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You are here: Home / The European environment — state and outlook 2015

SOER 2015 — The European environment — state and outlook 2015

A comprehensive assessment of the European environment's state, trends and prospects, in a global context.
Key messages
Transport:  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%... See briefing
Land systems:  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. See briefing
Land systems:  '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... See briefing
Air pollution — emissions of selected pollutants:  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. See briefing
Waste — municipal solid waste generation and management :  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. See briefing
Hydrological systems and sustainable water management:  Full and coordinated implementation of water and nature legislation would restore aquatic habitats and foster water efficiency. See briefing
The air and climate system:  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... See briefing
Transport — passenger transport demand and modal split:  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. See briefing
Biodiversity:  The main EU target of 'halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services' by 2020 remains a serious challenge. See briefing
Energy:  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... See briefing
Mitigating climate change:  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... See briefing
Diverging global population trends (GMT 1):  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... See briefing
Diverging global population trends (GMT 1):  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. See briefing
Waste — municipal solid waste generation and management :  Generation of municipal waste per capita has declined slightly from 2004 to 2012, but it is clearly better managed now than ten years ago. See briefing
Climate change impacts and adaptation:  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... See briefing
The air and climate system:  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... See briefing
Natural capital and ecosystem services:  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.... See briefing
Noise:  Further efforts are needed to decrease noise pollution in Europe. There is also a clear need to improve implementation of the Environmental Noise Directive in Member States, in particular with respect to the completeness, comparability and timeliness... See briefing
Air pollution — emissions of selected pollutants:  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. See briefing
Energy — energy consumption and share of renewable energy :  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. See briefing
Continued economic growth? (GMT 5):  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... See briefing
Towards a more urban world (GMT 2):  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... See briefing
Growing pressures on ecosystems (GMT 8):  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... See briefing
Air pollution:  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... See briefing
Maritime activities:  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... See briefing
Freshwater quality — nutrients in rivers:  Nutrient enrichment of Europe's freshwaters is a concern, with pollution from agriculture a cause of poor water quality. See briefing
Agriculture:  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... See briefing
Freshwater quality — nutrients in rivers:  Average nitrate concentrations in European rivers reduced by over 20% between 1992 and 2012, whilst orthophosphate concentrations more than halved. See briefing
Air pollution:  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. See briefing
Tourism:  Responses to sustainability challenges are dispersed across EU legislation and policies, while the evidence base to track progress is still fragmented. See briefing
Freshwater quality:  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. See briefing
Waste — municipal solid waste generation and management :  The large differences in performance indicate room for further improvement and actions to meet the 2020 target to recycle 50% of municipal waste. See briefing
Intensified global competition for resources (GMT 7):  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... See briefing
Increasingly severe consequences of climate change (GMT 9):  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... See briefing
Increasing environmental pollution (GMT 10):  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... See briefing
Mitigating climate change:  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. See briefing
Urban systems:  The role of cities is critical in achieving Europe's objectives for a low carbon, resource-efficient and ecosystems resilient society. See briefing
Noise:  Noise pollution poses a high environmental risk to human health, with road traffic being the greatest contributor. At least 10 000 cases of premature deaths from noise exposure occur each year, although incomplete data mean this number is significantly... See briefing
Transport — passenger transport demand and modal split:  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. See briefing
Hydrological systems and sustainable water management:  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... See briefing
Biodiversity — protected areas:  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. See briefing
Energy — energy consumption and share of renewable energy :  From 1990 to 2012 there was an increase in the share of renewable energy in GIEC in 32 out of 34 countries. See briefing
Biodiversity — protected areas:  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... See briefing
An increasingly multipolar world (GMT 6):  Driven by structural change, fast-growing workforces and trade liberalisation, developing regions are rapidly increasing their share of global economic output, trade and investment. See briefing
Soil:  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... See briefing
Transport:  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. See briefing
Intensified global competition for resources (GMT 7):  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... See briefing
Growing pressures on ecosystems (GMT 8):  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... See briefing
Biodiversity:  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... See briefing
Consumption:  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... See briefing
Soil:  A coherent soil policy at EU level would provide the framework to coordinate efforts to survey soil status adequately. See briefing
An increasingly multipolar world (GMT 6):  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,... See briefing
Diversifying approaches to governance (GMT 11):  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. See briefing
Forests:  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... See briefing
Marine environment:  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)... See briefing
Agriculture:  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. See briefing
Agriculture — organic farming :  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. See briefing
Increasingly severe consequences of climate change (GMT 9):  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... See briefing
Climate change impacts and adaptation:  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... See briefing
Resource efficiency:  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... See briefing
Tourism:  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... See briefing
Freshwater quality — nutrients in rivers:  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. See briefing
Towards a more urban world (GMT 2):  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... See briefing
Accelerating technological change (GMT 4):  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... See briefing
Accelerating technological change (GMT 4):  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... See briefing
Waste:  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... See briefing
Agriculture — organic farming :  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. See briefing
Mitigating climate change — greenhouse gas emissions :  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... See briefing
Increasing environmental pollution (GMT 10):  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... See briefing
Diversifying approaches to governance (GMT 11):  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... See briefing
Marine environment:  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. See briefing
Maritime activities:  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. See briefing
Changing disease burdens and risks of pandemics (GMT 3):  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. See briefing
Energy:  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... See briefing
Resource efficiency — material resource efficiency and productivity:  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... See briefing
Health and environment:  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... See briefing
Mitigating climate change — greenhouse gas emissions :  Almost all European countries with an individual greenhouse gas limitation or reduction target under the Kyoto Protocol are on track towards achieving their targets. See briefing
Energy — energy consumption and share of renewable energy :  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. See briefing
Changing disease burdens and risks of pandemics (GMT 3):  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... See briefing
Green economy:  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... See briefing
Industry:  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... See briefing
Resource efficiency — material resource efficiency and productivity:  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. See briefing
Freshwater quality:  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... See briefing
Urban systems:  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... See briefing
Forests:  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. See briefing
Industry:  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. See briefing
Continued economic growth? (GMT 5):  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. See briefing
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