Conclusions per environmental problem

Page Last modified 20 Apr 2016, 02:34 PM

Climate change

European annual mean air temperatures have increased by 0.3-0.6°C since 1900. Climate models predict further increases, above 1990 levels, of about 2°C by the year 2100, with higher increases in the north of Europe than in the south. The potential consequences include increases in sea level, more frequent and intense storms, floods and droughts, and changes in biota and food productivity. How serious these consequences will be depends partly on the extent to which adaptation measures are implemented in the coming years and decades.

Ensuring that further temperature increases are at no more than 0.1°C per decade and that sea levels rise by no more than 2 cm per decade (provisional limits assumed for sustainability) would require industrialised countries to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and various halogenated compounds) by at least 30-55% by 2010 from 1990 levels.

Such reductions are much higher than the commitments made by developed countries at the third conference of parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Kyoto in December 1997, which were to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in most European countries to 8% below the 1990 levels by 2010. Some CEE countries committed themselves to greenhouse gas reductions of between 5% and 8% in 2010 compared with 1990, while the Russian Federation and the Ukraine undertook to stabilise their emissions at 1990 levels.

It is uncertain whether the EU will achieve the original UNFCCC target, set in 1992, of stabilising emissions of carbon dioxide (the most important greenhouse gas) in 2000 at 1990 levels, because emissions in 2000 are currently predicted to be up to 5% above 1990 levels. Furthermore, in contrast to the Kyoto target of an 8% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 (for a "basket" of six gases, including carbon dioxide), the Commission of the European Communities’ latest "business as usual" (pre-Kyoto) scenario implies an 8% increase in carbon dioxide emissions between 1990 and 2010, with the largest increase (39%) in the transport sector.

The proposal for one of the key measures at Community level, an energy/carbon tax, has not yet been adopted, but some Western European countries have already introduced such taxes (Austria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden). In addition, there is scope for other types of measure to reduce CO2 emissions, some of which are currently being taken by various European countries and the EU. These include energy efficiency programmes, combined heat and power installations, fuel switching from coal to natural gas and/or wood, measures aimed at changing the modal split in transport and measures aimed at absorbing carbon (increasing the carbon sink) through afforestation.

Energy use, dominated by fossil fuels, is the key influence on emissions of carbon dioxide. In Western Europe, emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use fell by 3% between 1990 and 1995, due to economic recession, the restructuring of industry in Germany and the switch from coal to natural gas for electricity generation. Energy prices in Western Europe during the past decade have been stable and relatively low compared to historical prices, providing little incentive for improving efficiency. Energy intensity (final energy consumption per unit of GDP) has fallen by only 1% per year since 1980.

Patterns of energy use changed markedly between 1980 and 1995. Energy use in the transport sector grew by 44%, industrial energy use fell by 8% and other fuel use grew by 7%, reflecting mainly growth in road transport and a move away from energy-intensive heavy industry. Total energy consumption increased by 10% between 1985 and 1995.

The contribution of nuclear energy to total energy provision increased from 5 to 15% in Western Europe between 1980 and 1994, with Sweden and France depending on nuclear energy for around 40% of their total energy requirements.

In Eastern Europe, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use fell by 19% between 1990 and 1995, mainly as a result of economic restructuring. Energy use for transport fell by 3% in CEE over this period and by 48% in the NIS. Industrial energy use fell by 28% in CEE and by 38% in the NIS. Energy intensities in CEE are about three times higher than in Western Europe and in the NIS probably five times higher, so there is considerable potential for energy savings. In a baseline "business as usual" scenario, energy use in 2010 is expected to be 11% lower than in 1990 in the NIS, and 4% higher than in 1990 in CEE.

The contribution of nuclear energy to total energy provision increased from 2 to 6% in the NIS and by from 1 to 5% in CEE between 1980 and 1994. In Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovenia, nuclear energy provides around a quarter of total energy requirements.

Methane emissions in CEE and the NIS fell by 40% between 1980 and 1995. However, there is still considerable scope for further reductions throughout Europe, particularly from gas distribution systems and coal mining. Emissions of nitrous oxide from industry and the use of mineral fertilisers could also be further reduced throughout Europe.

