Environmental signals 2001
Copenhagen, 29 May 2001
Public policy needs to become more effective in influencing the growing scale and evolving patterns of production and consumption if Europe is to achieve its environmental and sustainable development goals.
This is the central message of the Environmental signals 2001 report published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) today.
"The report shows, regrettably, that the environmental problems that are most difficult to solve, including greenhouse gas emissions, pressures on land and water resources, nitrate pollution and waste generation, remain with us," said Domingo Jiménez-Beltrán, the EEA's Executive Director.
"These problems are consequences of the overall scale of resources use. If environmental and sustainability aims and targets, such as those proposed in the EU's 6th Environment Action Programme, are to be reached, higher efficiencies in the use of materials and energy will be necessary.
"This in turn requires further actions to influence the character and scale of production and consumption across the various economic sectors. Taxation is a key tool for managing demand but it needs to be applied dynamically since financial stimuli become less effective as incomes rise."
Environmental signals 2001 provides a snapshot of some of the myriad pressures on the environment in the EEA's 18 member countries, the driving forces behind them and, importantly, the complex linkages between them.
The report, prepared for policy-makers and the public, is a major input to the 15-16 June Gothenburg summit, where EU leaders will take stock of strategies for integrating environmental protection into nine economic sectors and adopt the EU's first sustainable development strategy.
The annual Environmental signals reports use key socio-economic and environmental indicators to assess progress in implementing environmental policies and integrating environmental considerations into other policy sectors. Such indicators bring transparency and accountability to policy-making and create a basis for fine-tuning policies for maximum effectiveness.
Launched last year, the Environmental signals series is developing into the main indicator report on Europe's environmental sustainability and will thus play an important part in monitoring the 6th Environment Action Programme (6EAP).
Pointing to positive developments as well as negative trends, the reports focus on selected sectors and issues. They are not intended to be as comprehensive as the EEA's five-yearly state of the environment reports.
This year's Environmental signals examines the environmental impacts of households/consumption and tourism, which are covered for the first time, as well as the key transport, energy and agriculture sectors.
In terms of environmental issues, there is a new focus on river water quality, hazardous substances in marine waters, soil contamination and grasslands, plus detailed updates on climate change, air pollution and waste.
The report's findings include the following:
- Inputs into the north-east Atlantic of six important hazardous heavy metals and organic substances fell significantly between 1990 and 1998
- EU emissions of the six Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gases fell by 2% between 1990 and 1998 (and subsequent data show a 4% fall to 1999, while emissions in the US rose by 11% in the same period)
- Waste generation continues to increase and remains closely linked to economic growth
- Demand for transport fuels is growing faster than overall energy demand
- Motorway construction claimed around 10 hectares of land every day between 1990 and 1998
- Electricity from renewable energy sources increased by about 3% per year between 1989 and 1998, but the annual growth rate needs to rise to 5.5% to meet the EU's proposed target for 2010
- Eco-labelling of tourist accommodation has increased significantly since 1990 but remains very marginal.
Environmental signals 2001 also finds that "eco-efficiency" - the efficiency with which environmental resources are used to produce a unit of economic activity - has improved since 1990 in transport, energy supply and agriculture. This has resulted in falls in emissions of acidifying gases and ground-level ozone precursors from these sectors.
However, gains in energy efficiency have been outweighed by the growth of these sectors. Following the decision taken at the Stockholm European Council in March to review progress in all dimensions of sustainable development at the EU's annual spring summits, the EEA intends to design and time future Environmental signals reports to contribute most effectively to that process.
The full text of Environmental signals 2001 is published on the EEA's web site at http://reports.eea.europa.eu/signals-2001/index_html
About the EEA
The European Environment 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 European Union (EU) in 1990 by Council Regulation 1210/90 (subsequently amended by Council Regulation 933/1999), the Agency is the hub of the European Environment Information and Observation Network (EIONET), a network of some 600 environmental bodies and institutes across Europe.
Located in Copenhagen and operational since 1994, the EEA is open to all countries that share its objectives and are able to participate in its activities. It currently has 18 member countries - the 15 EU Member States, plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, which are members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The 13 countries in central and eastern Europe and the Mediterranean area that are seeking accession to the EU are expected to join the EEA in the coming months, making the Agency the first EU body to welcome these countries.