4. Societal Trends and Target Sectors

Page Last modified 19 Apr 2016
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The key strategy of the 5EAP is to integrate environmental considerations into other policy areas, focusing on five target sectors, therefore aiming to initiate changes in current trends and practices. Despite this strategy, the driving forces behind the pressures on the environment have not changed or lessened. Apart from agriculture, all sectors show upward trends, resulting in more energy use and transport mobility (see Figure 4.1).

Compared with the assumptions made at the time the 5EAP was compiled, the following trends have not changed, or have resulted in increased pressure on the environment:

  • a larger population increase than predicted;
  • a faster expected growth in transport (road and air);
  • continuous growth in tourism; and
  • continuous increase in energy consumption (improvements in energy efficiency in industry and the domestic sector are counterbalanced by the increased consumption in the transport sector).

Some other trends have resulted in (relatively) less pressure on the environment (compared with 5EAP assumptions):

  • relative reduction in economic and industrial growth (despite the completion of the Internal Market); and
  • absolute reduction in use of fertilisers and pesticides in agriculture (mainly due to the CAP reform).

Figure 4.1: Societal trends in the European Union (GDP, passenger road transport, energy consumption, nitrogen fertiliser use and tourism) and current scenarios

Note: Future growth rate for tourism is in terms of arrivals, while past trends are in terms of overnight stays
Sources: Eurostat; DRI et al., 1994.


Despite a steady increase in activities, the industry and energy supply sectors have achieved some successes in reducing their environmental loads (see Figure 4.2). Point-source-oriented policies (initiated before the 5EAP), mainly focusing on end-of-pipe technology, have been quite successful. Although small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) still require attention. By the year 2000, the industry and energy sector will probably have achieved the majority of the no-cost/low-cost measures including: energy efficiency, input and waste minimisation, and low-cost changes to process technology. However, pollution prevention and conservation of energy, materials and other resources (eg, water) have not been significantly integrated into sectoral policies and behaviour.

Figure 4.2: Development in emissions from the industry, energy and transport sector in the EU12

Sources: Eurostat; Eurostat/OECD,1995

Since the early 70s, energy intensity has decreased mainly due to energy efficiency improvements and changes in overall structure of the economy. However, total final energy consumption increased steadily between 1974 and 1992 by about 0.6% per year on average. Implementing the current 5EAP measures (at EU and national level) will hardly lead to any change in these figures; in fact, energy intensity will show less reduction. Major underlying factors are the remaining low prices of energy (which discourage energy conservation measures) and the increased use of energy in the transport sector (which counterbalances the lower energy use in industry).

In the last decade, the breakdown in energy supply has shown some changes. The share of solid fuels has fallen, the share of natural gas and nuclear has increased. It is expected that fuel supply by gas will further increase in place of solid fuels. The present share of renewable energy accounts for some 5%, this will increase to 7.5% in 2010.

Agriculture occupies the major proportion of the land area and is largely responsible for the maintaining rural landscapes and the rural economy. However, intensive farming adds pressure on the aquatic environment and has reduced and altered natural habitats and biodiversity. Trends in agriculture are reducing pressures on the environment, mainly due to the reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy. Full implementation of the Nitrate Directive will lead to further improvements. Due to time lags and accumulation in the soil, the effects of policies to reduce impacts on the environment will only be noticeable in the long term. In the meantime, problems such as the demand for sufficient drinking water resources and the further deterioration of water quality will increase.

Transport appears the key sector on which to focus future policy. Environmental pressure from this sector shows a steady increase (see Figure 4.2). Forecasts suggest a near doubling of freight road transport and about a 50% increase of passenger road transport between 1990 and 2010. Emissions from transport are crucial for (urban) air quality and contribute significantly to climate change. This contribution is increasing and counter-balancing gains from other sectors. To date, the EU has played a key role in establishing environmental requirements for the transport sector (technical and fuel standards). Apart from introducing further technology-forcing product requirements, the challenge is to design new transport systems including the re-engineering of infrastructure to satisfy mobility demands in a more sustainable way than road transport. Efforts to encourage a decrease in the overall demand for mobility (facilitated, for example, by the 'information society') will also be necessary.

The tourism sector has experienced significant growth in recent years, which is expected to continue into the future. Due to patchy or missing information, it is impossible to fully assess the environmental impact of this sector. Excessive or poorly managed tourism may have complex and wide ranging negative impacts, such as those associated with road and air traffic, water pollution, unsafe (due to lack of sewage treatment) bathing waters and loss of habitats associated with tourism infrastructure and disturbance. A clear strategy for sustainable tourism at regional level is still lacking, while the EU is not competent in this sector.

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