Emissions of CFCs have fallen rapidly from their peak levels as their production and use are phased out. However, the use and emission of their substitutes, HCFCs (which are also greenhouse gases), is increasing, as is that of relatively recently identified greenhouse gases such as SF6, HFCs and PFCs, which are part of the "basket" of gases for which emission reduction targets were agreed at Kyoto.

CO2 emissions in Europe, 1980-1995

CO2 emissions in Europe, 1980-1995 (Click to enlarge)


Source: EEA-ETC/AE
(Click on the image to enlarge)

Stratospheric ozone depletion

International policy measures taken to protect the ozone layer have reduced global annual production of ozone-depleting substances by 80-90% of its maximum value. Annual emissions have also fallen rapidly. However, the time delays in atmospheric processes are such that no effects of the international measures can yet be seen in the concentrations of ozone in the stratosphere or in the amount of ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation reaching the surface.

The ozone-depleting potential of all chlorine and bromine species (CFCs, halons, etc.) in the stratosphere is expected to reach its maximum between 2000 and 2010. Above Europe, the amount of ozone in the atmosphere fell by 5% between 1975 and 1995, allowing more UV-B radiation to enter the lower atmosphere and reach the earth’s surface.

Large localised reductions in stratospheric ozone concentration have recently been observed over Arctic regions in the spring. For example, total ozone over the North Pole fell to 40% below normal in March 1997. These reductions are similar to, but less severe than, those observed over Antarctica and emphasise the need for continuing political attention to stratospheric ozone depletion.

The recovery of the ozone layer, which will take many decades, could be accelerated by a more rapid phase-out of HCFCs and methyl bromide, by ensuring the safe destruction of CFCs and halons in stores and other reservoirs, and by preventing the smuggling of ozone-depleting substances.

Ozone depleting substances in the stratosphere, 1950-2100

Ozone depleting substances in the stratosphere (click to enlarge)

Source: RIVM, preliminary data from the WMO 1998 ozone assessment.
(Click on the image to enlarge)

Acidification

There has been some reduction in the effects of acid deposition originating from emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and ammonia on freshwater since the Dobris assessment, with invertebrate fauna at many sites showing a partial recovery. The vitality of many forests is still decreasing but, while this damage is not necessarily related to acidification, long-term effects of acid deposition on soils may be playing a role. In sensitive areas, acidification leads to increased mobility of aluminium and heavy metals, causing groundwater pollution.

Depositions of acidifying substances have decreased since about 1985. Critical loads (the levels of deposition above which long-term harmful effects can be expected) are, however, still being exceeded in about 10% of Europe’s land area, mainly in northern and central Europe.

Emission of sulphur dioxide in Europe halved between 1980 and 1995. Total nitrogen emissions (nitrogen oxides plus ammonia), which remained roughly constant between 1980 and 1990, fell by about 15% between 1990 and 1995, the largest falls occurring in CEE and the NIS.

The transport sector has become the largest source of emissions of nitrogen oxides, contributing 60% of the total in 1995. Between 1980 and 1994, road transport of goods increased by 54%; between 1985 and 1995, road transport of passengers increased by 46% and air transport of passengers by 67%.

In Western Europe, the introduction of exhaust catalysts has resulted in reduced emissions from the transport sector. However, such measures take effect rather slowly because of the low turnover rate of the vehicle fleet. Further reductions are likely to require fiscal measures on fuels and vehicles.

In CEE and the NIS, there is significant potential for growth in private transport, but also major potential for improving energy efficiency throughout the transport sector.

Policy measures to combat acidification have been only partly successful:

  • The of the protocol of the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLTRAP) on nitrogen oxides, to stabilise emissions at the 1987 level by 1994, was achieved for Europe overall, but not by all the 21 parties. Some of the parties, however, as well as non-parties, achieved considerable reductions.
  • The Fifth Environmental Action Plan of the European Commission (5EAP) aimed for a 30% reduction of emissions of nitrogen oxides between 1990 and 2000. Only an 8% reduction was achieved by 1995, and it does not appear likely that the 2000 will be met.

