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Restoring the natural world

Europe has set ambitious policy goals to allow nature to recover and flourish, increasing the benefits to society of a healthy natural world. From protected areas and green and blue infrastructure to restoration, rewilding and using nature-based solutions to climate change, much needs to be done to reverse the deterioration in the health of nature.

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Editorial — The value of nature

The loss of biodiversity and natural ecosystems we are currently witnessing is just as catastrophic as climate change. In fact, the two are closely entwined, as climate change accelerates biodiversity loss and healthy ecosystems are a vital ally in the fight against climate change.

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At a glance: EU legislation on nature

EU Member States started coordinating environmental policies in the 1970s and nature was the first area for European action. To this day, the nature directives — the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive, first adopted in 1979 and 1992, respectively — constitute the cornerstone of the EU’s efforts to protect and preserve biodiversity.

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Interview — Economics of biodiversity: can accounting help save nature?

Can putting a value on nature help protect it or do we need new governance models? How is trade linked to biodiversity loss and inequalities? We talked to James Vause, the lead economist at the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), who contributed to the Dasgupta review on the economics of biodiversity, especially to the chapter focused on trade and the biosphere.

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Our nature needs urgent help

Awareness of our nature has never been as high as it is today. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions many of us headed outside to our nearest green spaces for respite and solace — necessary breaks from our lockdown existence. It once again reminded us of the vital and valued role that our nature plays in our mental and physical well-being.

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What is harming Europe’s nature?

European nature is suffering the consequences of long-term exploitation and pollution. Nature keeps providing us with food, clothes, medicines, housing, energy and other resources, but ecosystems and many plants and animals are in decline, sometimes being pushed to extinction. What are the human activities that harm nature the most and how can we stop and reverse current biodiversity loss?

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Interview — Vital role of bird monitors

Monitoring wildlife and habitats plays a key role in expert assessments. We spoke with Petr Voříšek, member of the coordination team of the European Breeding Bird Atlas 2 at the Czech Society for Ornithology, about how such information and data are put together on a European scale and what challenges bird populations face today.

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Interview — Protecting nature in a changing climate: our actions must focus on resilience

From changes in species habitats and communities to water availability and flowering seasons, climate change impacts ecosystems and biodiversity. We asked Professor Dr Beate Jessel, President of the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, about the links between biodiversity and climate change and what could be done to boost nature’s resilience in a changing climate.

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Health and environment, including air and noise pollution — Putting EEA’s work in the spotlight

Air pollution, noise pollution and the impacts of climate change are key risks to the everyday health and well-being of Europeans. We talked with Catherine Ganzleben, head of group, air pollution, environment and health, Alberto González, EEA air quality expert, and Eulalia Peris, EEA noise pollution expert to find out more on what the EEA is doing to improve knowledge in this important field of work.

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Interview — Does the polluter pay?

A simple but powerful idea lies at the heart of environmental laws in the EU: the ‘polluter pays’ principle. This principle has been applied in the form of taxes, fines and other measures, such as quotas for pollutant emissions and the Environmental Liability Directive. We talked to Professor Geert Van Calster about this principle, its benefits and shortcomings.

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Improving air quality improves people’s health and productivity

Europe’s air quality has improved significantly over recent decades but pollutants still harm our health and the environment. Measures to limit pollution would improve our quality of life, save money in healthcare, boost workers’ productivity and protect the environment.

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Towards zero pollution in Europe

Last spring, a coronavirus reshaped the world in a matter of weeks. Many of the things that we had taken for granted were suddenly not available to us anymore. The pandemic caught the world by surprise, but, if you had asked a scientist working in a field related to infectious diseases, this was only a matter of time.

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Air quality and COVID-19

The lockdown and related measures implemented by many European countries to stop the spread of COVID-19 have led to a sudden decrease in economic activities, including a drop in road transport in many cities. To assess how this has affected concentrations of air pollution, the EEA has developed a viewer that tracks the weekly and monthly average concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5).

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How do environmental hazards affect vulnerable groups in Europe?

Targeted action is needed to better protect Europe’s most vulnerable populations, including the poor, the elderly and children, from environmental hazards like air and noise pollution and extreme temperatures. Aleksandra Kazmierczak, a European Environment Agency (EEA) climate change adaptation expert, explains the main findings of a new EEA report that assesses the links between social and demographic inequalities and exposure to air pollution, noise and extreme temperatures.

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Mercury: a persistent threat to the environment and people's health

Many people still associate mercury with thermometers and most also know that it is toxic. Because of its toxicity, mercury is on its way out from products in Europe but a lot of it is still circulating in air, water, soil and ecosystems. Is mercury still a problem and what is being done about it? We interviewed Ian Marnane, EEA expert on sustainable resource use and industry.

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Environmental change: knowledge is key to mitigating impacts on people and nature

Environmental policy making is not an easy task. On the one hand, Europeans want to enjoy the benefits a well-functioning economy provides. On the other, there are significant environmental and health costs attached to our lifestyle choices. A systemic understanding of how nature, economy and human health are connected is essential for identifying the best policy options available. The European Environment Agency aims to support policy making by providing exactly this kind of knowledge.

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Europe’s environment: the power of data and knowledge

Europe collects increasingly more data, enhancing our understanding of the environment. Earth observation data obtained through the European Union’s Copernicus programme presents new challenges and opportunities to improve our environmental knowledge. Combining up-to-date Copernicus data with our existing knowledge base, the European Environment Agency (EEA) aims to empower policy makers and citizens across Europe in taking measures to address local, national and global challenges.

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Cleaner air benefits human health and climate change

Thanks to legislation, technology and moves away from heavily polluting fossil fuels in many countries, Europe’s air quality has been improving in recent decades. However, many people continue to be negatively affected by air pollution, especially in cities. Given its complexity, tackling air pollution requires taking coordinated action at many levels. To get citizens involved, providing them timely information in an accessible way is essential. Our recently launched Air Quality Index does just that. Improvements in air quality would not only benefit our health, but could also help tackle climate change.

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Effective policies are based on a robust knowledge base and solid science

At all governance levels, public policy making entails making decisions between different options and approaches. Some decisions, such as to invest in fossil fuels or renewables, might involve selecting one option over the other. Others might address the ‘how’ question – we will invest in renewables but which ones are the best for the society? Each policy decision results in outcomes, some of which might be unforeseen, unexpected or even detrimental to those whose lives it is supposed to improve. In the long term, the overall harm can be much larger than gains in the short term. To achieve the positive and lasting results on the ground, policy makers need to be able to make informed decisions, after assessing the benefits and costs of each available option.

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Air quality remains a hot topic for many Europeans

Last month the European Environment Agency (EEA) released its latest ‘Air quality in Europe’ report which showed that while air quality is slowly improving, air pollution remains the single largest environmental health hazard in Europe. We sat down with Alberto González Ortiz, an EEA air quality expert, to discuss the report’s findings and how technologies like satellite imagery are helping to improve air quality research.

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