The role of the European Environment Agency in delivering information to support the policy process

Speech Published 24 Apr 2001 Last modified 16 Oct 2014
The European Environment Agency (EEA) is a European Community institution with the aim of serving the Community and the Member States with information.

Green Week, Brussels, 23-27 April 2001

The role of the European Environment Agency in delivering information to support the policy process

Domingo Jiménez-Beltrán
Executive Director
European Environment Agency

The European Environment Agency (EEA) is a European Community institution with the aim of serving the Community and the Member States with information to support policy making for environmental protection put in the perspective of sustainable development. We do that by collecting and assessing data on the current and foreseeable state of the environment. With the development in attention going from ‘environment', to the environmental pillar in sustainable development' to ‘environmentally sustainable development' we are in a constant process of creating clear lines for our clients focusing on the essentials in the overload of environmental and sustainability information.
Over the past six years, the EEA has published five major comprehensive environmental reports. At the beginning of a new EU policy cycle (re. Helsinki Council's conclusions; 6th EAP), it is necessary to develop a strategy and plan for the Agency's main periodical reporting over the next period. The main aim is to present key environmental indicators in order to report, on a regular and consistent basis, on progress in a number of policy areas at the European level.
In recent years the discussions on environmental indicators have broadened from indicators for describing changes in the state of the environment to an interrelated family of indicator sets. In line with the broadening of environmental policy from dealing with environmental media or environmental problems to the integration of environment into other policy fields, indicators for sectors and the environment have been developed. These show interlinkages between activities of societal sectors (transport, energy, forestry, etc) and the environment.
Indicators are important because we can manage only what we can measure. And while critics may argue that indicators and targets are a far too simplistic response to complex issues, the reality is that they appear to work! At the EEA we face a constant challenge to prevent overload of information on the environment and sustainability, and indicators are a key tool for us in this regard since they distil data into a clear and accessible form.
Indicators should not be solely presentations of statistics on the state of the environment but should form part of an analysis of progress made under the socio-economic and policy contexts. This means that as far as possible indicators should be developed as: ·  Performance indicators, linked to an agreed policy target ·  Efficiency indicators, which show the relationship to production and other economic variables ·  Policy effectiveness indicators, which show the effect of policy measures and structural developments. Some examples of these types of indicators are given below:
This type of indicator allows for a key message such as:
angry.gif Nitrate concentrations have not changed. The high concentrations in smaller rivers reflect the impact of agriculture.

This type of indicator allows for a key message such as:

happy.gif Emissions of ozone-forming gases (ozone precursors) have fallen by 22 % since 1990, mainly due to introduction of catalysts on new cars. However, emission targets for VOCs and NOx set in the fifth environmental action programme have not been reached, and substantial reductions of non-methane volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides are still required to achieve 2010 targets.


This type of indicator allows for a key message such as:

neutral.gif While the output of the sector has grown, emissions to the air have fallen. However, the decrease in emissions ceased in 1998.
happy.gif Carbon intensity of electricity generation from fossil fuels in the EU15 has decreased, however action is required to ensure further reductions in line with obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.

This type of indicator allows for a key message such as:
happy.gif About half of the decrease in emissions of sulphur dioxide emissions from power plants can be attributed to the introduction of flue gas desulphurisation and the use of lower sulphur coals and fuel oils in conventional thermal power plants.
Recently, policy makers have given considerable attention to the development of indicators as they are an integrated part of the development of sectoral strategies for the integration of environmental concerns into their policies. Most of the sectoral strategies submitted for the European Council in Helsinki (December 1999) mentioned explicitly the development of indicators and reporting mechanisms based on indicators.
For transport and environment a list of 30 indicators has been agreed and the indicators produced. The Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM) developed by the EEA with the support of Eurostat and the other European Commission services is a good example of such monitoring. Together with its partners, the EEA is now developing similar indicator-based reports on energy and on agriculture.
Following that approach, a regular assessment of the transport/environment issues can be delivered, allowing comparisons over time, such as:
"Transport is the fastest-growing source of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. The main cause of this is the continuing growth in road transport, but emissions from aviation are also growing rapidly. Little progress is being made in internalising the external environmental and other costs of transport: the more environmentally harmful modes are often still the cheapest and the most attractive in terms of quality and flexibility. In particular, current price structures continue to favour private over public transport."
Assuming that policy developers in the EU aim at a rational and efficient set of policies we may expect that under the sustainable development strategy a number of interlinked and mutually supporting policies will emerge. Clear structures are needed to communicate to policy makers how the information that we provide is related to policy processes and to make clear what type of information serves which process. For that purpose, clusters of environmental indicators are being developed.
As well, the 6th environmental action programme and envisaged specific action plans to achieve environmental sustainability need to be monitored using sets of selected issue indicators. The EEA is currently developing proposals for these and its Environmental Signals report series will develop into the main indicator report on environmental sustainability.
The 6th EAP tries to establish not only the environmental sustainability pillar of the Sustainable Development Strategy but also to define the accompanying accountability (monitoring and reporting), all that in a time perspective of year 2010. Analysing best practices in this context also represents an important information which dissemination to the the 'doers' (business, local authorities, …) is in the remit of the EEA.
The role of the EEA is therefore to offer the service of the Europe's gateway to environmental information, of various types, formats and purposes.
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