A multi-pollutant, multi-effect protocol is expected to be ready in 1999. The aim will be to set further national emission ceilings, on a cost-effective basis, for acidifying substances and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs).

  • The target of the first CLRTAP protocol for sulphur, to reduce emissions in 1993 by 30% compared to 1980, was achieved by all 21 parties to the protocol, as well as by five non-parties. However, several European countries (for example, Portugal and Greece) did not reduce their sulphur emissions in this period to the same extent. Achieving the interim target of the second sulphur protocol by 2000 is more uncertain, and further measures will be needed to achieve its long-term target, which is no exceedance of critical loads.
  • The 5EAP target for sulphur dioxide, a reduction of 35% of 1985 emissions by 2000, was achieved for the EU as a whole in 1995 (40% overall reduction) and by most Member States.

Further measures aimed at reaching the long-term target of the second CLRTAP sulphur protocol are under development in the EU, following the 5EAP, including reducing the sulphur content of oil products, reducing emissions from large combustion plants and setting emission limits for road vehicles. A provisional target of the EU acidification strategy now under discussion is a 55% reduction in emissions of nitrogen oxides between 1990 and 2010. Particular attention will need to be paid to emissions from the transport sector if this target is to be met.


Total area of exceedance of the critical load for sulphur and nitrogen

Total area of exceedance of the critical load for sulphur and nitrogen (Click to enlarge)

Source: EMEP/MSC/W and CCE
(Click on the image to enlarge)

Tropospheric ozone

Ozone concentrations in the troposphere (from the ground to 10-15km) over Europe are typically three to four times higher than in the pre-industrial era, mainly as a result of the very large growth in emissions of nitrogen oxides from industry and vehicles since the 1950s. Year-to-year meteorological variability prevents the detection of trends in the occurrence of episodes of high ozone concentration.

Threshold concentrations, set for the protection of human health, vegetation and ecosystems, are frequently exceeded in most European countries. About 700 hospital admissions in the EU in the period March-October 1995 (75% of them in France, Italy and Germany) may be attributable to ozone concentrations exceeding the health protection threshold. About 330 million people in the EU may be exposed to at least one exceedance of the threshold per year.

The protection threshold for vegetation was exceeded in most EU countries in 1995. Several countries reported exceedances for more than 150 days at some sites. In the same year, almost the entire EU area of forest and arable land experienced exceedances.

Emissions of the most important ozone precursors, nitrogen oxides and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), increased until the late 1980s and then fell by 14% between 1990 and 1994. The transport sector is the main contributor of nitrogen oxides. Transport is also the main contributor to emissions of NMVOCs in Western Europe, while in CEE and the NIS, industry is the main contributor.

Meeting the for emissions of nitrogen oxides set in the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution’s and the Fifth Environmental Action Programme would result in a reduction in peak ozone concentrations of only 5-10%. Achieving the long-term target of no exceedance of threshold levels will depend critically on reducing overall tropospheric ozone concentrations. This will require measures on emissions of the precursor pollutants (nitrogen oxides and NMVOCs) covering the whole of the northern hemisphere. A first step will be the setting of further national emission ceilings under the new multi-effect, multi-pollutant protocol.

Daily summer maximum concentrations of ozone

Daily summer maximum concentrations of ozone (Click to enlarge)

Source: EEA-ETC/AQ
(Click on the image to enlarge)

 

Chemicals

Since the Dobris assessment, the chemical industry in Western Europe has continued to grow, with production since 1993 growing faster than GDP. Production in CEE and the NIS has fallen markedly since 1989, in line with the fall in GDP, but since 1993 production has partially recovered in some countries. The net result is that the flows of chemicals through the economy throughout Europe have increased.

Data on emissions is scarce, but chemicals are widespread in all environmental media, including animal and human tissues. The European Inventory of Existing Chemical Substances lists over 100 000 chemical compounds. The threat posed by many of these chemicals remains uncertain because of the lack of knowledge about their concentrations and the ways in which they move through and accumulate in the environment and then impact on humans and other life forms.

