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You are here: Home / Environmental topics / Policy instruments

Policy instruments

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Policies have a key role in determining the state of our environment. The EU has 35 years' experience of environmental policy-making, during which time well over 200 legal acts have been put in place and strategic paths have been defined. Initially, policy focused on regulating technical standards. Gradually, the spectrum of policy instruments has broadened, recognising that there is no single universal policy tool that can provide solutions to all problems. More

Key facts and messages
The notion of dedicated management of natural capital and ecosystem services is a compelling integrating concept for dealing with environmental pressures from multiple sectors. Spatial planning, resource accounting and coherence among sectoral... more
Increased resource efficiency and security can be achieved, for example, using extended life cycle approaches to reflect the full environmental impacts of products and activities. This can reduce Europe's dependence on resources globally... more
Transformation towards a greener European economy will ensure the long-term environmental sustainability of Europe and its neighbourhood. In this context, shifts in attitudes will be important. Together, regulators, businesses and citizens could... more
The costs of adaptation in Europe could amount to billions of Euro per year in the medium and long term. Although the economics of adaptation options so far relies on limited information and a few modelling tools, assessments suggest that timely... more
So far 11 European countries, and a few regions and cities, have adopted adaptation strategies. Mainstreaming adaptation in EU policies, strengthening the knowledge base and facilitating information sharing are key levers for building resilience.... more
Adaptation strategies can reduce vulnerabilities and strengthen resilience. An increasing number of options have been identified, including no-regret measures that are relevant under all plausible future scenarios. In addition to technological... more
The EU policy objective of halting biodiversity loss by 2010 has thus not been achieved. The implementation of EU environmental legislation and policy has had positive effects, but progress is slow and threats have grown both within Europe and... more
Extending Natura2000 on land is a major success but progress in designating marine Natura2000 sites has been slow so far. Overall it is too early to judge the effectiveness of the management regimes that have been put in place. Success in achieving... more
Land use decisions involve trade-offs between the current high attention to food and energy security, and more policy emphasis on multi-functionality taking into account ecosystem and natural resource management objectives. The diversity of... more
Few countries have specific legislation to protect soil and there is no EU law or regulatory instrument that specifically addresses threats to it or requires the systematic collection of comparable data. The European Commission has published... more
Sustainable use of the seas and the conservation of marine ecosystems through an ecosystem-based approach are being pursued through the Integrated Maritime Policy and its environmental pillar, the 2008 Marine Strategy Framework Directive, under... more
Instigating such changes and making more resource-efficient and environmentally sustainable consumption patterns mainstream is a significant challenge. It requires public authorities to put the framework conditions in place to enable business... more
Achieving significant reductions in the environmental pressures related to consumption will require sophisticated policy packages, including regulatory and voluntary instruments, providing sustainable infrastructure, technological support; consumer... more
The overall trend in waste generation, including hazardous waste, is upwards. The 6th EAP objective of substantially reducing waste generation has neither been achieved nor is likely to be met in the coming decades unless production and consumption... more
The management of waste has improved, with many countries recycling and recovering more, but more efforts are needed if the EU is to become a 'recycling society'. Implementation of existing legislation remains crucial, especially on the illegal... more
Policy has only recently begun to address the challenges of the growing use of resources. Most actions taken to date do not comprehensively address the upstream causes of growth, focusing instead on the downstream consequences. As yet, there... more
Many European river basins and waters have been altered by such human activities as water abstraction, land drainage, and dams. These often lead to major adverse ecological effects and leave limited space for natural habitats. Because of these... more
Europe cannot endlessly increase its water supply, we must reduce demand. Policies are needed to encourage demand management. Demand measures could include the use of economic instruments; water loss controls; water-reuse and recycling; increased... more
Good water resource management is required to meet the needs of a resource efficient future, sustain human and economic development and maintain the essential functions of our water ecosystems. The solutions lie in more integrated and sustainable... more
The Water Framework Directive, the single most important piece of legislation relating to the quality of Europe’s fresh and coastal waters, aims to attain good ecological and chemical status by 2015. For a number of freshwater bodies, substantial... more
Implementation of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, together with comparable non-EU legislation, has led to improvements in wastewater treatment across much of the continent. This has resulted in reduced point discharges of nutrients... more
European air pollutant concentrations still frequently exceed limit values set by the EU Air Quality Directives. Many Member States have either not complied, or will not comply by the required target dates, with legally-binding air quality limits... more
Only 14 European countries expect to comply with national 2010 emission ceilings for four pollutants (NOx, NMVOC, SO2 and NH3) set under EU and international legislation. The ceiling for nitrogen oxides (NOx) remains by far the most difficult... more
Air pollution and climate change share common sources of emissions – primarily from fuel combustion in industry and households, transport and agriculture. A number of air pollutants contribute to changes in atmospheric radiative forcing. Many... more
The urban environment is under pressure from sources both inside and outside individual urban areas, and local situations are influenced by national and European legislation as well as programmes. Therefore, a broadly integrated approach from... more
Protected areas, including Natura 2000 sites in EU Member States, now account for 22 % of the terrestrial area of EEA member countries. more
43 % of the total area occupied by Natura 2000 sites in the EU-27 countries is located in mountain areas. more
The quality of inland bathing waters – rivers and lakes – in the EU has improved significantly since 1990. In 2009, 89 % of inland bathing areas complied with mandatory values, while 71 % complied with the more stringent guide values. more
A substantial proportion of Europe’s freshwaters are at risk of not achieving good status under the EU Water Framework Directive by 2015 (40 % of surface waters and 30 % of groundwaters, in 2004). more
Only 14 European countries expect to comply with all four pollutant-specific emission ceilings set under EU and international legislation for 2010. more
By increasing tax on pollution and other environmentally-damaging activities, governments can use the extra funds to provide incentives for innovation, such as developing renewable energy. For advanced economies like the EU, such schemes also... more

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