SOER 2010

Speech Published 02 Dec 2010 Last modified 13 Apr 2011
Presentation by Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of EEA, to European Commission staff in Brussels, 30 November 2010.

What we have is a comprehensive body of assessments of the European environment, offering coherence across themes and across scales, illustrating the complex systemic links between issues, including the impacts of global megatrends. SOER 2010 sheds light on the challenges we face but it also provides a knowledge base to inform future policymaking and implementation.

[Slide 1: intro]

  • SOER 2010 is being launched at the European parliament later today and thanks are due

It is my pleasure to present to you today our fourth European Environment State and Outlook Report — SOER 2010.

Much of it, of course, will be familiar because Commission staff have been heavily involved in its development. Indeed, before going further I’d like to express our appreciation for that contribution.

  • SOER 2010 comprises a series of assessments that together provide a very valuable contribution to the knowledge base, supporting policymaking across sectors

[Slide 2: what is SOER 2010?]

The final outcome of all these efforts is a comprehensive analysis of the state and trends of the European environment. SOER 2010 in fact comprises four core components:

1.      A Synthesis report — an integrated analysis based on the other assessments and further EEA activities.

2.      Part A: an exploratory assessment of global megatrends relevant for the European environment;

3.      Part B: 13 Europe-wide thematic assessments of key environmental topics;

4.      Part C: 38 country assessments of the environment in individual European countries;

I believe that the EEA and Eionet have provided an important contribution to the knowledge base for policymaking in Europe.

  • As in previous reports SOER 2010 finds that environmental policy works but we need to do more to implement it fully and we now face more complex, interlinked systemic challenges in a global context

[Slide 3:a familiar message: progress but not enough]

As in previous SOER assessments, one of the key messages that comes through again and again in SOER 2010 is a simple one: ‘environmental policy works’. We are making progress.

But we must do more because significant environmental challenges remain — and a core part of these efforts will involve implementing existing policies more comprehensively and effectively.

[Slide 4: the challenges are complex and interlinked]

Another key message is that environmental challenges can no longer be seen as independent, simple, specific issues. In the past, we have successfully dealt with some issues in isolation. But the challenges ahead are increasingly broad-ranging and complex, linking elements in natural, social and economic systems globally.

While this puts new demands on policymakers, the analysis also shows that if we can increase our understanding of these complex evolving processes, they also offer opportunities for action. But to seize these opportunities, we need relevant, robust, timely information.

  • The 13 thematic assessments bear out these core messages: we are making progress but must do more, and we need to reflect systemic links in future policymaking

[Slide 5: SOER thematic assessments]

Turning to the 13 thematic assessments of the European environment’s state, trends and outlook, these core messages come out again and again: we are making progress but we need to enhance implementation of existing policies, reflect systemic links in responses and build the knowledge base to design and implement policy effectively.

In broad terms, the thirteen thematic assessments can be clustered into four groups, in accordance with the four priorities of the 6EAP:

- climate change

- nature and biodiversity

- natural resources and waste

- and environment, health and quality of life.

And I’d urge you to have a look at the summary of progress presented in table 1.2 on pages 18 and 19 of the Synthesis Report. It very succinctly communicates the EU-27’s progress towards the key policy targets in each of these four priority areas, charting solid advances towards some goals and less towards others.

It’s worth looking at each area in a little more detail.

  • CLIMATE CHANGE: we have made progress in cutting emissions and expanding renewable energy but some sectoral trends are worrying; we are nowhere near meeting the global 2 °C target, and some EU emissions are hidden in imports

[Slide 6: climate change]

Starting with climate change, we see a mixed picture.

On the emissions side, the EU has certainly made progress. We are on track to meet our Kyoto Protocol commitments. The EU-27’s 2009 emissions stand 17.3 % below the 1990 level — very close to 20 % target in 2020. And even if economic recovery in 2010 slows progress, the EU is expected to reach the 2020 target if it implements the Climate and Energy Package fully.

[Slide 7: flood picture, fade to slide 8: bullet points]

On the other hand, sectoral trends are not all positive — trends in the transport sector are particularly worrying.

