Since 2002, there has been a steady increase in the cumulative area of the Natura 2000 network. Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) increased in coverage from 450 000 to 810 000 square kilometres and Special Protected Areas (SPAs) increased from approximately 180 000 to 670 000 square kilometres. Ten countries have designated more than 20% of their territory.
The total ecological footprint for the EU-28 countries increased rapidly during the 1960s and 70s, and has remained relatively constant since the 1980s. The region’s total biocapacity, however, has changed very little since 1961. The picture is similar for the EEA-33 countries.
The pan-European ecological footprint has been increasing almost constantly since 1961, while biocapacity (1) has decreased. This results in an ever larger deficit, with negative consequences for the environment within and outside Europe. (1) The capacity of ecosystems to produce useful biological materials and to absorb waste materials generated by humans, using current management schemes and extraction technologies.
Across the EEA-33 countries, emissions of lead decreased by 89%, mercury by 66% and cadmium by 64% between 1990 and 2012.
Emissions from the road transport sector have decreased by nearly 98%. Nevertheless, the road transport sector still remains an important source of lead, contributing around 12% of total lead emissions in the EEA-33 region. However, since 2004, little progress has been made in reducing emissions further; 97.9% of the total reduction from 1990 emissions of lead had been achieved by 2004.
The manufacturing industry in 11 countries (Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden) has achieved absolute decoupling of nutrient emissions from economic growth (GVA). A decrease in emissions coupled with a decrease in gross value added (GVA) occurred in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Belgium and Finland. However, in all cases (except Finland), the rate of emissions decrease was greater than that of GVA. An increase in nutrient emissions, accompanying the growth in GVA, was observed in Slovakia and Poland.
These developments arise from different absolute levels of emissions intensities and depend on there being no major changes in data coverage - such as including more facilities in the most recent reporting year despite them already existing in the earliest reporting year - within the countries during the reporting period. It should be noted that, as some industrial emissions may vary considerably from year to year, the comparison of just two selected years might be subject to variations, and not be representative of a consistent trend.
The achievement of absolute decoupling of manufacturing industries' heavy metals emissions from economic growth (GVA) was observed again in 12 countries (Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden). A decrease in emissions, coupled with a decrease in GVA occurred in the United Kingdom, Italy and Belgium. In all cases, the decrease in the rate of emissions was greater than that of GVA (relative decoupling). An increase in emissions, despite a drop in GVA, was observed in Finland and France. Finally, a growth in emissions accompanying economic growth occurred in the manufacturing industry in Hungary.
Given the multiple factors that affect both sectoral GVA and the pollution pressure originating from manufacturing, it is complicated to draw direct relationships between these two variables. Some key descriptors, which could aid in explaining this behaviour, are the structure of the sector (e.g. facility size distribution, production technology, relative proportion reported as E-PRTR releases), the socioeconomic characteristics (e.g. salary levels) of the area and the policy and/or economic measures in place (e.g. treatment requirements, pollution charges, taxes). However, it must be noted that the specific context of each country could result in varying combinations of the factors mentioned and their aggregate effects.
The main pathways for marine non-indigenous species (NIS) introduction in Europe´s seas are shipping (51%) and the Suez Canal (37%). These are followed by aquaculture related activities (17%) and, to a much lesser extent, aquarium trade (3%) and inland canals (2%). This is a pattern observed in all regional seas, except for the Eastern Mediterranean where introductions via the Suez Canal exceed those by shipping.
Trends in pathways show an increasing rate of introductions by shipping and corridors (in particular the Suez canal) since the 1990s, while aquaculture mediated introductions have been decreasing since the 2000s. This can be attributed to the adoption of effective EU regulation. Aquarium trade emerges as a lower but increasing pathway since the 2000s.
Available data shows that the seas around Europe currently harbor 1 416 non-indigenous species (NIS), almost 81% (1 143) of which have been introduced after 1950. These consist mostly of invertebrates (approx. 63%).
The rate of new introductions of NIS is continually increasing with 323 new species recorded since 2000 at pan-European level.
An increase in NIS introductions is observed for all regional seas. The most affected seas are in the Mediterranean, in particular in the Aegean-Levantine Sea. In this region over 160 new species have been recorded from 2000 to 2010.
Marine aquaculture production is increasing in Europe, mostly due to salmon production in Norway. Other types of production are relatively stable since the early 2000s. All aquaculture production in the EU-28 has been equally stable.
In 2012, by far the most cultivated species in Europe was Atlantic salmon, followed by mussels, rainbow trout, European sea bass, gilthead sea bream, oysters and carps, barbels and other cyprinids.