Some information, however, is available – for example, on heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Although emissions of some of these substances are falling, concentrations in the environment remain of concern, particularly in some highly contaminated areas and sinks like the Arctic and Baltic Sea. Although some well-known POPs are being phased out, many others with similar properties are still being produced in large amounts.

Concerns have recently been raised about so-called "endocrine disrupting substances": POPs and some organo-metallic compounds, particularly as a possible cause of reproductive disturbances in wildlife and humans. While there are examples of such effects in marine animals, there is so far insufficient evidence to establish causal links between such chemicals and reproductive health effects in humans.

Because of the difficulty and cost of assessing the toxicity of the large numbers of potentially hazardous chemicals in use, particularly those with possible reproductive and neuro-toxicological effects, some current control strategies – such as the one chosen by the OSPAR Convention on the protection of the North Sea – are now aimed at reducing the "load" of chemicals in the environment through the elimination or reduction of their use and emissions. The UNECE is expected to finalise two new protocols on emissions to air of three heavy metals and sixteen POPs under the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution in 1998.

Since the Dobris assessment, there have been some new national and international initiatives for reducing the possible impacts of chemicals on the environment, including voluntary reduction programmes, taxation of particular chemicals and providing public access to data similar to the US Toxic Release Inventory, as for example under the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive in the EU. There is scope for a wider application of such instruments in all parts of Europe.

Reductions of lead emissions from petrol 1990-1996

Reductions of lead emissions from petrol 1990-1996 (click to enlarge)

Source: Danish EPA
(Click on the image to enlarge)

Waste

Reported total waste generation in OECD Europe increased by nearly 10% between 1990 and 1995. However, part of the apparent increase may be the result of improved waste monitoring and reporting. Lack of harmonisation and incomplete data collection continue to make it difficult to monitor trends and improve the of waste policy initiatives across Europe.

Municipal waste generation is estimated to have increased by 11% in OECD European countries between 1990 and 1995. Approximately 200 million tonnes of municipal waste was generated in 1995, equivalent to 420 kg/person/year. Data on municipal waste for CEE countries and the NIS are not sufficiently robust to enable the determination of an underlying trend.

Germany and France were the largest contributors to the approximately 42 million tonnes per year of hazardous waste reported by OECD European countries for the period around 1994. The Russian Federation accounted for about two-thirds of the 30 million tonnes of hazardous waste generated per year by the whole of Eastern Europe during the early 1990s. These totals are only indicative because of differences in definition.

Waste management in most countries continues to be dominated by the cheapest available option: landfill. However, the costs of landfill rarely include full costs (post-closure costs are seldom included), despite the use of waste taxes in some countries (e.g. Austria, Denmark and the UK). Waste prevention and minimisation is being increasingly recognised as environmentally more desirable solutions for waste management. All waste streams, particularly hazardous wastes, would benefit from further application of cleaner technologies and waste prevention measures. Recycling is increasing in countries with strong waste management infrastructures.

Many countries in CEE and the NIS face the problems of a legacy of poor waste management and increases in waste generation. Waste management in these countries requires better strategic planning and more investment. Priorities include improving municipal waste management through better separation of wastes and better landfill management, the introduction of recycling initiatives at local level and carrying out low-cost measures to prevent soil contamination.

A commitment to the sustainable use of resources, minimising environmental damage and following the "polluter pays principle" and the "proximity principle" has led the EU to create an extensive range of legislative instruments intended to promote and harmonise national legislation on waste. Some Central European countries are beginning to adopt similar approaches, prompted by the EU accession process. However, waste legislation is still poorly developed in most other CEE countries and in the NIS.

 

Share of countries with the following instruments in waste policy

Share of countries with the following instruments in waste policy

Source: EEA

 

Biodiversity

The threat to Europe’s wild species continues to be severe and the number of species in decline is growing. In many countries, up to half of the known vertebrate species are under threat.

More than one-third of the bird species in Europe are in decline, most severely in north-western and central Europe. This is mainly caused by damage to their habitats by land-use changes, particularly through intensification of agriculture and forestry, increasing infrastructure development, water abstraction and pollution.

