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.
Measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change are often considered to be expensive, and are seen as an additional burden on the economy. But European countries are already spending public and private funds on research, infrastructure, agriculture, energy, transport, urban development, social protection, health, and nature conservation. We can ensure that our existing expenditure on these areas favours climate-friendly and sustainable options that will help to create new jobs.
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.
In August this year, more than 190 countries reached a consensus on the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. And later this month, Heads of State will adopt this Agenda along with its Sustainable Development Goals and targets in New York. Unlike their predecessors, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are both for developing and developed countries and focus on a broader range of sustainable development topics. Many of the 17 SDGs include elements related to the environment, resource use or climate change.
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?’
Over the past 40 years Europe has developed the most comprehensive, ambitious and binding environmental legislation existing anywhere today. And with good reason: these standards should be seen as a unique economic advantage.
The climate deal agreed in Paris by 195 countries is the first-ever universal and legally binding agreement of its kind. The Paris agreement is the result of many years of preparation, dialogue and growing awareness of the need to tackle current and potential impacts of climate change. It constitutes a major and promising step towards building a low-carbon and climate-resilient world. It also sends a clear signal to policy makers and businesses to move away from fossil fuels and invest in clean energy and adaptation actions.
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.
Our current resource use is not sustainable and is putting pressure on our planet. We need to facilitate a transition towards a circular, green economy by moving beyond waste policies and focusing on eco-design, innovation and investments. Research can foster not only innovation in production, but also in business models and financing mechanisms.
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.
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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