Reliable, relevant, targeted and timely environmental information is an essential element in implementing environmental policy and management processes. Such information can come in many formats — with indicators being a long-established approach to distilling detailed information into trends that are robust and easily understandable by a broad audience.
This is the first edition of a revived annual indicator report series published by the European Environment Agency. The focus on green economy reflects its importance as a key environmental priority, and the need to provide a path to renewed economic growth and job creation in response to the current severe economic crises facing Europe.
In its simplest form, the overarching concept of a green economy recognises that ecosystems, the economy and human well-being, and the related types of capital they represent, are intrinsically linked. At the core of these is the continued challenges of improving resource efficiency whilst ensuring ecosystem resilience in the natural systems that sustain us.
This report presents a set of environmental indicators to enable policy makers and the public to assess where Europe stands vis-à-vis this combined challenge: some reveal encouraging trends, others less so.
For many of the trends reported here, progress appears to have been greater for resource efficiency than for ecosystem resilience. This is not surprising given the more specific cause-effect relationships at the core of improving resource efficiency. Still, these asymmetries offer useful lessons for future policy making and target setting towards a green economy.
One such lesson is the value of dedicated indicators that can address the systemic, interlinked challenges that underpin a green economy transition.
Almost all indicators used in the report have been established for some time, often for a primary purpose that is different from their use in this report. The use of such proxies is necessary in the absence of established methods, targets and indicators for monitoring progress towards a green economy.
Conversely, this multiple use of existing information and indicators highlights the benefit of consistent investment in maintaining datasets for key sentinel chemical and ecological parameters. These not only provide invaluable information on specific environmental challenges, but also, when put into a wider context, allow us to track broader changes in the environment.
In Europe, through decades of environmental policy development, we have developed a formidable storecupboard of environmental, economic and social data and indicators that could be used to a much greater degree than hitherto, to support current policy priorities such as the Europe 2020 strategy and the forthcoming 7th Environmental Acton Programme.
In this context, it is important to note that experience with environmental indicator developments since the 1990s confirms that there is a substantial time lag (i.e. 10 to 15 years) between an indicator proposal and its implementation. This is largely because of the time it takes to put in place the in-situ monitoring, satellites and statistical surveys and obtain trends.
More recent indicator requirements to support, for example, the Europe 2020 strategy or Roadmap to Resource Efficient Europe have much shorter delivery timeframes. This emphasises the need for more flexible approaches to indicator production using already available datasets, those coming on stream from processes like GMES, and data modelling techniques such as those offered by environmental accounting.
Later this year, the European Environment Agency will publish a first set of experimental ecosystem accounts as a contribution to meeting such emerging requirements, with the longer term aim of establishing data assimilation and integration within the economic and social domains.
I look forward to presenting these, and other environmental indicators under development, in future editions of this report series.
Professor Jacqueline McGlade,
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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