So far, international efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions are far from sufficient to keep average world temperature increases below 2 °C. Achieving that goal is going to require fundamental changes to our ways of living and working: how we generate energy, how we travel, how we produce food and other goods, and so on.

And it is also clear that in a world of globalised investments and trade flows, the EU’s progress in cutting emissions partly reflects a shift of manufacturing overseas. Europe’s emissions would look higher if they included ‘embedded carbon’ in imports.

While the UNFCCC’s accounting framework provides an essential knowledge base on national emissions, policymakers clearly need better information in areas such as the carbon implications of consumption choices, climate change impacts and adaptation, and the positive or negative side-effects of mitigation and adaptation measures.

  • NATURE AND BIODIVERSITY: Europe has made progress, notably in designating protected areas, reducing biodiversity loss and enhancing air and water quality, but the EU will not meet its target of halting biodiversity loss by 2010

[Slide 9: nature and biodiversity]

Looking next at nature and biodiversity, Europe has again made progress:

- the Natura 2000 network now covers 18 % of land in EU Member States;

- air and water emissions legislation has reduced pressure on biodiversity

- processes such as SEBI 2010 have greatly improved our understanding of biodiversity status and trends

- and we are making progress in halting biodiversity loss;

[Slide 10: flower / bee picture,  fade to slide 11: bullet points]

Yet widespread alteration of landscapes, degradation of ecosystems and loss of natural capital including soils mean that the EU has not met its target of halting biodiversity loss by 2010.

In 2008, only 17 % of the target species under the Habitats Directive were considered to have a favourable conservation status, 52 % an unfavourable status and the status of 31 % was unknown. So we urgently need to improve our knowledge in these areas to guide and inform policy, building on indicators such as SEBI 2010 and the biodiversity baseline.

Pressures on EU habitats and species derive from a hugely complex mixture of social and economic drivers. Ecosystems of all sorts – marine, terrestrial, freshwater, forests – face over-exploitation and pollution, threatening their ability to provide essential services.

Global factors also threaten European biodiversity. Besides the impacts of international resource demand and pollution, it’s noteworthy that more than 10 000 non-native species are now present in Europe, 10–15 % of which have negative economic or ecological effects.

Faced with this intricate mixture of threats, tools such as the new Biodiversity Information System for Europe — a hub to gather data, information and knowledge on biodiversity, ecosystems and ecosystem services — will be vital for policymakers.

  • NATURAL RESOURCES AND WASTE: resource use, waste generation and emissions have partially decoupled from economic growth but absolute decoupling remains a challenge

[Slide 12: natural resources and waste]

In the area of natural resources and waste, environmental regulation and eco-innovation have increased resource efficiency. As a result, both resource use and waste generation have been partially decoupled from economic growth in recent years.

[Slide 13:oil rig picture, fade to slide 14: bullet points]

Importantly, waste management has been shifting steadily from disposal to recycling and prevention. Besides the direct benefits of alleviating pressure on virgin resources, recycling of municipal waste in the EU-27 is estimated to have avoided around 47 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions in 2008.

Moreover, the EU-27’s eco-industry had a turnover of €319 billion in 2008, accounting or 2.5% of EU GDP and employing 3.4 million people.

That said, absolute decoupling of resource use and waste generation from economic growth remains a challenge. In absolute terms, Europe is using more and more resources. In the EU-12, for example, resource use increased by 34 % between 2000 and 2007. And per capita municipal waste generation increased between 2003 and 2008 in the EU-27.

This is troubling. Our resource use and waste output is tied in numerous ways to our impacts on biodiversity and human health and our production of greenhouse gases.

 And, of course, the impacts of our resource use aren’t just felt within Europe. A significant proportion of the EU’s resource base is now located abroad. More than 20 % of resources used in Europe are imported, notably fuels and mining products. As a result, some environmental impacts of European consumption are felt by exporting countries — and Europe lacks secure access to some key resources.

