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You are here: Home / Publications / Environmental signals 2000 / 1. Introduction

1. Introduction


Introduction


The first in a series

This report is the first in a series of regular indicator-based reports produced by the European Environment Agency for high-level policy-makers in EEA member countries and the European Union. Its aim is to use environmental indicators to report on progress in a number of policy areas. The report also starts to assess — with a limited selection of indicators — the reasons behind the rate of progress made in some of the main environmental policy areas.

Another important aim of this report is to raise questions, such as: why is there so much progress in country X and why have policy measures for problem Y not yet shown any result?

The limited space in this report means that it is not possible to provide all the information necessary to answer these questions. For background information on European environmental problems, readers should refer to recent state-of-the-environment reports from the EEA (EEA, 1998; EEA, 1999a). In addition, the EEA web site provides a gateway to detailed environmental information at European, EU and national levels. The site's data service gives access to most of the statistics on which the indicators in this report are based, thus allowing readers to create their own version of the indicators. An inventory of current environmental policy targets and sustainability reference values (the STAR database) provides additional information on national and multi-national policy targets.

This report deals with a selection of environmental problems currently at the centre of policy debate and for which recent data is available. A number of other issues such as coastal zone management and soils will be added in subsequent editions, and some of the issues dealt with in this edition will be revisited less frequently. For example, the current topic of wetlands from the standpoint of nature and biodiversity may be repeated after three or four years, and the status of other habitats may be covered in editions in between. In each edition, a sub-topic will also be chosen for waste, water stress and environmental taxes. An overview of future topics is given at the end of each chapter.

Some of the indicators may be revisited less frequently; other indicators might not feature again because they are intermediate products on the way to developing more stable indicators. Several of the indicators in this report, such as those in the chapter on wetlands, are under development. Others have international agreement and are, in principle, stable. However, for some of these only the first year or a first generation of the indicator can be presented due to data problems; the chapters on waste, water stress and eutrophication contain a number of such indicators. A final group of indicators can be designated as stable and a time series can be presented. These indicators refer to targets and give a clear picture of progress or lack of progress . in short, the indicator conforms to the OECD criteria for good environmental indicators. The indicators in the air pollution and climate change chapters belong to this category.

The EEA hesitates, however, to call the current collection of indicators (or even the sub-set of stable indicators) `the EEA set of environmental indicators'. The EEA approach is that, while streamlined reporting on the state of the environment in Europe needs agreed sets of indicators, each report in turn should make its own selection and its own presentation of this family of indicators. In the coming years, the EEA and its Topic Centres will publish sets of indicators for each environmental issue dealt with by the EEA. Agreement will be sought on these selections and attempts will be made to stabilise the indicators identified.

 

1.1. Indicator selection and presentation

The two main criteria for the selection of indicators in this report were: policy relevance for most EEA member countries; and adequate data from a sufficiently large number of member countries.

Although the indicators and their analysis are placed within the DPSIR framework (Driving forces — Pressure — State — Impact — Response; see Figure 1.1), no attempt has been made to provide indicators for each of the D-P-S-I-R categories. As most of the policy action is at the D and the P side of the causal chain, the most policy-relevant indicators show developments in Driving forces or Pressures. Some State indicators have been included in this report because of public attention (e.g. increase in UV-radiation through depletion of the ozone layer) or because policies have quality targets (e.g. air pollution or global air temperature). Response indicators are difficult to provide due to a lack of data. However, they are included in a number of chapters — stratospheric ozone depletion, wetlands and, of course, environmental taxes.

Figure 1.1.b DPSIR diagram climate change

Indicators that span DPSIR categories provide an insight into processes in the environment and the development of links between human activities and the environment (EEA, 1999b). The sectoral chapters of this report (energy use, energy sector, transport, agriculture and industry) contain a number of eco-efficiency indicators combining D and P. The eutrophication chapter (see Figures 13.2 and 13.4) uses a combined presentation of D and P to show relations between variables. Pilot graphs from the Netherlands (see Figures 10.16 and 10.17) in the chapter on air pollution effectively combine D, R and P in one analysis.

The indicators provided are a mixture of various types of indicators (see EEA, 1999b). To fulfil the aim of providing a precise assessment of progress made, as many as possible performance indicators (indicators including or linked with targets) have been included in this report. However, the report also contains a significant number of descriptive indicators. Descriptive indicators show the development of a variable, but are not connected with a concrete policy target. Qualitative targets for these indicators (`to increase &', `to stabilise &') may, however, be included in policy papers. Eco-efficiency indicators are, as mentioned above, included in the sectoral chapters.

Within the framework outlined above, indicators are presented in a standard format. Most of the indicators are presented at an international level, showing totals for EU Member States or EEA member countries. This is particularly relevant where there are international agreements on action to tackle continental or global problems (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions) or where general environmental processes occur (e.g. the infringement of wetlands by infrastructure projects). Where possible and relevant, national breakdowns are provided. These graphs can play a major role in benchmarking national environmental performance . raising questions about the discrepancy between forerunners and slow performers. As well as providing detailed statistics, the comparative tables provided at the end of most chapters are intended to perform the same role.

In some chapters, indicators showing a general development, such as in energy supply, are accompanied by a sub-indicator highlighting specific trends that require attention. For these sub-indicators, the rate of change is often important. Although the absolute magnitude of these developments may be small in comparison with the total, they can represent significant new trends. Examples of these `significant signals' are the rapid growth in organic farming and the slow increase in renewable energies.