However, the populations of a number of animal species associated with human activities are increasing and some plant species tolerant to high nutrient levels or acidity are spreading. There has also been some recovery in the number of breeding birds in areas where organic farming is practised. The introduction of alien species is causing problems in marine, inland water and terrestrial habitats.

Wetland loss is greatest in southern Europe, but major losses are also occurring in many agricultural and urbanised areas in north-western and central Europe. The main causes are land reclamation, pollution, drainage, recreation and urbanisation. Some large and many minor restoration projects in rivers, lakes, bogs and mires are, to some extent, compensating for these losses, though mostly on a small scale.

The extent of sand dunes has fallen by 40% this century, mainly in along the western shores of Europe; a third of the loss has occurred since mid 1970s. The main causes are urbanisation, recreational use and forest plantation.

The total area of forest is increasing, as is total timber production. "Extensive" forest management, formerly the most common practice, continues to be replaced by more intensive and uniform management. The use of exotic species is still increasing. The severe loss of old natural and semi-natural woodlands has continued. Most of the old and almost untouched forests are now to be found in CEE and the NIS, although smaller areas still exist elsewhere. Forest fires are still a problem around the Mediterranean, though there has been a decrease in the area affected. The concept of sustainable forestry is beginning to be introduced in forest use and management, but general effects on biodiversity have yet to be seen.

As agriculture has become more intensive and afforestation has continued in low-yielding areas, semi-natural agricultural habitats such as meadows are rapidly being lost or degraded. These habitats were formerly very widespread in Europe and depended on extensive agricultural management with low inputs of nutrients. They now suffer from excessive nutrient input and acidification. With the disappearance of their often very rich plant and animal life, the natural biodiversity of the open landscape has severely diminished.

A wide range of initiatives and legal instruments for the protection of species and habitats has been introduced internationally and nationally in all countries. All these have succeeded in protecting considerable land and sea areas and saving a number of species and habitats, but implementation is often difficult and slow and has not been able to counteract the general decline. At European level, the implementation of the Natura 2000 network of designated sites in the EU, and the upcoming EMERALD network under the Bern Convention in the rest of Europe, are currently the most important initiatives.

Overall, the conservation of biodiversity is often regarded as less important than the shorter-term economic or social interests of the sectors influencing it most heavily. A major obstacle to securing conservation goals remains the need to incorporate biodiversity concerns into other policy areas. Strategic Environmental Assessments for policies and programmes, together with nature conservation instruments, can be important tools for enhancing such integration.

 

Bird status

Bird status (Click to enlarge)

Source: EEA-ETC/NC
(Click on the image to enlarge
)

 

Inland waters

There has been a general reduction in total water abstraction in many countries since 1980. In most countries, industrial abstraction has been falling slowly since 1980 because of the shift away from industries that are heavy users of water, the growth of services, technical improvements and increased recycling. However, demand around urban areas may still exceed availability and, in the near future, water shortages may occur. Future water supply may also be affected by climate change.

Agriculture is the most important user of water in Mediterranean countries, mainly for irrigation. The area under irrigation and the abstraction of water for irrigation have been rising steadily since 1980. In southern European countries, 60% of all water abstracted is used for irrigation. In some regions, groundwater abstraction is exceeding the recharge rate, causing lowering of the groundwater table, loss of wetlands and seawater intrusion. Tools for limiting future demand for water include improvements in the efficiency of water use, price controls and agricultural policy.

Despite the introduction of water quality in the EU and the attention to water quality in the Environmental Action Programme for Central and Eastern Europe, there has been no overall improvement of river quality since 1989/90. European countries report different trends without any consistent geographical pattern. There have been some improvements in the most seriously polluted rivers, however, since the 1970s.

Phosphorus and nitrogen continue to cause eutrophication of surface waters. Improvements in waste-water treatment and reductions in emissions from large industries between 1980 and 1995 resulted in total discharges of phosphorus into rivers falling by between 40% and 60% in several countries. Phosphorus concentrations in surface waters decreased significantly, particularly in those previously most severely affected. Further improvements are expected since the recovery time, particularly of lakes, may be several years. Phosphorous concentrations at about a quarter of the river monitoring sites are still about ten times higher than those in water of good quality. Nitrogen, of which the main source is agriculture, is less of a problem in rivers, but can cause problems when transported to the sea; emissions need to be further controlled to protect the marine environment.

