Europe feels the heat as climate change tops the list of environmental challenges
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PRESS RELEASE - Brussels, 29 November 2005
The four hottest years on record were 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2004. Ten percent of Alpine glaciers disappeared during the summer of 2003 alone. At current rates, three quarters of Switzerland's glaciers will have melted by 2050. Europe has not seen climate changes on this scale for 5 000 years, says a new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA), based in Copenhagen.
'The European environment - State and outlook 2005', a five year assessment across 31 countries, provides an overview of Europe's environment and points to challenges of which climate change is just one. Other areas of concern include biodiversity, marine ecosystems, land and water resources, air pollution and health. For the first time, the report has a country by country analysis with performance indicators and comparisons for all of the participants: the EU-25 plus Bulgaria, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Romania, Turkey and including Switzerland.
The report says Europe's average temperature rose by 0.95 °C during the 20th century. This is 35 % higher than the global average increase of 0.7 °C and temperatures will continue to rise. The EU has recognised this and set a target limiting the global temperature increase to 2 °C above pre industrial levels.
'Without effective action over several decades, global warming will see ice sheets melting in the north and the spread of deserts from the south. The continent's population could effectively become concentrated in the centre. Even if we constrain global warming to the EU target of a 2 °C increase, we will be living in atmospheric conditions that human beings have never experienced. Deeper cuts in emissions are needed', says Jacqueline McGlade, Executive director of the EEA.
Past EU legislation on environment has worked, says the report. We have cleaned up our water and our air, phased out some ozone depleting substances and have doubled rates of waste recycling. We also have cars that pollute less; without the dramatic improvements made by catalytic converters over the past twenty years, certain emissions would have been ten times the level they are now. Yet, it has taken ten to twenty years for these actions to show results, the report says.
These environmental success stories are now being overtaken by changes in personal consumption patterns. Europeans are living longer and more of us live alone putting greater demands on living space. Between 1990 and 2000, more than 800 000 hectares, of Europe's land was built on. That is an area three times the size of Luxembourg. If this trend continues, our urban area will double in just over a century. Managing urban sprawl is essential if we are to protect our natural resources, says the report.
We travel further and more often and are consuming the planet's natural resources at twice the world's average rate. Transport is the fastest growing contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. For example, air travel is expected to double between now and 2030. As a result, we leave a clear footprint outside Europe, depleting natural resources and damaging the world's environment.
Eurobarometer polls show that over 70 per cent of Europeans want decision makers to give equal weight to environmental, economic and social policies. To take these views into account, the report underlines that policy makers must work with each other at European, national and local levels. They must integrate environmental considerations across sectors such as transport, agriculture and energy and set up a framework within which individuals and business can take action.
'Policy makers must be farsighted. We need a gradual shift away from taxes on labour and investment towards taxes on pollution and the inefficient use of materials and land. We also need reforms in the way that subsidies are applied to transport, housing, energy and agriculture. We need subsidies encouraging sustainable practices and efficient technologies', says Professor McGlade.
'With the necessary incentives built in, such reforms will lead to more investment, innovation and competitiveness. We have already seen this in practice in certain countries and sectors. Strong taxation of petrol in Europe and high regulatory standards led to cars that have been almost twice as fuel efficient as cars on America's roads, in recent decades. We have seen the cost of inaction in terms of people's lives and our environment with examples such as the collapse of fish stocks, the use of asbestos in buildings, acid rain and lead in petrol. It pays to act now to secure the long term', says Professor McGlade.
Notes to the editor:
About the European Environment Agency (EEA): The EEA is based in Copenhagen. The agency aims to help achieve significant and measurable improvement in Europe's environment through the provision of timely, targeted, relevant and reliable information to policy makers and the public.
As part of its mandate, the EEA provides a comprehensive review of the state of the European environment every five years. 'The European environment - State and outlook 2005' includes:
- An integrated assessment of Europe's environment
with chapters on:
- Environment and quality of life
- The changing face of Europe
- Climate change
- Air pollution and health
- Marine and coastal environment
- Environment and economic sectors
- Looking ahead
- A core set of indicators, which are a small number of indicators that are stable and which can be used to gauge policy effectiveness, such as progress towards the Kyoto targets. An example of a core indicator is greenhouse gas emissions. The indicators provide timely and relevant information on trends and movements taking place within the environment.
- A country by country analysis based on nine of the
core indicators. The analysis provides a comparison of performance in a
'country scorecard', supported by information provided by the countries
The country analyses were prepared in partnership between the countries and the EEA to provide additional country level perspectives on the scorecard analyses. The selection of indicators included in the scorecard is the responsibility of the EEA and does not necessarily reflect the priorities of the countries. To allow a deeper understanding of the issues at country level, some figures included here are from national sources and so may not be fully comparable with data compiled by Eurostat, the EEA or other international bodies. The EEA takes responsibility for the final result.
- Find out how your country performs by looking at Part C of the report.
- Countries covered by the report: The EU-25 (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom), and Bulgaria, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Romania and Turkey.
You can access the report here:
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Teresa Ruch Olsen