Press Release

No quick fixes for Europe's environment

Press Release Published 02 Jun 1998 Last modified 28 Jun 2016
10 min read
NEWS RELEASE Copenhagen, 2 June 1998

No quick fixes for Europe's environment


Today, the European Environment Agency (EEA) published "Europe's Environment: The Second Assessment". The report measures progress in Europe's environmental quality compared to the EEA's 1995 assessment. It provides a clear picture of the state of the environment in Europe and the main areas requiring action at national and international level.

The main conclusions of the 295-page report are:

  • Europe has made progress in reducing some pressures on the environment from pollution: emissions of sulphur dioxide, lead, ozone-depleting substances, and phosphorus have been substantially reduced, whilst common urban air pollutants nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds have also decreased since 1990.
  • Progress has been greatest in areas covered by international legal instruments, such as the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the UNECE Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution.
  • The absence of such initiatives for soil conservation and waste (other than hazardous waste) partly explains the limited progress and poor data availability in these areas.
  • Progress in emission reductions, however, has not lead to an overall improvement in the quality of Europe's environment.
  • Natural time delays are the reason why ozone depletion is continuing above Europe and eutrophication in lakes is still at the same level as in the beginning of the 1990s. [more detailed findings hereafter].
  • In many cases the scale of measures to reduce pressures on the environment has been too limited given the size and the complexity of the problems, for instance in dealing with climate change, summer smog, pesticides in groundwater, polluted sites and soil erosion.
  • For nature protection and biodiversity conservation many initiatives have been taken, but implementation in the field has been slow, partly due to lack of resources for ensuring proper management. Measures are now needed to help conserve the unspoiled natural areas in Eastern Europe.
  • The transport and agriculture sectors are key causes of many of Europe's environmental problems, and the environmental pressures caused by these sectors are in some cases growing fast. In addition emissions from agriculture and transport are more difficult to control than those from industry, from which the pressures have been reduced since 1990.

Substantial differences are highlighted between the various regions, especially between Western and Eastern Europe, but also between individual countries within a region. The many diagrams included in the report show that in general Western Europe is the biggest contributor to pollution in Europe. This is especially the case since the start of the economic transition in Central and Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States where the initial economic slow-down resulted in reduced emissions. The report shows that a special effort is needed to ensure that, once economic growth picks up again in Eastern Europe, it does not lead to degradation of nature in the region and deterioration of environmental quality in Europe.

"Europe's Environment: The Second Assessment" covers the state of the environment in the 44 countries of the European continent and identifies the main socio-economic driving forces that put pressure on Europe's environment. It also points to key areas where further action is needed. The report will be presented to the Conference of European Environment Ministers ‘Environment for Europe', to be held in Aarhus, Denmark on 23-25 June. With this report the European Environment Agency has made another step towards improving and consolidating its network for environmental monitoring and reporting. To meet the needs of the Environment for Europe process, the Agency is ready to establish a common accounting and reporting process, linked with policy development, for tracking the implementation of the decisions taken in Aarhus and future European summits and conferences.


In 1991, the First Conference of European Environment Ministers held in Dobris Castle, near Prague, called for a comprehensive assessment of Europe's environment and endorsed the ‘Environmental Programme for Europe' (EPE), which sets out a number of long term environmental priorities at the European level. The report "Europe's Environment: The Dobris Assessment", published by the EEA in 1995, provided the requested assessment. The Dobris report was used in the preparation of the Third European Environment Ministers Conference in Sofia (October 1995). The Sofia Conference asked the EEA to produce a further assessment of the relevant changes in European environmental quality and pressures to enable the effects of the implementation of the Environmental Programme for Europe to be followed and evaluated. The report "Europe's Environment: The Second Assessment" is the response to this request. It will be presented to the Fourth Pan-European Environment Ministers' Conference, to be held in Aarhus, Denmark from 23-25 June 1998.

Twelve key environmental problems identified in the Dobris Assessment are the focus of this second report. These are: Climate change, Stratospheric ozone depletion, Acidification, Tropospheric ozone, Waste, Chemicals, Biodiversity, Inland waters, Marine and coastal environment, Soil degradation, Urban environment and Technological and natural hazards.

