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Last December in Paris, the world set itself an ambitious target: limiting the global average temperature rise well below 2 degrees, while aiming to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. At the G20 summit earlier this month, China and the United States announced their formal commitment to join the Paris agreement. This is a major step forward for the international effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming. Nevertheless, the current reduction commitments made so far by signatory countries are not sufficient to meet this ambitious target.
The future looks bright for renewable energy sources which are playing an increasingly important role as Europe tries to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. We talked about the opportunities and challenges ahead for clean energy with Mihai Tomescu, energy expert at the European Environment Agency.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our consumption and production patterns generate waste, a part of which ends up as litter in our oceans. Why is preventing marine litter important for the environment and the health of our seas in particular? What is Europe doing to prevent marine litter? We asked these questions to Constança Belchior, who works on marine assessments and impacts of marine litter at the European Environment Agency.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Around 70 % of our planet is covered by oceans and marine litter can be found almost everywhere. Marine litter, plastics in particular, pose a threat not only to the health of our seas and coasts, but also to our economy and our communities. Most marine litter is generated by land-based activities. How can we stop the flow of litter into our seas? The best place to start tackling this global marine problem is on land.
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?
Our quality of life, health and jobs all depend on the environment. However, the way and the rate we are using up natural resources today risk undermining our well-being along with nature’s ability to provide for us. We need to fundamentally transform the way we produce, consume and live. We need to green our economy and the transition needs to start today.
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?’
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.
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.
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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