A Europe of firsts: environmental achievements

Page Last modified 13 Apr 2011
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In 35 years, EU’s environmental policy has made huge strides. Initially, policy focused on the development of a vast body of environmental legislation, dealing mostly with technical standards. Gradually, the spectrum of policy tools has broadened, with e.g. the introduction of the use of market-based instruments.

Environmental concerns are also increasingly being integrated into other policy areas, such as energy, agriculture and transport. This helps to prevent the problems at their source instead of using end-of-pipe solutions only.

Today, the EU sustainable development strategy provides the overarching long-term framework, aiming at synergies between economic, social and environmental goals. The EU has established environmental cooperation with its new eastern and southern European neighbours. It has taken environmental leadership globally.

European environmental protection legislation works, when it is fully implemented and enforced. Without it, our environment would look quite different. For instance:

  • lead would still be being pumped into the air from much of our car fleet;
  • chlorofluorocarbons would have further depleted the ozone layer;
  • nitrogen oxide emissions from road transport would be 10 times higher;
  • life in our rivers, lakes and estuaries would still be choked by effluent, not to mention the unsavoury prospect of bathing in coastal waters polluted by sewage;
  • increasing swathes of land would be eaten up by expanding landfills for waste — waste incinerators would not be operating to such strict standards.


View the European Commission’s environmental retrospective.


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