  • ENVIRONMENT, HEALTH AND QUALITY OF LIFE: water and air pollution have declined but ambient air and water quality remains inadequate and health impacts are widespread

[Slide 15: environment, health and qol]

Finally, in the area of environment, health and quality of life we also see progress. Water and air pollution have declined. In Europe, there have been successful reductions in the levels of sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide in ambient air, as well as marked reductions in NOx. Lead concentrations have also declined considerably with the introduction of unleaded petrol

[Slide 16: beach picture, fade to slide 17: bullet points]

However, while wastewater treatment has improved both point and diffuse pollutant sources are still significant in parts of Europe and health risks remain.

Exposure to particulate matter and ozone are still major environment-related health concerns, linked to a loss of life expectancy, acute and chronic respiratory and cardiovascular effects, impaired lung development in children, and reduced birth weight

And there is growing understanding of the importance of the long-range movement of pollution between continents and of the links between air pollution and climate change.

So the same messages come through once again:

- progress but persistent challenges;

- pollution sources (such as transport and energy) that are linked in complex ways to our social and economic systems, both in Europe and globally

- and a complex interplay with other environmental issues, in terms of both impacts and policy responses

  • Determining how to respond to today’s environmental problems – whether through better implementation or new regulation – is challenging but the Part C country assessments provide some answers

[Slide 18: joining the dots]

As a comprehensive, coherent body of assessments, SOER 2010 enables us to understand the connections and interactions between environmental issues — and provides the knowledge base to devise appropriate responses.

The question, of course, is how to respond? How best to build on the progress achieved so far? And in the areas where there has been no progress, should policymakers shift the balance between better implementation and developing new regulation?

These are complex questions. Clearly, where existing environmental policies are obviously working, we need to ensure that we have implemented them fully. But it is sometimes less obvious how best to implement a policy in specific local conditions.

[Slide 19: essential information on implementation and a step towards….]

In this challenging context, the Part C country assessments provide some valuable answers.

  • SOER 2010 adopted a new, jointly owned approach to Part C, which delivered much valuable info on implementation and represented a first step towards continual, up-to-date, national reporting 

SOER 2010 used a SEIS-inspired process of joint ownership to gather national contributions. By providing a common structure, it enables countries to compare actions and learn from each other.

And it has delivered a mass of valuable information on implementation: what works and what doesn’t in specific local contexts; what unexpected impacts policies can produce; and so on.

For example, the introduction of water pricing at one location reduced water use very effectively but meant less dilution of pollutants in the water system. To address the excessive pollutant concentrations, water utilities actually needed to flush out the system with additional water. Such lessons can be hugely valuable for other countries planning to apply similar measures.

Just as important as the information already delivered, the Part C contributions have a wider significance as they represent the first step towards the goal of continual, up-to-date, integrated reporting of national information on the state of the environment.

Obviously I cannot do justice here to the richness of the information in the part C contributions. I can only commend you to read them as part of your assessment of the 6th EAP.

  • The assessment of global megatrends adds a further dimension and spells out priorities for managing risks and vulnerabilities

So, Part B of SOER 2010 provides comprehensive, coherent information across environmental themes. Part C complements it, contributing coherence at different scales and mapping the way towards continually updated reporting.

[Slide 20: global megatrends bring risks and vulnerabilities, many outside Europe’s control]

The assessment of global megatrends in Part A provides a further dimension, based on the recognition that Europe’s environment (like its societies and economies) is subject to global influences, many of which lie outside our control.

As Part A illustrates, these forces increase complexity, uncertainty and risk, and accelerate the feedbacks within and between economic, social, technological and environmental systems.

Managing these risks poses significant challenges but the SOER 2010 analysis underlines its importance and spells out three core areas to focus attention:

- improving monitoring and analysis of future changes and uncertainties;

- embedding a long-term perspective in policy planning and decision-making;

- and ensuring that environmental policy takes account of global links and is aligned to external policies on issues such as trade and foreign aid.

