This first edition of Environmental signals marks the beginning of a new period in reporting on the environment for policy-makers and the public by the European Environment Agency. Previous reports such as Europe’s environment: the second assessment and Environment in the European Union at the turn of the century are comprehensive documents containing detailed information to support the development of strategic, long-term environmental policies and to provide general public information. The EEA will continue to produce these comprehen-sive ‘state and outlook’ reports; the next edition is planned for 2003/2004. In between, the EEA will issue regular indicator-based reports, which we have called Environmental signals. The Environmental signals 2000-edition contains data up to 1997 and in a few cases 1998, which clearly reveals relevant trends. It is expected that establishing a regular reporting routine will improve the actuality of the data and the capacities for delivering short-term environmental outlooks, in order to better describe today’s situation.

Why ‘Environmental signals’? The indicator-based assessments in this annual series will provide signals on progress in implementing environmental policies and integrating them with other policies (connected to annual economic and social indicators of progress). The signals will be positive and negative — reflecting progress towards or counter to the aims of current environmental policies.

Although I would have preferred it, this report does not contain only positive signals. Negative trends are also apparent: in the increase in waste generated, in energy consumption and recently in the intensity of pesticide use. In addition, a number of indicators are developing in a positive direction but too slowly to reach policy targets before the agreed date (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions and air quality) or to prevent major harm to the environment (e.g. water abstraction).

In my opinion, these negative trends can be attributed to the slow integration of the environment in sectoral policies. Current developments in some sectors — notably transport, tourism and agriculture — do not match the sectors’ environmental requirements, for example as regards land use and territorial development. This prevents them from developing along a more sustainable path.

The difficulties encountered in the integration process demonstrate that there is a lack of reference and guidance concerning the fundamental questions related to sustainable development. What do we expect from transport policies: more transport or easier access to work, schools, shops, relatives and friends? What do we expect from the agricultural sector: more or better food, care of natural resources and supply of services (water, landscapes, leisure, etc.)? And what do we expect from the energy sector: more energy or improvements in the quality of life through better design of buildings and appliances, physical planning and renewable energy? These questions not only affect the sectors concerned, they are intertwined with every European’s role as a consumer. What do we expect from our future? Do we expect economic development at the cost of natural capital, or improved quality of life for ourselves and genera-tions to come through efficient and sustainable use of natural resources?

As stated in the Amsterdam Treaty, the EU has already decided to move towards an improved environment and sustainable development. The sixth environmental action programme announced by Margot Wallström (EU Environment Commissioner), EU and national contributions to the Rio+10 process and, above all, the participation of many businesses, municipalities and citizens in these processes, should show the way forward to the new century.

Yearly Environmental signals reports from the EEA — together with the ongoing sectoral indicator exercises (for transport, energy, agriculture, etc.) requested by the European Council — should tell us how we are progressing. They should also tell us about trends and prospects. The indicator exercises will help us to identify not only the worst cases (‘name and shame’) but also the best practice and success stories (‘name and reward’) for specific issues. It should also be possible to find out what is happening at sectoral, national, regional and local levels. The indicators should also foster a pro-active approach - allowing sectors, countries, regions, local communities and companies to compete for environmental excellency, better quality of life and more sustainable business.

We should be up to the challenge. It will not be easy: a reinforcement of our information system is required to assure sufficient and reliable data and to provide trends and prospects. However, the benefits are huge. I hope that the indicators in this report form a useful first step on the way.

Domingo Jiménez-Beltrán
Executive Director
November 1999


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