Groundwater quality is affected by increasing concentrations of nitrate and pesticides from agriculture. Nitrate concentrations are low in northern Europe, but high in several Western and Eastern countries, with frequent exceedances of the EU maximum admissible concentration.

The application of pesticides in the EU fell between 1985 and 1995, but this does not necessarily indicate a decrease in environmental impact since the range of pesticides in use has changed. Groundwater concentrations of certain pesticides frequently exceed EU maximum admissible concentrations. Significant pollution from heavy metals, hydrocarbons and chlorinated hydrocarbons has also been reported from many countries.

Integrated polices for the protection of inland waters are in place in many areas of Europe, for example around the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Rhine, the Elbe and the Danube. Although much has been achieved, better integration of environmental policies with economic policies remains a challenge for the future.

Agricultural policy, in particular, will be the key for tackling inputs from diffuse sources, but this continues to be both technically and politically difficult. Although reform under the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union is being used to integrate measures to reduce nutrient inputs, more will have to be done – for example, to ensure that policies such as setting aside agricultural land are designed to maximise environmental benefits.

The EU Urban Waste Water Treatment and Nitrate Directives should deliver substantial quality improvements, but their success depends on the extent to which Member States designate sensitive areas and vulnerable zones. The proposal for a Water Framework Directive will require integrated programmes of management and improvement. If implemented in a comparable way across the EU, this Directive, coupled with a further switch to demand-side management, should lead to marked improvements in water quality and to the sustainable management of water resources.

 

Freshwater availability in Europe

Freshwater availability in Europe (Click to enlarge)

Source: Eurostat, OECD, Institute of Hydrology
(Click on the image to enlarge)

 

Marine and coastal environment

The most threatened seas are the North Sea (over-fishing, high nutrient and pollutant concentrations), the Iberian seas (i.e. the part of the Atlantic along the eastern Atlantic shelf, including the Bay of Biscay: over-fishing, heavy metals), the Mediterranean sea (locally high nutrient concentrations, high pressure on the coasts, over-fishing), the Black Sea (over-fishing, rapid increase of nutrient concentrations) and the Baltic Sea (high nutrient concentrations, pollutants, over-fishing).

Eutrophication, mainly resulting from nutrient surpluses in agriculture, is of major concern in some parts of many European seas. Nutrient concentrations are generally at the same level as in the beginning of the 1990s. Increases in nitrogen discharges and resulting concentrations in sea water on some of the west coasts of Europe seem to be correlated with high precipitation and flooding between 1994 and 1996. In most other seas, no clear trend in nutrient concentrations could be identified. However, concentrations of nutrients in the Black Sea, mainly originating from the Danube watershed, increased about tenfold between 1960 and 1992.

Contamination of sediments and biota by anthropogenic chemicals seems to be common in almost all European seas. Only limited data was available, mainly covering western and north-western Europe. Elevated concentrations (above natural background) of heavy metals and PCBs have been found in fish and sediment, with high levels near point sources of emission. Bio-accumulation of these substances may pose a threat to ecosystems and human health (as discussed in the chapter on chemicals).

The overall picture of oil pollution is highly fragmentary, and no reliable assessment of general trends can be made. The main source is from land, reaching the seas through rivers. Although the annual number of oil spills is falling, small and occasional large spills in zones of heavy boat traffic are causing significant local damage, primarily smothering of beaches and seabirds and impairment of harvest of fish and shellfish. There is, however, no evidence of irrevocable damage to marine ecosystems, either from major spills or from chronic sources of oil.

Many seas continue to be heavily over-fished, with particularly serious problems in the North Sea, the Iberian seas, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. There is a critical over-capacity in the fishing fleet, and a reduction of 40% in capacity would be needed to match available fish resources.