Finfish production accounts for the increase in European aquaculture, while shellfish production has been slowly decreasing since 1999. Aquatic plants production has been emerging since 2007.
The EU fishing fleet displays strong regional differences in terms of its composition, but it is mostly made up of small vessels (59%). There has been a marked decrease in fishing fleet capacity (i.e. number of vessels) between 2004 and 2001 , during which time small vessels decreased at an annual rate of approximately 1% and large vessels at 7% .
Most of the EU fishing effort is deployed by large vessels (74%) with mobile gears, of which the majority (61%) disturbs the seafloor. The decrease in capacity has been followed by a decrease in the effort of large vessels only (over 7% between 2004-2011), while the effort of small vessels has increased by approximately 5%. This is reflected in an overall shift towards gear with less impact on the seafloor.
The observed change of EU fishing effort and the shift towards gear with less impact is indicative of an overall decrease in fishing pressure and impact in European seas between 2004 and 2011.
Approximately 60% of commercial fish landings comes from stocks that are assessed with Good Environmental Status (GES) information. Strong regional differences exist, where the Mediterranean and Black seas remain poorly assessed.
Around 58% of the assessed commercial stocks are not in GES. Only 12% are in GES for both the level of fishing mortality and reproductive capacity. These percentages also vary considerably between regional seas.
The use of commercial fish and shellfish stocks in Europe, therefore, remains largely unsustainable. Nevertheless, important signs of improvement for certain stocks are being recorded in the North-East Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea.
Between 1985 and 2012, 7% of all stations in European seas that reported to the EEA showed decreasing trends in summer chlorophyll concentrations, whereas in 4% of the stations, increasing trends were found. In the majority of the stations (89%), no trends were observed.
Based on available data, chlorophyll concentrations, which are an indicator of eutrophication, are decreasing in the Greater North Sea, Bay of Biscay and Adriatic Sea, but increasing in many parts of the Baltic Sea. No trend assessment was possible for the Black Sea.
Between 1985 and 2012, m ost stations in European Seas that reported to the EEA showed no change in trends of concentrations of Dissolved Inorganic Nitrogen (DIN) or orthophosphate. In addition, a decrease in concentrations was observed for 14% and 13% respectively, while only a minority of stations showed an increase.
These trends mostly refer to stations in the northeast Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea, however, due to lack of reported data for other regional seas. A vailable data shows nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations are decreasing in the southern North Sea which is an area with a recognised eutrophication problem. In the Baltic Sea, also affected by eutrophication, nitrogen concentrations are decreasing but phosphate concentrations show an increase at some stations.
In 2012, the concentrations of the eight assessed hazardous substances were generally: Low or Moderate for Hexachlorobenzene (HCB) and lindane; Moderate for cadmium, mercury, lead, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and 6-Benzylaminopurine BAP; and Moderate or High for polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB).
A general downward trend was found between 2003 and 2012 in the North-East Atlantic for cadmium, lead, lindane, PCB, DDT and BAP, and also in the Baltic Sea for lindane and PCB. No trends could be calculated for the other regional seas.
Between 1996 and 2012, trends in household spending patterns were mixed. The trend, however, is towards an increasing share of consumption categories with reduced environmental pressures per Euro spent. In addition, almost all consumption categories have also seen reductions in environmental pressure intensities. Together, these two developments are likely to have caused a relative decoupling of environmental pressures from growth in household consumption expenditure.
European economic production and consumption have become less waste intensive, even after the economic downturn since 2008 is considered in the analysis.
From the production side, waste generation from manufacturing in the EU-28 and Norway declined by 25% in absolute terms between 2004 and 2012, despite an increase of 7% in sectoral economic output. Waste generation by the service sector declined by 23% in the same period, despite an increase of 13% in sectoral economic output.
Turning to consumption, total municipal waste generation in EEA countries declined by 2% between 2004 and 2012, despite a 7% increase in real household expenditure.
One of the objectives in EU waste policy is to reduce waste generation in absolute terms, within the overall goal to decouple economic growth from resource use and environmental impacts. Waste prevention efforts across Europe seems to contribute to the waste objectives; with considerable differences between the countries. Wider analysis across different economic sectors within and beyond EU borders will be needed in order to provide more comprehensive conclusions.
Acidification and eutrophication
Acidification: In the EU-28, the ecosystem area where acidification critical loads were exceeded decreased from 43% in 1980 to 7% in 2010 (7% for all EEA member countries). There remain some areas where the interim objective for reducing acidification, as defined in the National Emission Ceiling Directive 2001/81/EC, has not been met.
