Europe produces large amounts of waste. How does Europe manage its waste? Is it a problem or a resource? We asked these questions to Almut Reichel who works on waste and sustainable consumption issues at the European Environment Agency.
One of the main conclusions in EEA's flagship report, SOER 2010, appears obvious: 'environmental challenges are complex and can't be understood in isolation'.
The renewable energy sector has developed a lot the last ten years — a largely ignored toddler has become a wilful teenager. Decisions that can help it mature further will depend on understanding what has nurtured its growth so far.
Europe selected its new policy makers. They will need to address not only today's challenges but also set in motion policies that will affect Europeans well beyond their five-year mandate. What do they need to do today to make sure that Europeans live well in the future? By taking action at the EU level and tackling environment and climate issues, EU policy makers can actually revive the economy and guarantee our long-term well-being.
Waste is not only an environmental problem, but also an economic loss. On average Europeans produce 481 kilogrammes of municipal waste per year. An increasing share of this is recycled or composted, and less is sent to landfill. How can we change the way we produce and consume so as to produce less and less waste, while using all waste as a resource?
Clean water is a natural resource vital not only for life on Earth but also for the wellbeing of our societies and economy. However, in many parts of Europe, this valuable resource is coming under increasing pressure, often seen in the form of over-exploitation and pollution.
More than three quarters of Europeans live in urban areas. What urban residents produce, buy, eat, and throw away, the way they move around and where they live all have an impact on the environment. At the same time, the way a city is built also affects the way its residents live. We asked Roland Zinkernagel from the City of Malmö in Sweden about concrete actions to make their city sustainable.
The European Union has been reducing its greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. The EU has ‘over-achieved’ its Kyoto target for the period 2008–2012 and is projected to ‘over-achieve’ its 2020 targets. Can we reduce GHG emissions and have a strong economy at the same time? What was the impact of the recent recession on the EU’s GHG emissions? Does policy work?
We need to change the way we produce goods and services. We need to ‘green’ our economy. But this does not consist of developing just a number of selected sectors, such as renewables, eco-innovation, corresponding to 5 or even 10 percent of our economy. It requires greening the entire economy. The question is: ‘How do we create a performing economy that creates jobs and ensures our well-being, and yet respects the limits of our planet?’
From small enterprises to multinationals, many companies are looking for ways to retain or increase their market shares. In times of tough global competition, the pursuit of sustainability suggests much more than ‘greening’ the corporate image and cutting down production costs. It might mean new lines of business.
Our well-being depends on using natural resources. We extract resources, and transform them into food, buildings, furniture, electronic devices, clothes, etc. Yet, our exploitation of resources outpaces the environment’s ability to regenerate them and provide for us. How can we ensure the long-term well-being of our society? Greening our economy can certainly help.
In March 2014, Paris, France, was affected by a particulate matter episode. Private car use was highly restricted for days. On other side of the planet, a Chinese company was launching a new product: smog insurance for domestic travellers whose stay was ruined by poor air quality. So how much is clean air worth? Can economics help us reduce pollution? We take a closer look at basic economic concepts.
To produce food in sufficient quantities, Europe relies on intensive agriculture, which impacts the environment and our health. Can Europe find a more environment-friendly way to produce food? We asked this question to Ybele Hoogeveen who is leading a group at the European Environment Agency working on the impact of resource use on the environment and human well-being.
Europeans consume more natural resources than Europe’s environment can produce. Our consumption undermines the capacity of European ecosystems to provide goods and services and puts severe strain on the global environment.
Most people will remember 2011 as a year of financial turmoil, the Japanese earthquake tsunami nuclear disaster, country bailouts in Europe and mass protests linked to the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Spanish Indignados. Only a few will remember that it was also the year scientists discovered more than 18 000 new species living on our planet. Even fewer can name one species that was declared extinct.
Climate change is happening. The current global average temperature is already about 0.7-0.8 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial level. Even if greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations had stabilized in the year 2000, temperatures are predicted to increase by 1.2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level by the end of the 21st century.
We are using more and more of natural resources due to population growth, lifestyle changes and increasing personal consumption. To tackle our unsustainable consumption, we need to address the entire resource system, including production methods, demand patterns and supply chains. We take a closer look at food.
We need food and we need clean freshwater to produce our food. With growing demand from human activities on the one hand and climate change on the other, many regions especially in the south struggle to find enough freshwater to meet their needs. How can we continue growing food without letting nature go thirsty for clean water? A more efficient use of water in agriculture would certainly help.
The shortcomings of GDP as a measure of economic and social wellbeing have been recognised for decades. Now the economic and environmental crises have created the political momentum for a radical revision of national accounting methods.
The European economy is still feeling the impact of the economic crisis that started in 2008. Unemployment and pay cuts have affected millions. When new graduates cannot find jobs in one of the richest parts of the world, should we talk about the environment? The European Union's new environmental action programme does exactly this, but not only. It also identifies the environment as an integral and inseparable part of our health and our economy.
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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