Synthesis report content index

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Executive summary

Part 1 Setting the scene

The changing context of European environmental policy

1.1 European environmental policy is aimed at living well, within the limits of the planet

1.2 Over the past 40 years, environmental policies in Europe have had notable success

1.3 Our understanding of the systemic nature of many environmental challenges has evolved

1.4 Environmental policy ambitions address the short, medium and long term

1.5 SOER 2015 provides an assessment of the state and outlook for the environment in Europe

The European environment in a wider perspective

2.1 Many of today's environmental challenges have a systemic character

2.2 Global megatrends affect the prospects for the European environment

2.3 European consumption and production patterns impact both the European and global environment

2.4 Human activities affect vital ecosystem dynamics at multiple scales

2.5 Excessive use of natural resources jeopardises humanity's safe operating space

Part 2 Assessing European trends

Protecting, conserving and enhancing natural capital

3.1 Natural capital underpins the economy, society and human well-being

3.2 European policy aims to protect, conserve and enhance natural capital

3.3 Biodiversity decline and ecosystem degradation reduce resilience

3.4 Land-use change and intensification threaten soil ecosystem services and drive biodiversity loss

3.5 Europe is far from meeting water policy objectives and having healthy aquatic ecosystems

3.6 Water quality has improved but the nutrient load of water bodies remains a problem

3.7 Despite cuts in air emissions, ecosystems still suffer from eutrophication, acidification and ozone

3.8 Marine and coastal biodiversity is declining, jeopardising increasingly needed ecosystem services

3.9 The impacts of climate change on ecosystems and society call for adaptation measures

3.10 Integrated management of natural capital can increase environmental, economic and social resilience

Resource efficiency and the low-carbon economy

4.1 Increased resource efficiency is essential for continued socio-economic progress

4.2 Resource efficiency and greenhouse gas emission reductions are strategic policy priorities

4.3 Despite more efficient material use, European consumption remains very resource intensive

4.4 Waste management is improving but Europe remains far from a circular economy

4.5 The transition to a low-carbon society requires greater greenhouse gas emission cuts

4.6 Reducing fossil fuel dependence would cut harmful emissions and boost energy security

4.7 Increasing transport demand affects the environment and human health

4.8 Industrial pollutant emissions have declined but still cause considerable damage each year

4.9 Reducing water stress requires enhanced efficiency and water demand management

4.10 Spatial planning strongly influences the benefits that Europeans derive from land resources

4.11 An integrated perspective on production-consumption systems is needed

Safeguarding people from environmental risks to health

5.1 Human well-being critically depends on a healthy environment

5.2 European policy takes a broader perspective on the environment, human health and well-being

5.3 Environmental, demographic and lifestyle changes contribute to major health challenges

5.4 Water availability has generally improved, but pollution and scarcity still cause health problems

5.5 Ambient air quality has improved, but many citizens are still exposed to dangerous pollutants

5.6 Exposure to noise is a major health concern in urban areas

5.7 Urban systems are relatively resource efficient, but also create multiple exposure patterns

5.8 Health impacts of climate change require adaptation at different scales

5.9 Risk management needs to be adapted to emerging environment and health issues

Part 3 Looking ahead

Understanding the systemic challenges facing Europe

6.1 Progress towards 2020 targets is mixed, and the 2050 visions and goals will require new efforts

6.2 Meeting long-term visions and objectives requires reflection on prevailing knowledge and policy frameworks

6.3 Securing humanity's basic resource needs requires integrated, coherent management approaches

6.4 Globalised production-consumption systems pose major policy challenges

6.5 The wider EU policy framework provides a good basis for an integrated response, but action needs to match words

Responding to systemic challenges: from vision to transition

7.1 Living well within the limits of the planet requires a transition to a green economy

7.2 Recalibrating available policy approaches can help Europe meet its 2050 vision

7.3 Innovations in governance can help harvest the links between policy approaches

7.4 Today's investments are essential for effecting long-term transitions

7.5 Expanding the knowledge base is a prerequisite for managing long-term transitions

7.6 From visions and ambitions to credible and feasible transition pathways

Part 4 References and bibliography

Country names and country groupings

Authors and acknowledgements



List of figures, maps and tables


Figure 1.1 Long-term transition/intermediate targets related to environmental policy

