Drive to reduce pressure on Europe's environment makes patchy progress
Copenhagen/Brussels, 23 May 2002
Efforts to lessen pressures on Europe's environment are making uneven progress while pressure is continuing to grow on some natural resources, especially fish stocks and land, the European Environment Agency's latest annual assessment shows.
Environmental signals 2002, launched today at a series of events in Brussels, points to positive overall trends across the European Union in emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases and generation of waste, as well as to confirmed reductions in water and air pollution.
Greenhouse gas emissions are 3.5% lower than in 1990, even if they showed a slight rise in the year 2000; emissions of several air pollutants have been substantially reduced; the total amount of waste, though still increasing, appears to be growing more slowly than the economy; and the introduction of many new sewage treatment plants is cutting polluting discharges to rivers and other water bodies.
However, these overall reductions are in many cases due to large cuts in only a few countries or economic sectors, the report cautions. Many countries and some sectors have not contributed to the positive trends, making progress patchy.
And time-lags before these falls translate into improvements in the quality of the environment, combined with high background concentrations of pollutants from past emissions and sources elsewhere, mean that the impact of these pressures remains a concern.
Consequently, large areas of natural habitats and agricultural land are still exposed to acidificaton. There is little sign that eutrophication is becoming less of a problem in coastal waters. And a substantial proportion of Europe's urban population remains exposed to high concentrations of harmful ground-level ozone and fine particles.
Pressure on some natural resources is continuing to increase. This is particularly the case for fisheries. Despite an overall decline in fleet capacity, continued over-fishing is putting many of the commercially important European fish stocks at high risk of collapse.
Land resources also remain subject to significant pressures, such as urban sprawl and the expansion of transport infrastructure.
Over the last 20 years the built-up area in major western and eastern European countries has increased by some 20%, much faster than EU population growth (6%). This has caused loss or disturbance of natural areas and significant fragmentation of animal and plant habitats in most of Europe.
Domingo Jiménez-Beltrán, EEA Executive Director, said:
"There is still a long way to go to ensure environmental issues are accorded due weight in the decision-making process alongside economic and social considerations.
"Providing environmental information such as this annual review of the state of the environment is therefore essential if policies and other initiatives are to be reviewed, reorientated and improved to ensure they contribute to the ultimate goal of a more sustainable Europe.”
"Annual environmental reviews do not generally reveal dramatic changes in the state of the environment: their value lies in the identification of underlying trends and expectations of change, and the provision of early warnings of potential concerns.
"This year's report shows a mixed picture for the issues covered, without major changes in the state of the environment since the first Environmental signals report was published two years ago.
"However, to a certain extent the conditions for future change are emerging at the political level in the EU. This is thanks to the adoption of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy, finalisation of the Sixth Environment Action Programme and the continuing drive to integrate environmental concerns into sectoral policies, even if results have sometimes been disappointing.”
Mr Jiménez-Beltrán drew three main conclusions from Environmental signals 2002:
- The process of "dematerialisation” -- improving quality of life while reducing consumption of energy and materials -- which was anticipated with the transition to a more service-oriented economy has not yet been fully exploited.
- Some environmental pressures continue to be closely tied to economic development. Examples are greenhouse gas emissions from transport and tourism; land and soil degradation; energy and resource consumption by households; and reduction of stocks by fishing. Other pressures, such as mining and industrial waste, are growing more slowly than the economy but still increasing in absolute terms.
- On average the EU is using energy more efficiently, but it is still not reducing energy consumption in absolute terms. Also, while some countries have shown that targets, such as increasing the share of renewable energy in their energy mix, can be met, others have seen their energy efficiency deteriorate. The successful expansion of renewable energy is being undermined by an overall increase in the consumption of energy, especially electricity.
- Households' contribution to environmental pressures is often overlooked. As consumption levels continue to rise in parallel with disposable income, the need to help consumers make informed choices is becoming increasingly important. Eco-labelling and information dissemination, such as campaigns to encourage energy savings, are growing but their use remains marginal.
The full text of Environmental signals 2002, as well as a summary, are available for download from the EEA web site at http://reports.eea.europa.eu/environmental_assessment_report_2002_9/.
Notes for Editors
- Acidification is the deposition of acidifying substances that can damage environmental media such as freshwater systems, forests, soil and natural ecosystems. The acidifying substances originate largely from man-made emissions of three gaseous pollutants: sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and ammonia.
- Eutrophication is the excessive enrichment of waters with nutrients, causing adverse biological effects which lead to depletion of the waters' oxygen content, consequently inhibiting their ability to support animal and plant life.
- The EU has set indicative goals of increasing renewable energy sources' share of total energy consumption to 12% and their share of electricity consumption to 22.1%, both by 2010.
About the EEA
The European Environment Agency is the main source of information used by the European Union and its Member States in developing environment policies. The Agency aims to support sustainable development and to help achieve significant and measurable improvement in Europe's environment through the provision of timely, targeted, relevant and reliable information to policy-making agents and the public. Established by the EU in 1990 and operational in Copenhagen since 1994, the EEA is the hub of the European environment information and observation network (EIONET), a network of some 600 bodies across Europe through which it both collects and disseminates environment-related data and information.
The Agency, which is open to all nations that share its objectives, currently has 29 member countries. These are the 15 EU Member States; Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, which are members of the European Economic Area; and 11 of the 13 countries in central and eastern Europe and the Mediterranean area that are seeking accession to the EU -- Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania, Slovenia and the Slovak Republic. Their membership makes the EEA the first EU body to take in the candidate countries. It is anticipated that the two remaining candidate countries, Poland and Turkey, will ratify their membership agreements within the next few months. This will take the Agency's membership to 31 countries. Negotiations with Switzerland on membership are also under way.