 

Nitrogen and phosphorus discharges

Nitrogen and phosphorus discharges (Click to enlarge)


Source: EEA - ETC/MC
(Click on the image to enlarge)

 

Soil degradation

Over 300 000 potentially contaminated sites have been identified in Western Europe, and the estimated total number in Europe is much greater.

Although the Environmental Programme for Europe called for the identification of contaminated sites, a complete overview is not yet available for many countries. The extent of the problem is difficult to assess because of the lack of agreed definitions. The European Commission is preparing a White Paper on environmental liability; follow-up actions might require agreed definitions. Most Western European countries have established regulatory frameworks aimed at preventing future incidents and cleaning up existing contamination.

In Eastern Europe, soil contamination around abandoned military bases poses the most serious risk. The majority of the countries in the region have started to assess the problems involved. However, many CEE countries and the NIS have still to develop the regulatory and financial framework needed for dealing with contaminated sites.

Another severe problem is soil loss through sealing under constructions, such as industrial premises and transport infrastructure, reducing soil use options for future generations.

Soil erosion is increasing. About 115 million hectares are suffering from water erosion and 42 million hectares from wind erosion. The problem is greatest in the Mediterranean region because of its fragile environmental conditions, but problems exist in most European countries. Soil erosion is intensified by land abandonment and forest fires, particularly in marginal areas. Strategies, such as afforestation, for combating accelerated soil erosion are lacking in many areas.

Soil salinisation is affecting nearly 4 million hectares, mainly in Mediterranean and Eastern European countries. The main causes are over-exploitation of water resources as a result of irrigation for agriculture, population increase, industrial and urban development and the expansion of tourism in coastal areas. The main effects in cultivated areas are lower crop yields and even total crop failure. Strategies to combat soil salinisation are lacking in many countries.

Soil erosion and salinisation have increased the risk of desertification in the most vulnerable areas, particularly in the Mediterranean region. Information on the extent and severity of desertification is limited; further work is needed on prevention strategies, possibly within the framework of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

Available data on the number of certain and potentially contaminated sites


Industrial sites Waste sites Military sites Potentially contaminated Contaminated sites

abandoned operating abandoned operating
identified estimated total identified estimated total
Albania
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  



78
Austria
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
28 000 ~80 000 135 ~1 500
Belg/Flan.
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
4 583 ~9 000

Belg/Wall.
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

1 000 5 500 60
Denmark
  •  
  •  
  •  

  •  
37 000 ~40 000 3 673 ~14 000
Estonia
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
~755


Finland
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
10 396 25 000 1 200
France
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

300 000 895
Germany
  •  
  •  
  •  

  •  
191 000 ~240 000

Hungary
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  


600 10 000
Italy
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

8 873
1 251
Lithuania
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

~1 700


Luxemburg

  •  
  •  

616
175
Netherlands
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

110 000
-120 000


Norway
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
2,300


Spain
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

4 902
370
Sweden
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
7 000
2 000
Switzerland
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
35 000 50 000 ~3 500
UK





~ 100 000
~ 10 000

Source: EEA-ETC/S

Urban environment

Urbanisation is continuing, despite the fact that around three-quarters of the population of Western Europe and the NIS, and slightly less than two-thirds of that in CEE, already live in cities.

The rapid increase in private transport and resource-intensive consumption are major threats to the urban environment and, consequently, to human health and welfare. In many cities, cars now provide over 80% of mechanised transport. Forecasts of transport growth in Western Europe indicate that, for a "business as usual" scenario, road transport demands for passengers and freight could nearly double between 1990 and 2010, with the number of cars increasing by 25-30% and annual kilometres per car increasing by 25%. The current growth in urban mobility and car ownership in CEE cities is expected to accelerate during the next decade, with corresponding increases in energy consumption and transport-related emissions.

Overall, air quality in most European cities has improved. Annual lead concentrations dropped sharply in the 1990s because of the reduction in the lead content of petrol, and there seems to be evidence that concentrations of other pollutants are also falling. However, a few CEE cities have reported small increases in lead concentrations during the past five years, due to the increase in traffic. The envisaged phase-out of leaded petrol would solve this problem.