Each chapter also contains a box describing a new and interesting response to environmental degradation. While each of these `success stories' may be small and its individual effect not visible in European statistics, the overall effect of these and many other unquoted actions by households, industries and administrations are spearheading the positive trends demonstrated by many of the indicators in this report.

The use of indicators for benchmarking country or sector performance and the `significant signals' will be further explored in subsequent editions of this report.

 

1.2. Ongoing environmental indicator development

In recent years, discussions on environmental indicators have expanded from those describing changes in the state of the environment to an interrelated family of indicator sets (see Figure 1.2).

In line with the broadening of environmental policy towards integration of environmental issues in other policy fields, sector indicators have been developed. These show links between the activities of societal sectors (transport, energy, forestry, etc.) and the environment. As well a sector's absolute burden on the environment and the development in its eco-efficiency, sectoral indicators deal with a sector's development in size and character and its specific responses to environmental problems.

Within the EU, working groups have been set up to develop indicator sets and progress reports to report to the respective Councils. This work has reached various stages.

For transport and the environment a list of around 30 indicators has been agreed, the indicators have been developed and Eurostat is producing a report with supporting statistics. While publishing the current report, the European Environment Agency also produced an assessment of the progress made in integrating environment in transport policies (EEA, 2000). Chapter 5 includes some of the most important indicators out of the list of 30.

For energy and the environment a draft list of indicators has been produced, but this list has not yet been formally approved. The list makes a distinction between energy use and energy generation, which is also reflected in this report: Chapter 3 (energy use) and Chapter 4 (the energy sector) contain a selection of the main indicators. Eurostat has produced a statistical pocketbook of energy indicators, including most of the indicators selected for the energy-environment reporting mechanism (Eurostat, 1999).

For agriculture and the environment, discussions on a reporting mechanism started only recently. Chapter 6 is based mainly on work by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on agri-environmental indicators.

Other sectors and policy fields . including industry, development and the internal market . have also been urged to produce strategies for the integration of environmental concerns and to develop indicators to follow progress. However, there has been little development so far in these areas.

The smiley faces in the boxes next to each indicator aim to give a concise assessment of the indicator:
positive trend, moving towards target
some positive development, but either insufficient to reach target or mixed trends within the indicator
unfavourable trend

Unless explicitly stated, the assessment is based on the whole period shown in the indicator.

Sector indicators and traditional environmental indicators exist side by side and are interrelated. Issue indicators on pollutant emissions can show sectoral contributions (for example, see the chapters on climate change and air pollution), while sector indicators can show the evolving contribution of a sector to environmental issues (see the sector profiles and eco-efficiency diagrams in the sectoral chapters).

Broadening the scope of environmental policies has also created the need to communicate the main issues to other stakeholders. For example, a Minister of the Environment may have to explain all his concerns in five sentences to his colleague in transport. This need led to the concept of `environmental headline indicators' (Figure 1.2).

The purpose of environmental headline indicators is to provide simple and clear information to decision-makers and the general public about the key factors determining the state of the environment and whether we are moving towards environmental sustainability. Sets of headline indicators are, by definition, small. A proposed set of EU environmental headline indicators contains 10 issue indicators. A similar number of headline indicators for sectors could probably be added.

Figure 1.2. Indicator initiatives

Source: EEA

Because EU environmental headline indicators were developed while this report was being compiled, it was not possible to incorporate the full set of environmental headline indicators. However, the following indicators are also included in the list of EU environmental headline indicators:

  • emissions of the greenhouse gases car- bon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide (see Figure 8.1);
  • number of days population exposed to pollutants at levels above EU standards (see Figures 10.3 and 10.5);
  • emissions of acidifying gases (see Figure 10.6);
  • emissions of ozone precursors (see Figure 10.7);
  • nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations in large rivers (see Figure 13.1);
  • total freshwater abstraction (see Figure 12.2);
  • gross inland energy consumption (see Figure 3.2);
  • passenger transport by different forms of transport (see Figure 5.3).

 

1.3. The future of this report

The EEA's mission statement points to the provision of timely, targeted and reliable information. One of the practical consequences of the concept `targeted information' is the co-ordination of major EEA reports to policy events such as ministerial conferences, drafting of white papers and strategic planning processes. This current report was prepared just before the European Council held in Helsinki in December 1999 with the aim of drawing together the threads of EU sectoral reporting mechanisms on integration and the issue of their co-ordination with environmental issue indicators.

After a thorough evaluation of the current report, next editions are expected to appear in the summer of 2001 for the Göteborg European Council and in 2002 to serve a number of political processes, including the Rio +10 Conference and the next pan-European environment ministers' conference in the Environmental Programme for Europe process to be held in Kiev.

 

1.4. References and further reading

EEA (1998). Europe's environment. The second assessment. European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.

EEA (1999a). Environment in the European Union at the turn of the century. Environmental assessment report No 2. European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.

EEA (1999b). Environmental indicators: typology and overview. Technical report No 25. European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.

EEA (1999c). A checklist for state of the environment reporting. Technical report No 15. European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.

EEA (2000). Are we moving in the right direction? Indicators on transport and environment integration in the EU. (In preparation). European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.

Eurostat (1999). Integration indicators for energy. Key indicators series. European Communities, Luxembourg.

 

Country groupings used in this report:

EU: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK

EEA: EU + Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway

Nordic countries: Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden

Central Europe: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the UK

Southern Europe: France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain


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