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You are here: Home / Media / News / Environment in the European Union at the turn of the century

Environment in the European Union at the turn of the century

PRESS RELEASE - Embargoed for June 24th 1999

"Weather forecast” for Europe's environment
First environmental outlook for the European Union


‘Business-as-usual' scenario shows continued pressure on Europe's environment

Today, the Copenhagen-based European Environment Agency (EEA) issued its State & Outlook report on EU's environment Environment in the European Union at the turn of the century. The report provides, for the first time, an assessment of the development of environmental quality in the EU in the near future, i.e. 2010. 1

Main findings of the report

Despite more than 25 years of Community environmental policy -- successful, on its own terms --, general environmental quality in the European Union (EU) is not recovering significantly. However, there has been real progress in some areas, e.g. river quality and acidification but it is getting worse in others , e.g. waste. Environmental policy can not alone provide the sustainable development set up as a goal in the Amsterdam Treaty. Economic sectors have to change and carry their part of the responsibility for sustainability.

The present report analyses that situation and documents the current and future unsustainable development of some economic sectors - transport, energy, agriculture, household consumption and tourism. This is the major barrier to environmental improvement, even when considering policies in place or in the pipeline in 1997.

If no additional action is taken, the EU environment will remain under serious pressure from a range of activities -- transport, industrial production , leisure activities and even from individual life style -- many of which are forecast to increase the pressure. Because they are interconnected, they will have a knock-on effect on each other:

  • EU economic growth 2: We have seen some progress in eco-efficiency - less pollution per GDP. But production and consumption will increase more and, in general, demand more natural resources and generate more pollutants and waste. We can expect the increase in waste -- 10% from 1990 to 1996 -- to continue. This development has already started eroding gains from environmental policy initiatives e.g. air quality Directives. Economic growth therefore necessitates speeding up efforts towards better integration of environment into all policy areas.
  • Despite a growth in energy efficiency, EU's energy consumption (1995 - 2010) will increase by 15% from 1995 to 2010. With more households, more mobility and more transport, 30% increase is foreseen in passenger car transport and 50% in freight transport. This causes in particular a rise in emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, making climate change issues even more difficult to tackle. The EU target to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions by 8% between 1990 and 2008 - 2012 will not be met under pre-Kyoto action. Instead a 6% increase of emissions is expected. The share of renewable energy, now 6%, is increasing, though only modestly; it is unlikely that the target of 12% by 2010 will be met.
  • Tourism is growing rapidly and significantly. A 50% increase in international tourist arrivals is expected between 1996 and 2010, causing a rise in transport and energy demand. There is also an on-going increase in urban sprawl, with up to 120 ha/day in land-use changes in some countries. Together this means a serious challenge to rural assets and sensitive areas such as coastal zones, 85% of which are already at high or moderate risk from various pressures.
  • Total chemicals production is on a rising trend while minimal risk-assessment analysis is not carried out for 75% of the large-volume chemicals on the market. Emissions or discharges of some heavy metals, like cadmium and copper, and of hazardous chemicals from industry, road transport and agriculture - like some pesticides - are expected to rise. Other emissions, like lead and dioxins, are forecast to decrease.
  • Progress in the integration of the environment into sectoral decision-making and policies is real but slow. Major progress is seen in industry, using environmental management and audit schemes. Economic instruments such as eco-taxes are still being applied on a small scale. There is great potential for expanding integration policies and instruments into other economic sectors.

What has been achieved, in what areas and what is the outlook?

Assessment of progress over the past 5-10 years and trends up to 2010 (2050 for Climate Change and Ozone Depleting Substances). The indications about the pressures show how factors are changing, such as emissions of pollutants or land use, which give rise to the problems. The information about state and impacts indicate how these pressures are changing environmental quality.

PRESSURES Environmental Issues STATE & IMPACT
Present Future   Present Future
some positive development but insufficient unfavourable development Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change unfavourable development unfavourable development
positive development some positive development but insufficient Ozone Depletion unfavourable development some positive development but insufficient
some positive development but insufficient unfavourable development Hazardous Substances some positive development but insufficient ?
some positive development but insufficient some positive development but insufficient Transboundary Air Pollution some positive development but insufficient some positive development but insufficient
some positive development but insufficient some positive development but insufficient Water stress some positive development but insufficient some positive development but insufficient
unfavourable development unfavourable development Soil Degradation unfavourable development ?
some positive development but insufficient unfavourable development Waste unfavourable development unfavourable development
unfavourable development unfavourable development Biodiversity some positive development but insufficient ?
some positive development but insufficient some positive development but insufficient Human Health unfavourable development ?
some positive development but insufficient some positive development but insufficient Urban areas some positive development but insufficient some positive development but insufficient
unfavourable development unfavourable development Coastal and Marine Areas unfavourable development ?

