Can we live within the limits of the planet, especially when facing multiple crises? We are using resources faster than the planet can replenish them, creating pollution, destroying nature, driving climate change and impacting people’s health and well-being. A transition to a sustainable future will require a fundamental shift in production and consumption systems.

Sustainability is about meeting the world’s needs of today and tomorrow by creating systems that allow us to live well and within the limits of our planet. Building a sustainable Europe isn’t an easy task, especially when faced with shocks and crises such as the global pandemic, war and inflation, and climate change. Without a rapid and fundamental transformation of Europe's production and consumption systems, it will not be possible.

Europe needs to find ways to change the key systems of food, energy, mobility and buildings that drive environmental and climate pressures. This means rethinking technologies, production processes, consumption patterns and our way of life.

The EU has committed to ambitious, long-term environmental and climate goals. Despite some progress, much more needs to be done to achieve these. We must take immediate, decisive and coherent action across diverse policy areas and engage society to create the changes needed for a truly sustainable future.

Many aspects of our world — demographics, technology, economics — are changing rapidly. Global megatrends concerning social, technological, economic, and governance changes continue to intensify persistent environmental problems, and emerging trends are increasingly influential in shaping environmental outcomes. This creates both risks and opportunities for Europe and its environment.

The environmental and sustainability challenges that Europe faces today are rooted in decades-long global developments. Today, Europe still consumes more resources and contributes more to environmental degradation than other regions. Our indicators, such as the consumption footprint and material footprint show no signs of significant reductions.

These trends do not show signs of stopping. Projections show that:

  • Consumption will increase worldwide;
  • The global population will grow by almost one-third to 10 billion by 2050;
  • Global resource use will double by 2060;
  • Water demand will increase by 55% by 2050;
  • Energy demand will grow by 30% by 2040.

While technological advancements and innovations have led to more prosperity, they have also caused widespread damage to nature.

About 75% of land and 40% of seas are now severely altered worldwide. The planet, including Europe, is also experiencing exceptionally rapid loss of biodiversity, with more species threatened with extinction now than at any point in human history. There is increasing concern that pollution and climate change will lead to sudden and irreversible shifts in our environment, severely disrupting nature’s ability to deliver essential services like food, soil, and water that we depend on.

These pressures are also inflicting harm on human health and well-being. Three times as many people are suffering or losing their lives from environmental pollution now than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

The EU’s sustainability policies and actions are rooted in the European Green Deal and the 8th Environment Action Programme (8EAP), which reiterate the EU’s long-term vision for 2050 of living well within planetary boundaries and set out the specific objectives and conditions needed to achieve this.

The European Green Deal covers action on climate, energy, transport, biodiversity and pollution. The goals are to enhance natural capital, no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, economic growth decoupled from resource use, a toxic-free environment and no person or place left behind.

Similarly, the 8EAP’s long-term priority is that, by the latest 2050, Europeans live well and within our planet’s means in an economy where nothing is wasted.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets, is a global commitment to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development by 2030 worldwide, ensuring that no one is left behind. The Agenda reflects many of the EU's priorities for sustainable development. The EU is committed to implementing the 2030 Agenda and its goals within the EU and in development cooperation with partner countries.

At the European Environment Agency, we create comprehensive and integrated environmental assessments that present an accurate picture of where Europe stands in meeting the SDGs, 2030 policy targets, 2050 goals, and overall ambitions to shift to a sustainable, low-carbon future.

Leena Ylä-Mononen
EEA Executive Director

The nature of the many crises we face means that now, more than ever, we need to stick to our long-term sustainability goals and policy aims and anchor these environmental and wellbeing aims into the new priority areas like security and competitiveness. Also environmental protection and restoration must go hand in hand with justice and equity. Without the support of citizens, we cannot make this shift to sustainability a success.

Meeting EU environment policy targets by 2030 will be challenging

The 8th Environment Action Programme (8EAP) reiterates the EU’s long-term vision for 2050 of living well, within planetary boundaries. It sets out priority objectives for 2030 and the conditions needed to achieve these.

The European Environment Agency’s (EEA) first monitoring report on the Programme shows that the EU may not meet most of the monitoring targets outlined in the European Commission’s 8th EAP Monitoring Communication.

The report takes stock of progress towards Europe’s key environment and climate goals, based on 28 indicators and monitoring targets.

Stronger implementation by the Member States of existing laws, additional measures, and mainstreaming climate and environment in other policy domains are needed for faster progress.

Governance in times of polycrises?

Global pandemic, war, inflation and other shocks and crises have tested the European Green Deal and its ambition of building a climate-neutral and sustainable economy. Two new EEA reports discuss how Europe can respond to the pressing and complex societal challenges while moving towards long-term sustainability goals.

The EEA report ‘Transformative resilience: the key to governing Europe's sustainability transitions in the polycrisis’ explores the emerging concept of transformative resilience and how it can be useful for anticipating and responding to shocks while speeding up positive change in key areas of energy, circular economy and just transition. 

The EEA report ‘Governance in complexity  Sustainability governance under highly uncertain and complex conditions’ discusses how many interconnected crises challenge traditional models of problem-solving and decision-making. The report points out that progress towards sustainability goals is still mixed.

Can we explore and anticipate the future? How about shaping it?

Dive deeper

View from underneath and airplane flying in a clear blue sky between pedestrians visible on three transparent bridges in a W-like formation.

How did we get here?

The environmental and sustainability challenges that Europe faces today result from decisions and actions taken over decades. During this time, the so-called ‘Great Acceleration’ of social and economic activity transformed our relationship with the environment.

The Great Acceleration has undoubtedly delivered significant benefits. Technological advancements have helped people live longer, earn more money, and be healthier in many parts of the world. Yet, in many cases, these same developments also caused widespread damage to nature and the environment.

Our flagship report on the European environment — state and outlook 2020 (SOER 2020) provides an extensive analysis.

Horizon scanning tips and tricks

The future of Europe is shaped by developments of a societal, technological, economic, environmental and geopolitical nature that interact in complex and unpredictable ways. These wider developments might be relevant to the environment and environment policies.

Horizon scanning is one of the methods used in foresight to systematically scan or review various sources to detect early (or weak) signs of potentially important developments. It can support policymakers and other decision-makers in anticipating future developments, managing risks and pursuing opportunities to help build resilience to future shocks and reduce uncertainty.

Together with Eionet, the EEA published a practical guide, aimed to foster a culture of anticipation and preparedness by inspiring and equipping practitioners across Europe to explore the future using horizon scanning.

Towards global sustainability

The UN Sustainable Development Goals are part of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted in 2015. The Sustainable Development Goals are a call for action by all countries — poor, rich and middle-income — to promote prosperity while protecting the planet. They recognise that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and address a range of social needs including education, health, social protection, and job opportunities, while tackling climate change and environmental protection.

The European Union and the European Environment Agency’s 38 member and cooperating countries are committed to implementing the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals, including those focused on climate action, water and sanitation, and affordable and clean energy.

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