Figure 1.2 Structure of SOER 2015

Figure 2.1 Three systemic characteristics of environmental challenges

Figure 2.2 Global megatrends analysed in SOER 2015

Figure 2.3 Share of the total environmental footprint exerted outside EU borders associated with the EU-27's final demand

Figure 2.4 Estimated global level, production and consumption carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions embedded in goods

Figure 2.5 Categories of planetary boundaries

Figure 3.1 Conceptual framework for EU-wide ecosystem assessments

Figure 3.2 Conservation status of species (top) and habitats (bottom) by ecosystem type (number of assessments in brackets) from Habitats Directive Article 17 reporting 2007–2012

Figure 4.1 Relative and absolute decoupling

Figure 4.2 EU-27 domestic material consumption and raw material consumption, 2000–2012

Figure 4.3 Municipal waste recycling rates in European countries, 2004 and 2012

Figure 4.4 Greenhouse gas emission trends (1990–2012), projections to 2030 and targets to 2050

Figure 4.5 Gross inland energy consumption by fuel (EU-28, Iceland, Norway and Turkey), 1990–2012

Figure 4.6 Growth in modal transport demand (km) and GDP in EU-28

Figure 4.7 Fuel efficiency and fuel consumption in private cars, 1990–2011

Figure 4.8 Industry emissions (air pollutants and greenhouse gases) and gross value added (EEA-33), 1990–2012

Figure 4.9 Changes in the use of freshwater for irrigation, industry, energy cooling and public water supply since the early 1990s

Figure 4.10 Urbanisation patterns across Europe

Figure 5.1 Quality of coastal (top) and inland (bottom) bathing water in Europe, 1990–2013

Figure 5.2 Percentage of the EU urban population potentially exposed to air pollution exceeding selected EU air quality standards (top) and WHO air quality guidelines (bottom), 2000–2012

Figure 5.3 Exposure to environmental noise in Europe within (*) and outside urban agglomerations in 2011

Figure 5.4 Shortening the time lapse before mass adoption of new technologies

Figure 6.1 Binding targets (left) and non-binding objectives (right) in EU environmental policies, by sector and target-year

Figure 6.2 The green economy as an integrating framework for policies relating to material use

Figure 7.1 Policy approaches for a long-term transition


Map 2.1 Transnational land acquisitions, 2005–2009

Map 3.1 Synthesis map of urban land take and agricultural challenges

Map 3.2 Percentage of good ecological status or potential of classified rivers and lakes (top) and coastal and transitional waters (bottom) in Water Framework Directive river basin districts

Map 3.3 Percentage of classified rivers and lakes (top) and coastal and transitional waters (bottom) in Water Framework Directive river basin districts affected by pollution pressures

Map 3.4 Areas where critical loads for eutrophication for freshwater and terrestrial habitats are exceeded (CSI 005) by nitrogen depositions caused by emissions between 1980 (top left) and 2030 (bottom right)

Map 3.5 Regional seas surrounding Europe and the sustainability challenges they face

Map 3.6 Key observed and projected impacts from climate change for the main regions in Europe

Map 5.1 Proportion of urban population aged 65 years and more

Map 5.2 Share of green urban areas in EU-27 core cities


Table ES.1 An indicative summary of environmental trends

Table 1.1 Evolution of environmental challenges

Table 1.2 Legend used in the 'trends and outlook' summary assessment in each section

Table 3.1 Examples of EU policies relating to Objective 1 of the 7th Environment Action Programme

Table 4.1 Examples of EU policies relating to Objective 2 of the 7th Environment Action Programme

Table 5.1 Examples of EU policies relating to Objective 3 of the 7th Environment Action Programme

Table 6.1 An indicative summary of environmental trends

SOER 2015
European Environment Agency (EEA)
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