Ozone remains a major problem in some cities, however, with high concentrations occurring during the whole of the summer. A majority of cities providing data report exceedances of WHO guideline values for sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter (PM). Little data was available on benzene, but exceedance of WHO air quality guideline values seems common.

Extrapolation of the reported results to all 115 large cities of Europe suggests that about 25 million people are exposed to winter smog conditions (exceedances of air quality guidelines for SO2 and PM). The corresponding number of people exposed to summer smog conditions (related to ozone) is 37 million, with nearly 40 million people experiencing at least one exceedance of the WHO guidelines every year.

In Western Europe, the dominant sources of air pollution – previously industrial processes and the combustion of coal and high-sulphur fuels – are now motor vehicles and the combustion of gaseous fuels. As transport is expected to increase considerably, transport-related emissions are also expected to rise, intensifying air pollution in cities. In CEE and the NIS, similar shifts are occurring, but at a slower pace.

About 450 million people in Europe (65% of the population) are exposed to high environmental noise levels (above Equivalent Sound Pressure Levels (Leq) 24h 55dB(A)). About 9.7 million people are exposed to unacceptable noise levels (above Leq 24h 75dB(A)).

Water consumption in a number of European cities has increased: about 60% of large European cities are over-exploiting their groundwater resources and water availability, and water quality may increasingly constrain urban development in countries where there are shortages, particularly in southern Europe. Several cities in northern Europe, however, decreased their water consumption. In general, the water resource could be more effectively used, since only a small percentage of domestic water use is for drinking or cooking, and large amounts (5% to over 25%) are lost by leakage.

Urban problems are not confined to the cities themselves. Growing areas of land are needed to provide the populations of large cities with all the resources they need and to absorb the emissions and wastes they produce.

In spite of progress in setting up environmental management in European cities, many problems remain unresolved. During the past five years, an increasing number of city authorities have been exploring ways of achieving sustainable development in the context of local Agenda 21 policies, which may include measures to reduce the use of water, energy and materials, better planning of land use and transportation, and the use of economic instruments. More than 290 cities have already joined the European Sustainable Cities and Towns Campaign.

Data on many aspects of the urban environment – for example, water consumption, municipal waste generation, waste-water treatment, noise and air pollution – is still incomplete and inadequate for a comprehensive assessment of changes in the urban environment in Europe.

Annual average NO2 concentrations, 1990-95

Annual average NO2 concentrations, 1990-95 (Click to enlarge)

Source: EEA-ETC/AQ
(Click on the image to enlarge)

 

Technological and natural hazards

In the EU, the number of major industrial accidents reported each year has been roughly constant since 1984. Since both the notification of accidents and the level of industrial activity have increased since then, it is likely that the number of accidents per unit of activity has decreased. No accident databases currently cover CEE or the NIS.

On the basis of the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) of the International Atomic Energy Agency, there have been no "accidents" (INES levels 4-7) in Europe since 1986 (Chernobyl – INES level 7). Most of the reported events have been "anomalies" (INES level 1), with a few "incidents" (INES levels 2-3).

There has been a significant worldwide reduction, during the past ten years, in the annual number of large oil spills. However, in the last few years three of the largest spills in the world ever have occurred in Western Europe. The very large spills that did occur were responsible for a high percentage of the oil spilt.

There is a continuing increase in the intensity of many activities that can give rise to major accidents and a growing vulnerability of some of these activities and infrastructures to natural hazardous events. The Seveso II Directive, with its wide coverage and comprehensive nature and its focus on accident prevention, provides much of the framework necessary for better risk management. This now needs to be implemented by industries and regulatory and planning authorities. It also provides a model for Eastern Europe, where no such broad trans-national framework exists. However, there is also a general need to address other than industrial risks.

Exceptionally large numbers of floods have occurred during the 1990s, causing much damage and many deaths. While the most likely explanation is natural variations in water flow, the effects may have been amplified by human impacts on the hydrological cycle.

 

Oil spills in Europe, 1970-1996

Oil spills in Europe, 1970-1996 (Click to enlarge)

Source: ITOPF
(Click on the image to enlarge)
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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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