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Shaping the Europe of 2050: healthier, cleaner and more resilient

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Article Published 17 Mar 2021 Last modified 12 May 2021
4 min read
Photo: © Alessandra Pitarresi, REDISCOVER Nature /EEA
A year into living with COVID-19 and its impacts, Europe continues to put forth policy packages towards its ambitious goals outlined in the European Green Deal. It is essential that Europe stays on course towards its targets and ensures that the Europe of 2050 is a resilient society built on solidarity, providing a healthy environment for all of us.

Exactly one year has passed since many countries in Europe and across the world have put in place restrictions to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. COVID-19 came with a huge social and economic cost. More than 120 million people in the world have been infected so far and over 2.6 million lost their lives, affecting some vulnerable groups like the elderly more than others. The pandemic has also hit hard many economic sectors  tourism, cultural activities, restaurant industry  and the livelihoods of those dependent on those sectors. From our social interactions to daily routines  how and where we work or attend classes, many aspects of our lives have changed.  

 

A year on, we are faced with a health crisis, an economic crisis and a corona-fatigued societyThe European Union and Member States have taken measures to alleviate some of these negative impacts through support initiatives. Europe chose to prioritise the health of its citizens and minimise the number of lives lost. And time is precious: vaccination programmes race against the spread of variants, all with the hope that our societies can return to some form of normality in the coming monthsWe are still uncertain how long this will last and how future generations will pay for the growing debt.  

 

Europe’s sustainability transition in times of COVID-19 

It is against this backdrop that the EU are moving towards sustainability. It was shortly before the corona lockdowns that the European Commission announced the European Green Deal, an overarching policy programme, to achieve a carbon-neutral and sustainable economy by 2050 through a ‘just transition’, ensuring that ‘no place or no one is left behind’. The European Green Deal is Europe’s response to the climate and biodiversity crisis. 

 

These overarching goals are translated into a series of policy packages, including theEU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030the Farm to Fork Strategythe Circular Economy Action Plan, the Industrial Emissions Strategy, the Climate Law and the Climate Pact. In February, another vital piece of legislationthe EU Climate Adaptation Strategy was proposed, which aims to enable smarter, faster and more systematic adaptation. Other initiatives, such as the Chemicals Strategy, the Zero Pollution Action Plan for water, air and soil, and the Fit for 55 package to reduce emissions by at least 55% by 2030, will continue to be presented.  

More information on health impacts of climate change: European Climate and health observatory

The European Environment Agency supports these policies through reliable data, assessments and information platformsOur work covers a wide range of topics and systems, including air qualitymobility systems, greenhouse gas emissionshealth impacts of climate change and analysis of ecosystemsAcross these areas, we highlight progress and identify where additional effort is needed and we communicate our data and knowledge to relevant policy makers and the general public.  

 

Setting the ambition levels and achieving them 

When sharing our findings or when a new policy proposal is announced, one question comes up again and again: is it enough? Are the targets set in the proposal enough? Can Europe or Member States do more? One may say, it is never enough and more can be done. This simple answer, however, would be ignoring the complexity of the issues we face.  

 

Setting unachievable and unrealistic targets in Europe or globally, or without the tools to monitor progress or achieve them, only undermines trust in these processes. On the other hand, according to science, ambitious policies are what we need. We need policies that stimulate the speeding-up and scaling-up of the breakthrough solutions. Our greenhouse gas emissions data, for example, already show that significant additional effort is needed to cut emissions. Or, we have already reached some targets in designating protected areas in the marine environment, but biodiversity concerns remain. The key question is not necessarily whether the target is ambitious enough or we need to do more of the same, but what we will do differently to make sure we achieve them. 

 

Another factor is time. Achieving sustainability cannot be achieved overnight. It requires time and a series of policy steps  all of which need to be aligned towards the same destination. Some steps could have been bigger and clearer on what we do differently.

 

It is also clear that this transition towards a sustainable Europe will affect some groups more than others  just as the coronavirus or environmental hazards, like air pollution or climate impacts, do. Some of us are more likely to be affected and are more vulnerable. The EU as a whole could be more explicit about the social dimension and do more to address those social inequalities.  

Nevertheless, it is impressive that the European Union and its Member States are aligned and stay on course towards the European Green Deal goals despite the current health and economic crisis. The European Green Deal has been remarkably COVID resilient.

 

Shaping the Europe of 2050 

Scientists and knowledge institutions are good at modelling the future or drawing scenarios. But in the end, it is not about predicting the future, but about shaping the Europe of the future  transforming our society to the one we want to live in. It should be a society built on solidarity, providing a healthy environment for all of us and resilient to future shocks  much like what the world needs to be.  

In this context, it is very timely that European leaders, including David Sassoli, European Parliament President, António Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal on behalf of the Presidency of the Council, and Ursula von der Leyen, Commission President, announced last week the Conference on the Future of Europe, inviting people from every corner of Europe to share their ideas to help shape the Europe of tomorrow — one that will build a more resilient Europe with the environment and the well-being and health of all Europeans at its heart.

 

Hans Bruyninckx

Hans Bruyninckx 

EEA Executive Director 

Editorial published in the March 2021 issue of the EEA Newsletter 01/2021  

 

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