All key messages

All SOER 2015 key messages in a single place

Countries and regions

Average nitrate concentrations in European rivers reduced by over 20% between 1992 and 2012, whilst orthophosphate concentrations more than halved.
Enhanced integration of water policy objectives into other policy areas, especially agriculture, is essential to ensure that a sufficient quantity of good quality water is available for people's needs and the environment.
Nutrient enrichment of Europe's freshwaters is a concern, with pollution from agriculture a cause of poor water quality.
Much cleaner than 25 years ago, many waterbodies are still affected by pollutants and/or altered habitats. In 2009, only 43% showed a good/high ecological status; the 10 points expected increase for 2015 (53%) constitutes only a modest improvement in aquatic ecosystem health.
Water management should improve with the second round of river basin management plans covering the 2016-2021 period resulting in the realisation of more policy objectives through stringent, well-integrated implementation and public participation.
Per capita consumption of material resources increased between 2000 and 2012 in 13 countries and decreased in 19. Significant increases were primarily due to large-scale infrastructure investments, with the largest declines related to the economic crisis and a collapse in construction activities.
Four countries have consistently been the most resource-efficient economies, with six remaining at the bottom of resource-productivity rankings, indicating opportunities for further improvements and actions.
The claims on forests services are increasing. Understanding the role of more than 14 million forest owners/managers is imperative to developing balanced, sustainable policy on forest resources.
The demands of a growing global population with rapidly changing consumption patterns for food, mobility and energy are exerting ever-increasing pressure on the Earth's ecosystems and their life-supporting services. In combination with climate change, these changes raise concerns about current meat-heavy diets, water use and strategies for bioenergy production.
The large differences in performance indicate room for further improvement and actions to meet the 2020 target to recycle 50% of municipal waste.
Exacerbated by climate change and continued pollution, rates of global habitat destruction and biodiversity loss are predicted to increase, including in Europe. Continued degradation of global ecosystems and their services will influence poverty and inequality, potentially driving increased migration.
Despite considerable improvements in past decades, air pollution is still responsible for more than 400 000 premature deaths in Europe each year. It also continues to damage vegetation and ecosystems.
Continued improvements in air pollution levels are expected under current legislation, but beyond 2030 only slow progress is expected. Additional measures are needed if Europe is to achieve the long-term objective of air pollution levels that do not lead to unacceptable harm to human health and the environment.
Recent changes in the global climate are unprecedented over millennia and will continue. Climate change is expected increasingly to threaten natural ecosystems and biodiversity, slow economic growth, erode global food security, harm human health and increase inequality.
Europe's resource efficiency has improved in recent years but this has not always translated into improved ecosystem resilience or reduced risks to health and well-being. Creating a green economy will require fundamental changes in the production-consumption systems that meet basic demands, such as for food, mobility, energy and housing. This will depend on better implementation and integration of environmental and economic policies, a broader knowledge base for long-term transitions, and use of finance and fiscal policies to support major investments in innovation and infrastructure.
Driven by structural change, fast-growing workforces and trade liberalisation, developing regions are rapidly increasing their share of global economic output, trade and investment.
The risks of pervasive and irreversible impacts are expected to increase. They could, however, be reduced by further emissions abatement and adaptation measures, building on past actions in Europe and internationally. Key risks for Europe include flood events, droughts and other weather extremes that damage ecosystems and biodiversity, as well as infrastructure and human well-being.
Europe's biodiversity continues to be eroded resulting in ecosystem degradation. Recent data show that 60% of species and 77% of habitats continue to be in unfavourable conservation status. Constant habitat loss, diffuse pollution, over-exploitation of resources, and growing impacts of invasive alien species and climate change contribute cumulatively.
The main EU target of 'halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services' by 2020 remains a serious challenge.
The quality of Europe's drinking and bathing water have improved but air and noise pollution continue to cause serious health impacts. About 460 000 premature deaths were attributed to fine particulate matter in 2011. Further reductions in pressures may be offset by changing exposure patterns and vulnerabilities, linked to trends such as climate change, urbanisation and population ageing. This points to the need for more integrated approaches to addressing social, economic and environmental determinants of health.
For Europe, this rebalancing presents competitive threats but also economic opportunities in meeting the demand of a fast growing global middle class. The emergence of a larger and more diverse mixture of major economic powers may, however, complicate global efforts to coordinate governance. And growing economic interdependence will make it harder to manage the social and environmental impacts associated with production and consumption systems.
Globally, levels of air pollution and releases of nutrients from agriculture and wastewater remain high, causing acidification and eutrophication in ecosystems, and losses in agricultural yield. In the coming decades, overall pollution levels are projected to increase strongly, particularly in Asia.
Global climate change impacts Europe in many ways, including: changes in average and extreme temperature and precipitation, warmer oceans, rising sea level and shrinking snow and ice cover on land and at sea. These have led to a range of impacts on ecosystems, socio-economic sectors and human health.
Global use of material resources has increased ten-fold since 1900 and is set to double again by 2030. Escalating demand may jeopardise access to some essential resources and cause environmental harm. Uneven geographical distribution of some resources could further increase price volatility, undermining living standards and even contributing to geopolitical conflict.
Although Europe’s pollutant releases are expected to continue declining, European ecosystems and citizens are likely to be affected by developments in other regions. For example, despite a fall in air pollutant emissions there has not been an equivalent improvement in air quality across Europe, partly as a result of the transboundary transport of air pollutants.
Intensive agriculture, urbanisation, energy production and flood protection have altered European hydrological systems and freshwater habitats for decades. Climate change adds to these challenges (higher water temperature, more floods or water scarcity). Less than half of all water bodies have a 'good status'.
The global burden from non-communicable disease now outweighs that from communicable disease. However, the threat of global pandemics continues, partly driven by increasing mobility. Around 25 % of the burden of disease and deaths is attributable to environmental causes. Urban air pollution is set to become the main environmental cause of premature mortality worldwide in 2050.
For Europe this is a major concern as its economy is structurally dependent on imports. Although growing scarcity and rising prices should incentivise investments in technologies to alleviate supply risks, such innovations will not necessarily reduce environmental pressures.
Adaptation to the observed and projected impacts in coming decades is needed, complementary to global climate mitigation actions. The EU strategy on adaptation to climate change supports national adaptation strategies and other actions in countries aimed at mainstreaming EU policies, providing funding and enhancing research and information sharing.
Full and coordinated implementation of water and nature legislation would restore aquatic habitats and foster water efficiency.


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