Legend:

positive development positive development
some positive development but insufficient some positive development but insufficient
unfavourable development unfavourable development
? uncertain (partial quantitative/expert analysis available)

From the above summary table, we can see significant and positive cuts in ozone-depleting substances. There has also been a reduction of emissions contributing to acidification and of phosphorus discharges to rivers. Progress in reducing other pressures on the environment has remained largely insufficient. Only air polluting emissions have shown a significant decoupling from GDP since 1990. By contrast, there has only been a relatively small decoupling of carbon dioxide and waste. The outlook foresees these trends to continue to 2010 with future emissions increasing in problem areas that have appeared difficult to tackle: greenhouse gas emissions, chemicals and waste.

In the main economic sectors, polluting emissions have declined significantly in energy, transport and industry sectors, and less so in agriculture. But for transport and agriculture, energy use and carbon dioxide have continued to grow in step with output. There is no indication of significant eco-efficiency gains in these two critical sectors up to 2010.

These pressures feed through into an equally troubling story about the state of the environment foreseen in 2010. In particular, impacts from climate change and waste generation are expected to worsen. Positive developments are anticipated for the impacts of transboundary air pollution, where ecosystems with acid deposition levels above their critical loads will fall from 25% in 1990 to 7% in 2010, water quality, where further reduction of phosphorus and organic matter discharges is expected, and air quality in cities, where continued improvement is foreseen.

There remain, however, considerable uncertainties. Due either to a lack of data in some areas, such as soil, biodiversity, or pesticides in groundwater, or to uncertainties about future socio-economic developments, it is difficult to clearly evaluate the direction in which we are heading. It is particularly difficult to assess the prospects of important emerging issues, which are also of rising public concern: e.g. human health issues, where particulate air pollutants are involved in perhaps 40000-150 000 extra adult deaths of respiratory diseases in cities/year; the effect of chemicals such as dioxin and GMOs in food.

There are, however, small but rapidly-growing positive signals in various countries. Cycling is taking higher percentages of some cities' traffic; pesticide-free areas or municipalities are being declared; a significant growth is seen in organic agriculture; many companies are embracing sustainability as a feasible and profitable process and many municipalities are developing their own local Agenda 21 programmes.

Finally, the report documents the challenge and opportunities of the EU Enlargement. Some Accession Countries have more environmentally sustainable economic activities, and also more extensive areas of natural habitats. However, in the transition to EU membership, there is a danger that their environment will suffer if they follow the same development path of the EU15. When convergence with the present EU implies accelerated economic growth in the Accession Countries their challenge is to ensure that they do not repeat the two decades of environmental neglect that occurred in western Europe - which eventually, in the 1970s, prompted a crash programme of remedial action at European and national level.

Concerning the findings of the report, EEA's Executive Director Domingo Jiménez-Beltràn said: "The situation of EU's environment and the progress towards sustainability is not satisfactory and it can even deteriorate before we get the conditions right for improvement. However, the situation is changing. First, there are positive, though still small, signs showing that a change is feasible and rewarding: e.g. wind energy. Secondly, the objective conditions for change are building up: the Amsterdam Treaty provisions on sustainability, the Cardiff integration initiative paving the way to the Helsinki Summit. And, finally, opportunities are arising for the EU to move towards sustainability: Kyoto Protocol implementation, Agenda 2000 and the enlargement process. Let's get these right!" D. Jiménez-Beltràn presented the report to the EU Environment Council on 24 June 1999.

For more information, contact:
Ronan Uhel, Project Manager Reporting on the Environment, EEA (tel.: +45/33367130)

line

1 Environment in the European Union at the turn of the century reports primarily on the state of the environment in the 15 EU member states. Discussing also the EU enlargement issues, the report also covers 11 Accession countries (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Cyprus). Finally, EFTA countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) are treated where appropriate.

The report diagnoses and measures the situation for the most recent years available, and also assesses future trends - thereby evaluating past and likely forward progress against EU and international targets and policy objectives, taking account of expected pressures, including economic and other developments. It aims to provide important information to all those who frame and implement effective environmental policies, and other measures which could affect these policies.

2 The report uses a baseline scenario (based on OECD and European Commission socio-economic business-as-usual scenarios) under which a 45% increase in economic growth is expected between 1990 and 2010 and a projected 50% increase in final consumption between 1995-2010.



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