between 2000 and 2012, despite a 16% increase in economic output. Environmental pressures such as waste generation and harmful emissions were also reduced. Policies have contributed to this... more
Largely due to its combined natural and cultural attractiveness, Europe is the world's primary tourism destination and tourism generates 10% of EU GDP. New types of tourism and increased frequency of holidays have serious environmental impacts... more
Enhanced integration of water policy objectives into other policy areas, especially agriculture, is essential to ensure that a sufficient quantity of good quality water is available for people's needs and the environment. more
Urban areas in developing countries will absorb most of the global population increase, with 67 % of people living in cities by 2050. Most of the growth is expected to be in megacities, particularly slums. Compact cities are the most efficient... more
The pace of technological change, particularly in the fields of information, communication, nano- and bio-technologies, is unprecedented. This provides opportunities to reduce humanity’s impact on the environment and reliance on non-renewable... more
The risks and uncertainties associated with technological innovation can be managed using regulatory frameworks and the precautionary principle. By recalibrating its institutions, policies and environmental knowledge base, Europe can support... more
Guided by diverse policies, European countries have improved waste management. Manufacturing and service sector waste declined by about a quarter in 2004–2012, while municipal waste generation fell 2%. Along with increased recycling, these... more
While there has been rapid development in recent years, in 2012 the total area under organic farming was still only 5.7% of total utilised agricultural area, with more than a 60-fold difference in the share of organic farming amongst countries. more
The majority of European Union Member States expect to meet their individual emission targets for the non-trading sectors under the Effort Sharing Decision. However, for 14 countries, additional measures are needed to bring emissions below the... more
Globally, levels of air pollution and releases of nutrients from agriculture and wastewater remain high, causing acidification and eutrophication in ecosystems, and losses in agricultural yield. In the coming decades, overall pollution levels... more
The need for more coordinated governance at the global scale has been reflected in the proliferation of international environmental agreements, particularly during the 1990s. More recently, businesses and civil society have also taken an increasing... more
Effective policy implementation can reduce impacts. For example, for several stocks the number of fish caught at 'maximum sustainable yield' levels continues to increase, suggesting healthier stocks. more
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In calling for an ecosystem-based approach, the EU's Blue Growth Strategy recognises the balance that must be achieved between 'use' of the sea and achieving the objective of 'good environmental status' by 2020. more
Europe has achieved major improvements in public health. However, an ageing population and the impacts of climate change, including new vector-borne diseases, may necessitate additional public health interventions and adjusted environmental policies. more
The EU's energy intensity decreased between 1990 and 2012 while renewables increased strongly. Latest data confirm that the EU is on track towards its 2020 energy targets: increasing renewables to 20% of energy use and reducing primary energy... more
Per capita consumption of material resources increased between 2000 and 2012 in 13 countries and decreased in 19. Significant increases were primarily due to large-scale infrastructure investments, with the largest declines related to the economic... more
The quality of Europe's drinking and bathing water have improved but air and noise pollution continue to cause serious health impacts. About 460 000 premature deaths were attributed to fine particulate matter in 2011. Further reductions in pressures... more
Almost all European countries with an individual greenhouse gas limitation or reduction target under the Kyoto Protocol are on track towards achieving their targets. more
There was a small overall increase in gross inland energy consumption (GIEC) from 1990 to 2012, however national trends varied significantly with consumption increasing in 20 and decreasing in 13 countries. more
The global burden from non-communicable disease now outweighs that from communicable disease. However, the threat of global pandemics continues, partly driven by increasing mobility. Around 25 % of the burden of disease and deaths is attributable... more
Europe's resource efficiency has improved in recent years but this has not always translated into improved ecosystem resilience or reduced risks to health and well-being. Creating a green economy will require fundamental changes in the production-consumption... more
While legislation has delivered concrete achievements in reducing pollution, a transition to a greener European industrial sector will require integrated approaches, with stronger control of pollution at source, incentives to change operating... more
Four countries have consistently been the most resource-efficient economies, with six remaining at the bottom of resource-productivity rankings, indicating opportunities for further improvements and actions. more
Much cleaner than 25 years ago, many waterbodies are still affected by pollutants and/or altered habitats. In 2009, only 43% showed a good/high ecological status; the 10 points expected increase for 2015 (53%) constitutes only a modest improvement... more
75% of Europeans — and more in the future — live in or around cities. The quality of life therein depends much on the environmental conditions. Insufficiently managed urbanisation leads to an increase in 'land take', soil sealing, fragmentation... more
The claims on forests services are increasing. Understanding the role of more than 14 million forest owners/managers is imperative to developing balanced, sustainable policy on forest resources. more
The environmental performance of European industry has improved in recent decades. However, the sector is still responsible for significant amounts of pollution to air, water and soil, as well as generation of waste. more
The limitations of gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of human well-being and the sustainability of growth have prompted international efforts to identify better indicators of societal progress. more

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100