  • We need to reflect systemic links in our policy responses in order to manage systemic risks and maximise cost-effectiveness

[Slide 21: integrated responses are needed to address systemic risks...]

When we recognise the complexity of the challenges, it’s obvious that we need a sophisticated, integrated policy response that spans all sectors. The arguments for this are actually two-fold:

- One factor is the need to manage systemic environmental risks — that is situations where interdependencies can lead to unexpected and potentially severe harm. Systemic risks can be triggered by sudden events or built up over time, with the impact often large and possibly catastrophic.

- The other issue is the cost-effectiveness of policies: by paying more attention to the interlinkages between drivers across the four priorities we can identify the most cost-effective solutions, maximising win-wins and avoiding negative externalities. Indeed, this highlights the fact that systemic links offer opportunities as well as threats.

  • The Synthesis provides the basic elements of a coherent narrative to guide environmental policymaking and integrate environmental considerations across sectors

Of course, elaborating a sophisticated, integrated policy response is easier said than done.

[Slide 22: SOER 2010 Synthesis: the basis for a coherent narrative to guide responses across sectors]

But crucially, as presented in the SOER 2010 Synthesis, we now have the basic elements that could feature in a coherent narrative to guide environmental policymaking and integrate environmental considerations across sectors.

Specifically, the notion of resource efficiency emerges as a powerful integrating concept, linking the management of natural capital stocks and essential ecosystem services on one hand to society’s economic output of valuable goods and services on the other.

The focus on resource efficiency – broadly defined - is based on the recognition that ecosystems have a finite capacity to provide resources and absorb waste. This means  the only way we can sustain economic growth in the long term is by becoming more resource efficient — finding ways to use fewer resources and extract more value from those resources that pass through the economic system.

  • A green economy enables society to generate more each year while preserving or enhancing natural capital. SOER 2010 sets out some key aspects of the green economy.

[Slide 23: The green economy]

This is what we mean when we talk about transitioning to a green economy in Europe — it means creating an economy in which policies and innovations of all forms enable society to generate more of the things that we value each year while preserving or enhancing the natural systems that sustain us.

Guided by these core elements of a future policy narrative – resource efficiency, management of natural capital and ecosystem services – SOER 2010 outlines some of the policies and innovations that would characterise the green economy, including:

- policy tools such as ecological tax reform, which help reflect the full costs of environmental damage in market prices;

- physical and monetary accounts conveying the scope and value of our ecosystems, the services they provide and the impacts of change

- innovation in how we exploit resources and waste within and between sectors, including tools to quantify and reduce the life-cycle impacts of products and services

- technological innovations to enhance resource efficiency, coupled with instruments to manage the rebound effect from efficiency gains.

  • Conclusion: SOER sheds light on the challenges we face and provides a knowledge base that will guide environmental and cross-sectoral policymaking and implementation

[Slide 24: SOER 2010 in summary]

And that completes the review of SOER 2010.

What we have, in summary, is a comprehensive body of assessments of the European environment, offering coherence across themes and across scales, illustrating the complex systemic links between issues, including the impacts of global megatrends.

SOER 2010 sheds light on the challenges we face but it also provides a knowledge base to inform future policymaking and implementation.

Environmental policymaking will obviously benefit.

At the global level, SOER 2010 will provide guidance as to those specific areas that will need to be taken into account when formulating the agenda for Rio plus 20 and other international negotiations.

At the EU level, SOER 2010 should be able to feed into a range of policy review processes in coming years, including those concerning climate change mitigation and adaptation, biodiversity, water, air and waste.

But it’s equally clear that numerous other sectoral and cross-sectoral policy fields will be able to draw on the analysis presented in the SOER 2010 assessments. Examples include forthcoming reviews of the EU transport policy, EU energy policy, the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies and plans to use EU structural funds to help achieve the EU’s 2020 objectives, including the ‘resource efficient Europe’ flagship initiative.

The analysis in SOER 2010 has the potential to make an enormous difference. So, let me thank you again for your part in helping make this possible.

[Slide 25: thank you]

Thank you.


SOER 2010 presentation: download the slides



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