Water: nutrient and heavy metal pollution 'decoupling' from growth

News Published 24 Feb 2014 Last modified 21 Jun 2016
1 min read
Photo: © Guilherme Cecilio
European households are generating lower levels of nutrient pollution in water, despite a growing population. In a similar example of 'absolute decoupling', levels of some pollutants from agriculture and manufacturing have fallen in recent years, while the economic production of these sectors has grown.

These trends are highlighted in a series of new indicators published by the European Environment Agency (EEA), which look at various economic aspects of water pollution and water use in Europe.

The three indicators look at pollutant emissions from the agricultural sector, households and manufacturing industries, comparing this pollution to economic factors.

'Absolute decoupling' is the implicit aim of many environmental policies, meaning economic growth continues while environmental impacts decrease. 'Relative decoupling' is often used to describe a situation where environmental impacts continue to increase, but at a lower rate than growth.

The data suggests that Europe is generally moving in the right direction in reducing nutrient pollution of water, a major cause of eutrophication. It is still a significant pollution problem, however. Manufacturing industries have also significantly cut their emissions of heavy metals to water between 2004 and 2010, the data shows.

However, at the national level a handful of countries do not show an absolute decoupling trend, either with falling rates of productivity or increasing pollutant emission levels.

The interactive graph below have been made using DaViz, an online plug-in developed by the EEA. It is free and open source. For more interactive graphs, check the indicators below.


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