At the end of 1994, the European Commission requested the European Environment Agency to prepare a new state-of-the-environment report for the European Union to update the one presented in 1992, and to contribute to the review of the Fifth Environmental Action Programme, which is to be completed by the end of 1996.
This was the first such request that the Agency had received since being established; the importance of the framework of the Environmental Action Programme for establishing the Agency's work programme priorities gave this task particular importance. The form of the report, the timing and the process by which it was to be developed and executed, was decided upon in cooperation with the Commission (DG XI) at the beginning of 1995. The project was started in March 1995.
It is a major effort in normal circumstances to prepare a state-of- the-environment report, since it is an activity that normally involves a wide cross-section of actors in different disciplines; with the Agency established but not yet fully up and running with its complement of staff, this was particularly so. To the Agency's advantage, we had available the results of the comprehensive report Europe's Environment: The Dobrís Assessment on which to base much of the work. Focus had to be given to the targets and themes of interest in the 5EAP and, wherever possible, the information had to brought fully up to date.
The Agency conducted the task with the following contractors:
- Dutch National Institute of Public Health and Environmental Protection (RIVM);
- Danish National Environmental Research Institute (NERI);
- Environmental Resources Management (ERM);
- DHV Milieu & Infrastructuur (DHV);
- Danish Environmental Protection Agency (DEPA); and
- Institute for European Environmental Policy, London (IEEP).
Data were provided by the Statistical Office of the European Communities (Eurostat), the World Bank, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), UNECE Coordination Center for Effects at RIVM and the European Commission (DG XI).
The whole project was managed and coordinated throughout by Keimpe Wieringa. The report was reviewed by the Scientific Committee of the Agency and technical comments were received from the Commission. I wish to express my appreciation and thanks to all these organisations for their cooperation.
The result of the process is now before you in the form of this report. The findings are important. They show that while indeed some progress is noteworthy, improvements in the environment are difficult to relate to specific actions and are often not apparent even after significant reduction of pressures. Time lags, the non-linear nature of environmental processes and the still limited scale of effort are often the reason for this, but it is equally due to not having control of all significant factors and of new developments changing future expectations. What is clear, however, is that continued vigilance is required and that current targets and approaches need broadening and strengthing if progress across the breadth of environmental issues is to be made.
For the Agency, it has been the first broader exercise towards a more operational environmental reporting system, where not only the assessment of the elements of the pressures-state-impact chain and related indicators are necessary, but also the progressive introduction of performance indicators to assess both the progress and prospects in environmental quality and sustainability. This is the challenge for the Agency: to progressively improve the environmental reporting system to make it timely and action-orientated.