The most comprehensive and up-to-date report ever to have been prepared on the state of Europe's Environment will be published imminently by the European Environment Agency. The 600-page report — Europe's Environment: The Dobris Assessment — drawn up in response to a request in June 1991 by Europe's Environment Ministers meeting at Dobris Castle in the Czech Republic - is the product of an intensive co-operative effort over three years by a range of international organisations, countries and individuals, spearheaded by the EC Task Force which has been preparing for the European Environment Agency.
Despite the limitations and gaps in the available data, the general picture that emerges is not reassuring: it is a story of continuing environmental deterioration throughout the continent, with particularly acute problems in a number of 'hot spots' in central and eastern Europe. Attention is focused in the report on twelve serious environmental issues, which have been singled out for their pan-European character, their long-term nature. and the threat they pose to sustainability. They include:
- climate change
- stratospheric ozone depletion
- the loss of biodiversity
- major accidents
- ground-level ozone and other photochemical oxidants
- the management of freshwater
- forest degradation
- coastal zone threats and management
- waste production and management
- urban stress
- chemical risks
Among the report's more alarming findings are that:
- short-term peak levels of ozone during summer photochemical smog episodes are estimated to exceed World Health Organisation guidelines in 60 European cities, affecting over 100 million inhabitants. There is widespread concern that increased concentrations of ground level ozone contributes to the current asthma epidemic among children;
- sixty-five percent of Europe's population is supplied from groundwater the quality of which is seriously threatened by leaching from industrial and agricultural activities, and waste landfills;
- extinction: fish with 53 per cent under threat, reptiles 45 per cent, mammals 42 per cent, and amphibians 30 per cent;
- Europe accounts for 25 per cent of the world's carbon dioxide, and 16 per cent of its methane, man-made emissions. On current trends, a doubling of global C02 concentrations is expected sometime during the next one hundred years, which could increase the frequency of temporary and permanent flooding in many low-lying areas of Europe, as well as coastal erosion changes, with significant impact on agriculture and sensitive ecosystems.
The Dobris Ministerial conference envisaged that Europe's Environment should contribute to the development of a new Environmental Programme for Europe. This would identify priorities for the repair and restoration of existing environmental damage, and provide a basis for the effective implementation of environmental policies and strategies to prevent the development of future problems.
Of course, there is already considerable activity by a range of organisations at a variety of levels aimed at protecting and improving the environment in Europe. Current action includes:
- a range of international environmental conventions and agreements
- an extensive body of European Union (EU) environmental legislation
- national legislation and policy
- sub-national activities by industry, local and regional government and NG0s.
Moreover, in the last few years - spurred by newly-identified global environmental threats and by political and economic upheaval in central and eastern Europe - radical new directions in environmental policy have been proposed which seek to move towards more sustainable forms of economic development. They include Agenda 21, agreed at the 1992 UNCED Conference; the EU's fifth Environmental Action Programme Towards Sustainability; and the Environment for Europe process inaugurated by the Dobris Castle conference.
A key test of both current and proposed actions must be how far they can make an effective contribution to tackling the twelve key environmental problems identified in Europe's Environment. To present a preliminary assessment of achievements so far and to identify what more is required is the main purpose of this document.
The European Environment Agency begins its work as Europe's environmental policy makers attempt to apply the new approaches to environmental protection. The EEA's overall task, as set out in its instituting Regulation, is to produce objective, reliable and comparable information for those concerned with the implementation and further development of European environmental policy. Europe's Environment is a first tangible contribution towards making available the necessary comprehensive information on the state of Europe's physical environment.
But to fulfil its mission properly, the EEA must also make available information and analysis on the nature and effectiveness of different actions to protect and improve the environment. The Agency should be able to help answer such questions as
- which are the different main environmental policies, programmes measures and instruments applied at different levels, and how effective, costly, and participative have they been?
- what are the new challenges and how can new environmental principles and instruments be applied most effectively ?
- how can the different agents and the general public be better informed and participate more efficiently in progress towards sustainable development?
This report therefore seeks to provide a first brief assessment of current environmental actions in Europe, and to identify the unique contribution that the EEA can make to laying the foundations for a more sustainable development path.
The report was written for the Agency by David Wilkinson and Clare Coffey of the Institute for European Environmental Policy, London.
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe's environment.
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