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Sound and independent information
on the environment

1. Introduction

Scope of the report

In the Fifth Environmental Action Programme (5th EAP) the European Commission states that "a comprehensive reappraisal of the situation will be undertaken and an up-dated report on the state of the environment and a review of the policy-cum-strategy set out in this Programme will be published before the end of 1995" (EC, 1992). The European Commission (DG XI: Directorate General for Environment, Nuclear Safety and Civil Protection) has asked the European Environment Agency (EEA) to produce the above-mentioned state-of-the-environment report, requesting that besides producing an update, the EEA should also carry out a quality assessment as to whether the measures taken to date will lead to achievement of the 5EAP targets.

The following issues are addressed in this report:

  • changes in the initial state of the environment (new insights);
  • changes in social developments (eg, population growth, energy use);
  • progress in the implementation of those 5EAP actions taken since 1992 for which the EU is taking the lead;
  • qualitative assessment of the effectiveness of policy measures and actions; and
  • distance to targets, i.e. expert judgements on the achievability of selected 5EAP targets for main environmental themes, based on the existing state of action and policies in the pipeline.

The focus of this report is on the trends and the state of the environment at the EU level. Although the 5EAP calls for action at the Member State and local levels, and by target groups, evaluation of the progress to date is the subject of the Commission's Progress Report on the 5EAP. The analysis of this report is limited to a discussion of progress on the implementation of those Community level actions specified in the 5EAP.

Box 1: Towards a new way of reporting

The time factor obviously plays a part in the development of environmental problems and of pro-active policy making. Three time-lags can be distinguished.

  • Chemical time-lag. A continuous loading over time influences the storage capacity of environmental reservoirs. Once such storage capacity has been exceeded, the environmental problem becomes manifest (often referred to as the 'time-bomb' effect). It can also take a long time before the original situation is recovered , once actions are undertaken. Some striking examples of environmental problems that show a rather 'irreversible' character (or a long recovery time) are climate change, ozone depletion, persistent chemicals in the environment, and loss of habitats. In relation to reservoirs, 'time' also means that despite the reduction of environmental pressures, this process might not suffice. The accumulated stress can remain too high, exceeding critical loads and well above the carrying capacity of ecosystems. For improving the quality of nature, further improvement of environmental conditions and land management are crucial.
  • Biological time-lag. There is a time delay between the chemical or physical exposure and the effect, eg between exposure to carcinogens and cancer. A typical example is the delay between the exposure to UV-B radiation, due to ozone depletion, and the increased prevalence of skin cancer some decades later.
  • Societal time-lag. Apart from the time it takes for raising public awareness and development of policy strategies, the regulation period also needs time. Directives that have not yet been approved will take at least 4-5 years to come into effect and, where derogations are offered to specific Member States or sectors, may not be fully implemented for a further 10 years. This implementation period also depends on the speed of 'fleet turnover' (eg, it will take 10-15 years to fully implement the new catalytic converter in all passenger cars). This fleet turnover is even longer in some other sectors such as power plants, transport infrastructure, and housing.

Therefore, a diagnosis of just the current state of the environment is inadequate. Early warning information systems, monitoring of environmental progress and environmental outlooks are crucial for supporting the policy process and providing sufficient feedback for policy-makers and society on the environmental effects of their present and future actions.

Selection of indicators

The work in this report has focused on a set of indicators, which have been selected on the basis of the following criteria:

  • they provide an indication of key pressures/stresses on environmental quality in relation to the key 5EAP themes;
  • they reflect recent work carried out on indicators by , for example, OECD; and
  • the information should be available (in the short term) on a comparable basis for EU12 and EU15 using Eurostat and other official sources, or Europe's Environment: the Dobrís Assessment (EEA, 1995), wherever possible.

In addition, a shorter list of 9 'target' or 'performance' indicators have been selected: these help to indicate where the EU stands in relation to key 5EAP targets and how much more needs to be achieved ('distance to target').

Structure of this summary

The 5EAP sets out an integrated strategy for both environmental themes and causes of environmental degradation by target sectors. The summary report is structured along similar lines to the 5EAP itself and is divided into three main chapters. Chapter 2 highlights the main conclusions of the report. Chapter 3 summarises the progress and prospects towards the 5EAP environmental themes. The themes are categorised according to their spatial scale of impact: global; transboundary and regional. The impacts of each of the other themes on nature and biodiversity is discussed separately. The last section covers the environmental expenditures of current policies and their impact on the economy. Chapter 4 describes key trends in society and summarises the contributions of 5EAP sectors to each of the environmental themes, focusing on environmental quality and sensitivity.


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European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100