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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.
Our natural environment is a key component of our health and wealth. However, our recent assessments show that the majority of habitats and species in Europe have an unfavourable conservation status despite significant improvements for many species in recent years.
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.
Our climate is changing. We need to adapt to current and expected changes, while maximising our efforts to quickly and sharply reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. And 2015 can be a turning point for global climate policies. Europe and the world must seize the opportunity and allocate sufficient funds to end the carbon dependency of the global economy.
When taken as a single variable, population density, transport infrastructure, soil types, land use and terrain characteristics, might tell only a part of the story. What links them together and allows us to get a better understanding of what is happening where? How does spatial data help improve Europe's environmental policies? We asked these questions to Stefan Jensen, who leads a group working on implementing the Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS) – with a focus on spatial reference data – at the European Environment Agency.
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.
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?’
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.
We live in a world of continuous change. How can we steer these on-going changes to achieve global sustainability by 2050? How can we strike a balance between the economy and the environment, the short-term and the long-term? The answer lies in how we manage the transition process without locking ourselves into unsustainable systems.
Our knowledge and understanding of air pollution is growing every year. We have an expanding network of monitoring stations reporting data on a wide range of air pollutants, complemented with results from air quality models. We now have to make sure that scientific knowledge and policy continue to develop hand in hand.
Air pollution is not the same everywhere. Different pollutants are released into the atmosphere from a wide range of sources. Once in the atmosphere, they can transform into new pollutants and spread around the world. Designing and implementing policies to address this complexity are not easy tasks. Below is an overview of air legislation in the European Union.
Many of us might spend up to 90 % of our day indoors — at home, work or school. The quality of the air we breathe indoors also has a direct impact on our health. What determines indoor air quality? Is there any difference between outdoor and indoor air pollutants? How can we improve indoor air quality?
Our climate is changing. Many climate-changing gases are also common air pollutants that affect our health and the environment. In many ways, improving air quality can also give a boost to climate change mitigation efforts and vice versa, but not always. The challenge ahead is to ensure that climate and air policies focus on win-win scenarios.
Europe has improved its air quality in recent decades. Emissions of many pollutants were curbed successfully, but particulate matter and ozone pollution in particular continue to pose serious risks to the health of Europeans.
The atmosphere, weather patterns and seasonal variations have long been an object of fascination and observation. In the 4th century B.C., Aristotle’s treatise Meteorology compiled the great philosopher’s observations not only on the weather patterns, but on earth sciences in general. Until the 17th century, air symbolised ‘nothingness’. It was assumed that air had no weight until Galileo Galilei scientifically proved that it has.
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.
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.
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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