The report is based on data collected by international organisations, including the UN, OECD, WHO, the European Commission and Eurostat. In addition the European Environment Agency has carried out a further data collection exercise through its network of European Topic Centres. More than 120 individuals all over Europe contributed to the data collection and the writing of the report.

Data for some Eastern European countries and for topics such as waste, chemicals, soil degradation and the urban environment is less complete than for other regions and topics. The European Environment Agency is continuing to expand its data collection and analysis activities to provide more comprehensive information on the current and future state of Europe's environment for use by policy-makers and by the general public and to provide more complete assessments of the effectiveness of environmental policies. Its extending networking and reporting capacities now need to include the expertise needed for more complete overviews on chemicals, radio-activity, and the urban environment.

Findings issue by issue

Atmospheric issues: Strong moves to reduce harmful emissions, with substantial reductions in most European countries - mainly due to emission reduction policies, structural changes in industrial production and shifts to cleaner fuels. In Eastern Europe, emissions have been considerably reduced as a result of a steep drop in industrial production and energy use. Across Europe, emissions of several pollutants need to be further reduced to meet agreed and expected targets of international conventions.

Climate change: Since 1990, emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel fell 3% in Western Europe and 19% in Eastern Europe, mainly due to structural changes in industry and a switch to gas as an energy source. However, these factors are unlikely to be sufficient to meet the more demanding targets agreed at Kyoto for 2005 and 2010 and new measures will be needed. There is still considerable technical scope for increasing energy efficiency. Relatively low energy prices in recent years have not provided a sufficient stimulus for energy efficiency improvement. In Eastern Europe, economic convergence with the West could reverse current trend towards lower energy consumption, which might jeopardise the regional contribution to reaching the Kyoto targets.

Stratospheric ozone depletion: Annual production of ozone-depleting substances down 80 to 90%. Rapid fall in CFC emissions - but emission of substitutes (HCFCs) increasing. Ozone concentration in stratosphere still unaffected by international measures due to time delays. Above Europe, 5% drop in amount of ozone between 1975 and 1995. Recovery will take many decades - could be accelerated by more rapid phase-out of HCFCs and methyl bromide and careful destruction and/or recycling of CFCs and halons from current appliances.

Acidification: Some progress since 1990, with continuing reduction of sulphur dioxide emissions (50% between 1980 to 1995 in Europe as a whole) as a result of policy measures, fuel switching, and economic restructuring. For about 10% of Europe's land area, level of deposition still too high and further emission reductions are needed to achieve a sustainable level. Growth in car numbers and usage are offsetting benefits of technical improvements (exhaust catalysts, cleaner engines). In Eastern Europe growth in private transport likely to exacerbate the problem. NOx emissions: the EC's 5th Action Programme aimed for 30% reduction between 1990 and 2000, but by 1995 only 8% was achieved.

Tropospheric ozone/summer smog: 14% reduction in emissions of ozone precursors in Europe between 1990 and 1995 through control measures in various sectors and economic restructuring in Eastern Europe. But threshold concentrations in tropospheric concentrations frequently exceeded in most European countries. In EU, about 700 hospital admissions in March to October 1995 attributed to excessive ozone concentrations. Protection threshold for vegetation exceeded in most EU countries in 1995.

Chemicals: The chemical industry in Western Europe continues to grow more rapidly than GDP, and there are several hundred new compounds marketed each year. Eastern European chemical production down markedly since 1989, but partial recovery in some countries. However, the extent of the threat from chemicals to environment/health is unknown. Because toxicity assessment of chemicals is a slow process, attention is shifting to new initiatives for chemicals control based on the precautionary principle. Some new national and international initiatives have been introduced (voluntary reduction, taxation and public access to data), and there is scope for a wider application of these instruments.

Waste: Nearly 10% increase since 1990 in reported waste generation from agriculture, mining, manufacturing, municipal and energy. Municipal waste up by 11% in OECD European countries since 1990 (425 kg per person per annum). Waste management still dominated by cheapest option: landfill. Even so, recycling rates for paper and glass have reached 40% and 50% respectively in several western European countries. In Eastern Europe waste management requires better strategic planning and more investment. In all countries waste reduction remains the main challenge.

