The European environment — state and outlook 2020

Publication Created 25 Apr 2019 Published 04 Dec 2019
Cover Image
Knowledge for transition to a sustainable Europe
Downloading: PDF document icon SOER2020_04-12-2019.pdf — PDF document, 81.03 MB (84964971 bytes)
Publication Created 25 Apr 2019 Published 04 Dec 2019
Knowledge for transition to a sustainable Europe


Order information

Order a printed copy on the EU Publications website

: 978-92-9480-090-9
: TH-04-19-541-EN-N

Additional Files

Related content

Figures used

Interactive maps

News and articles

Related briefings

Related indicators

Hazardous substances in marine organisms Concentrations of eight hazardous substances in European seas were generally 'low' or 'moderate' in line with the results of the previous assessment (2015). In some cases, however, the way we have traditionally defined 'moderate' levels meant that EU environmental quality standards (EQS) were exceeded. Any concentrations of hazardous substances exceeding EQS are unacceptable for marine organisms. In general, concentrations in European Seas were 'moderate' for cadmium, mercury, lead, hexachlorobenzene, DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), polychlorinated biphenyls and benzo[a]pyrene. Both 'moderate' and 'high' concentrations of mercury exceeded the EQS and were found in a significant proportion of all seas.  'High' concentrations for hexachlorobenzene and benzo[a]pyrene, exceeding the EQS particularly in the case of the latter, were also found across all seas. Concentrations of lindane (gamma-hexachlorocyclohexane) were 'high' in the Mediterranean sea and generally low elsewhere. Polychlorinated biphenyl levels appear to be decreasing in the North-East Atlantic Ocean. This suggests that policy measures and initiatives to decrease inputs of these substances in the region have had some success. For the remaining seven hazardous substances, it appears that the impact of abatement policies in this region might have stabilised. Abatement policies for all eight hazardous substances have been in effect for the Baltic Sea, but no downward trends could be identified in the current assessment, indicating that the impact of such policies might have stabilised. Because of insufficient data coverage, a comprehensive assessment all eight hazardous substances for the Mediterranean Sea could not be conducted.  Available data for this region indicates that policies to reduce pollution have had an impact 'though. The Black Sea is not included in this assessment due to lack of data.
Exposure of Europe's ecosystems to acidification, eutrophication and ozone Exposure of ecosystems to acidification in the EU-28 (critical loads from 43 % in 1980 to 7 % in 2010) and EEA member countries (to 7 %) has been decreasing since 1980s, although in some areas reduction targets, as defined as interim objective in the EU's National Emission Ceilings Directive, have not been met. Exposure to acidification can lead to disturbances in the structure and function of ecosystems. As a result, full ecosystem recovery may take longer time after reaching the targets. Exposure of ecosystems to eutrophication in the EU-28 (critical loads from 84 % in 1990 to 63 % in 2010) and EEA member countries (to 55 %) has been decreasing since 1990. The area in exceedance is projected to further decrease to 58 % in 2020 for the EU-28 (48 % in the EEA member countries), assuming current legislation is implemented. The magnitude of the exceedances is also projected to decline considerably in most areas, except for a few 'hot spot' areas in western France and the border areas between Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, as well as in northern Italy. Looking ahead, only 4 % of the EU-28 ecosystem area (3 % in EEA member countries) is projected to exceed acidification critical loads in 2020 if current legislation is fully implemented. The eutrophication reduction target set in the updated EU air pollution strategy proposed by the European Commission in late 2013, will be met by 2030 if it is assumed that all maximum technically feasible reduction measures are implemented, but it will not be met by current legislation. For ozone, most of Europe's vegetation and agricultural crops are exposed to ozone levels that exceed the long term objective specified in the EU's Air Quality Directive. A significant fraction is also exposed to levels above the target value threshold defined in the directive. The effect-related concentrations show large year-to-year variations. Over the period 1996-2017, the concentrations observed at rural background stations increased until 2006, after which they decreased. After a 6-year period (2009-2014) of relatively low values, the fraction of agricultural crops exposed to levels above the target value increased again to 30 % in 2015. However, at the low end of the exposure spectrum there was an increase in the area with levels below the long-term objective from 15 % (2014) to 24 % (2017). During the past 5 years, around 50-65 % of the forest area was exposed to ozone concentrations above the critical level set by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) for the protection of forests. 