Eutrophication: The EU-28 ecosystem area, where the critical loads for eutrophication were exceeded, peaked at 84% in 1990 and decreased to 63% in 2010 (55% in EEA member countries). This percentage is projected to decrease to 54% in 2020, assuming implementation of current legislation (48% in EEA member countries). The magnitude of the exceedances is projected to reduce considerably in most areas, except for a few 'hot spot' areas in western France and the border areas between the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, as well as in northern Italy.
Outlook: Only 4% of the EU-28 ecosystem area is still projected to be in exceedance of acidification critical loads in 2020 if current legislation is fully implemented (3% in EEA member countries). The eutrophication reduction target set in the updated EU air pollution strategy proposed by the European Commission in late 2013, will be met by 2030 if it is assumed that all maximum technically feasible reduction measures are implemented, but will not be met by current legislation.
Most of the vegetation and agricultural crops are exposed to ozone levels exceeding the long term objective given in the EU Air Quality Directive 2008/50/EC. A significant fraction is also exposed to levels above the target value threshold defined in the directive. For the past three years, however, the agricultural area exposed to concentrations above the target value threshold is well below 25%.
Accumulated concentrations of crop exposure to ozone over summer months show large year-to-year variations. There is a tendency to decreasing levels after 2006, although this is not statistically significant.
With regard to forest ozone exposure, during the period 2004 to 2011, 60% or more of the forest area has been exposed to concentrations above the critical level set by the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution.
Concentrations of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and ammonium have markedly decreased in European rivers in the period 1992 to 2012, mainly due to a general improvement in waste water treatment.
Similarly, concentrations of phosphate in European rivers more than halved over the period 1992 to 2012. The decrease in river orthophosphate is due to the measures introduced by national and European legislation, in particular the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, which involves the removal of nutrients. Also the change to the use of phosphate-free detergents has contributed to lower phosphorus concentrations.
River nitrate concentrations have declined steadily from 2.7 to 2.1 mg N/l over the period 1992 to 2012. Agriculture is the largest contributor of nitrogen pollution, and due to the EU Nitrate Directive and national measures, the nitrogen pollution from agriculture has been reduced and this is reflected in lower river nitrate concentrations.
More than half of the river and lake water bodies in Europe are reported to be in less than good ecological status or potential, and will need mitigation and/or restoration measures to meet the Water Framework Directive objective of all water bodies having good status by 2015.
The global average concentrations of various greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere continue to increase. The combustion of fossil fuels from human activities and land-use changes are largely responsible for this increase.
The concentration of all GHGs, including cooling aerosols that are relevant in the context of the 2 o C temperature target, reached a value of 435 parts per million (ppm) CO 2 equivalents in 2012, an increase of about 3 ppm compared to 2011. As such the concentration continued to close on the threshold of 450 ppm.
In 2012, t he concentration of the six GHGs included in the Kyoto Protocol had reached 449 ppm CO 2 equivalent, an increase of 171 ppm (around +62%) compared to pre-industrial levels.
The concentration of CO 2 , the most important GHG, reached a level of 393 ppm by 2012, and further increased to 396 ppm in 2013. This is an increase of approximately 118 ppm (around +42%) compared to pre-industrial levels.
Concentrations of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and total ammonium have decreased in European rivers in the period 1992 to 2012 (Fig. 1), mainly due to general improvement in waste water treatment.
Since 2005, average nitrate concentrations in European groundwater have declined and in 2011, the mean concentration had almost returned to the 1992 level.
The average nitrate concentration in European rivers declined by 0.03 milligrams per liter of nitrogen (mg N/l) (0.8%) per year over the period 1992 to 2012.
The decline in nitrate concentration reflects the effect of measures to reduce agricultural inputs of nitrate, as well as improvements in wastewater treatment.
Average orthophosphate concentration in European rivers has decreased markedly over the last two decades (0.003 milligrams per liter of phosphorous (mg P/l) or 2.1% per year).
Also, average lake phosphorus concentration decreased over the period 1992-2012 (0.0004 mg P/l, or 0.8% per year).
The decrease in phosphorus concentration reflects both improvements in wastewater treatment and the reduction of phosphorus in detergents.
Understanding and awareness of biodiversity have increased slightly since 2007. Citizens are also more aware of the threats and challenges facing biodiversity, but change in levels of awareness is slow. In 2013, more than two-thirds of EU citizens had heard of biodiversity, but only 44% know the meaning of the word. This is, however, 10% more than in 2007.
62% of EU citizens (against 58% in 2010) very much agree that it is important to halt biodiversity loss because our well-being and quality of life is based upon nature and biodiversity (TNS, 2013).