Biodiversity loss: Little overall progress since 1990. Agriculture, forestry, infrastructure development and various forms of pollution are still main sources of stress. Many nature protection initiatives - but actual implementation slow. CEE: unspoiled virgin forests and natural habitats threatened by economic change unless adequately protected by EPE and accession agreements. Wetland loss is greatest in southern Europe; large losses also in agricultural/urbanised areas in north-west and central Europe. Semi-natural agricultural habitats declining rapidly due to intensive agriculture and forestry.

Inland waters: Water abstractions stable or even decreased in a number of European countries (west and east), but severe availability/demand imbalances continue to occur locally. No overall improvement in river quality, although some improvements in most seriously polluted rivers since 1970s. Eutrophication is still a problem. Nitrate concentrations in ground water low in northern Europe, high in several western and Eastern countries. Phosphorus emissions into rivers down 40 - 60% in several countries during 1980 - 1995, but at about a quarter of river monitoring sites, phosphorus concentrations are still about ten times higher than in good quality water. Nitrogen emissions to water have not decreased and continue to cause eutrophication problems (algae blooms) in coastal waters.

Marine and coastal environment: Most threatened seas: The North Sea, The Mediterranean, The Black Sea, The Baltic. Nutrient concentration in Black Sea, mainly from Danube watershed, increased tenfold between 1960-1992. Many seas are heavily over-fished, particularly The North Sea, The Iberian seas, The Mediterranean, The Black Sea. Contamination of sediments and marine animals with heavy metals and PCBs is common in coastal areas in the whole of Europe.

Soil degradation: Over 300,000 potentially contaminated sites identified in Western Europe. Total throughout Europe much greater, and impacts largely unknown. 115 million ha suffers from water erosion, 42 million ha from wind erosion; problem greatest in Mediterranean region. Nearly 4 million ha affected by salinisation, mainly in the Mediterranean region and in the southern Newly Independent States. The risk of desertification has increased in vulnerable areas, particularly in Mediterranean area.

Technological/natural hazards: Industrial accidents per unit of activity in EU decreasing (no databases for Eastern Europe). Dramatic world-wide reduction in annual number of large oil spills. Exceptionally large number of floods in 1990s, probably caused by natural variations in water flow, possibly amplified by human activities.

No nuclear accidents since 1986 (Chernobyl) but some 'deviations' and a few 'incidents'.

Findings sector by sector

Key sectoral "driving forces" that impact on Europe's environment are transport, energy, industry and agriculture, although other sectors like households and tourism also have considerable influence.

Transport: Here, more than in any other sector, environmental policies are failing to keep up with growth (goods transport up 54% since 1980, car passenger transport up 46% since 1985). Efforts are being made to restrain growth in demand for transport, promote public transport and reduce the need for transport by encouraging new patterns of settlement and production. However in all parts of Europe public transport is losing out to private transport and there is a considerable political momentum to extend road and traffic infrastructure.

Energy: Consumption remains consistently high in Western Europe since 1990; further improvement in energy efficiency difficult to achieve while fossil fuels remain cheap. In Eastern Europe, energy consumption down 23% since 1990, but expected to increase during economic recovery. These countries are still less energy efficient than Western Europe. However, the large distance to greenhouse gas reduction targets requires attention to improving energy efficiency and increasing the use of renewable sources in the whole of Europe.

Industry: Relative contribution of industry to climate change, acidification, tropospheric ozone and water pollution has decreased since 1990. In Western Europe, environmental objectives slowly becoming integrated into industrial decision-making. In Eastern Europe such integration is not common.

Agriculture: In Western Europe, yields continue to increase due to advances in agricultural practices. Use of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides seems to have levelled off, water use has continued to increase. Environmental considerations still only a small part of CAP, while GATT and CAP reform may lead to further rationalisation and specialisation of agricultural production. Eastern Europe: modernisation of agriculture remains a priority, but difficult to assess overall impact of this development.


Document Actions