Status of marine fish and shellfish stocks in European seas Although further improvements are still necessary, the analysis of long time series shows clear and important signs of improvement in the North-East Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea ( 62.5 - 87.5 % of stocks meet at least one of the good environmental status criteria in these regions). Since the early 2000s, better management of fish and shellfish stocks has contributed to a clear decrease in fishing pressure in these two regional seas, with average fishing mortality dropping below the maximum rate of fishing mortality in 2017. This has led to signs of recovery in the reproductive capacity of several fish and shellfish stocks. If these efforts continue, fishing mortality in the region should remain on average near the maximum rate of fishing mortality and reproductive capacity should continue to improve, accomplishing the 2020 objective for healthy fish and shellfish stocks in the North-East Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea. In contrast, the situation remains critical in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Only 2 out of 33 stocks (6 %) in the Mediterranean Sea and 1 out of 7 stocks (14.3 %) in the Black Sea meet at least one of the good environmental status criteria. This is mainly due to the prevalence of overfishing and a significant lack of knowledge of the status of fish and shellfish stocks. Given this scenario, i t is unlikely that the 2020 policy objective will be met in the Mediterranean or Black Sea. Overall, the 2020 objective of having healthy fish and shellfish populations is unlikely to be met in Europe’s seas without further collective action.
Overview of electricity production and use in Europe In 2016,  low-carbon energy sources (i.e. renewables and nuclear energy) continued to dominate the electricity mix for the second year in a row, together generating more power than fossil fuel sources. Fossil fuels (i.e. coal, natural gas and oil) were responsible for 43 % of all gross electricity generation in 2016, a decrease of 11 percentage points across the EU compared with 2005 (54 %). By way of contrast, the share of electricity generated from renewable sources has grown rapidly since 2005, but the pace of growth has slowed down after 2014. In 2016, renewable electricity reached almost one third (29 %) of all gross electricity generation in the EU. This is twice as much as in 2005. As such, renewable sources generated more electricity in 2016 than nuclear sources or coal and lignite. Nuclear energy sources contributed roughly one quarter (26 %) of all gross electricity generation in 2016. The transition from fossil fuels to renewable fuels, together with improved transformation efficiencies in electricity generation, led to an average annual 2.6 % decrease in CO 2 emissions per kWh between 2005 and 2016. Final electricity consumption (the total consumption of electricity by all end-use sectors plus electricity imports and minus exports) in the EU increased by one percent in 2016 compared with 2015, reaching the same level as in 2005. The sharpest growth was observed in the services sector (1.2 % per year) and the sharpest decline in industry (-1.0 % per year). With regards to the non-EU EEA countries,  between 2005 and 2016, electricity generation increased by an average of 4.9 % per  year in Turkey, 7.1 % per year  in Iceland and 0.7 % per year in Norway.
Landscape fragmentation pressure from urban and transport infrastructure expansion Large parts of Europe are highly fragmented because of transport infrastructure and urban expansion. The Atlantic and Continental biogeographical regions show by far the highest degree of fragmentation in Europe. Around 50 % of the Atlantic region and 40 % of the Continental region are highly fragmented. The area with the lowest fragmentation covers less than 10 % of these regions. In the Alpine, Macaronesian and Arctic biogeographical regions, less than 3 % of the area is highly fragmented. The Benelux countries are the most fragmented in Europe. In Luxembourg 93 %  of the country is highly fragmented, while in Belgium the figure is 80 % and in the Netherlands 67 %. In eastern European countries, in the Mediterranean and in Ireland and Scotland the fragmenting pressure of urban and transport expansion is considerably weaker. Around 35 % of the cultivated areas, almost 30 % of grasslands and around 12 % of forests are under great fragmentation pressure. In contrast, close to 50 % of the area covered by mires, bogs, fens, heathland, scrub and tundra ecosystems are under low pressure by fragmentation. The forest ecosystems in the Alpine region are under the lowest pressure from fragmentation in Europe. All over Europe and in all the biogeographical regions, the fragmentation pressure is lower inside Natura 2000 sites than in their surrounding areas. Although cities and strongly populated areas are generally most fragmented in Europe, 50 % of sparsely populated regions e.g. in France and the Netherlands, are under great fragmentation pressure as well.

Related infographics

Related publications

Temporal coverage

Document Actions