Policy instruments

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Page Last modified 05 May 2022
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Policies have a key role in determining, and improving the state of our environment. European environmental policies have developed significantly since the first Environment Action Programme was decided in 1973. Since then several hundred legal acts addressing environmental issues have been adopted.

When European environmental policies were first developed, many policy instruments focused on specific environmental problems. Since no single policy instrument can provide solutions to all problems, the spectrum of policies has broadened gradually to address increasingly complex environmental and health related problems. Today, many environmental policy interventions combine:

  • traditional regulatory approaches, sometimes labelled ‘command-and-control measures’ (for example emission standards, bans of toxic substances, and land planning instruments);
  • market based instruments (such as environmental taxes and greenhouse gas emission trading);
  • awareness raising (including for example energy efficiency labels and communication campaigns).

The latest EU environment action programme, the 8th EAP, provides an integrated framework for these policy interventions. It sets out the long-term ambition of ensuring wellbeing for all, while staying within the planetary boundaries

Evaluating environmental policies for knowing what works, and how it works

We stand more than halfway between the beginning of European-level environmental policy, which started in the early 1970s and the 2050 objective for achieving sustainability as set out by the 8th EAP.  European environmental policy is recognised as one of the strongest in the world. Our environment would look quite different without it, as The European Environment Ageny's (EEA) latest assessment The European environment — state and outlook 2020 shows. Alongside such assessments the questions such as “what works?”, “how does it work?”, “at what cost?” and “what are prerequisites for making it work?” can be asked in view of improving environmental policy, its implementation and design. Policy evaluation helps to answer these questions.

Evaluations typically address different evaluation criteria. These criteria often focus on the relevance of policies, their effectiveness and efficiency, as well as their coherence, but also the added value of policies at European, national or local level. More recently, the relevance of these criteria has been recognised in the framework of EU initiatives for improving regulation, also known as the Better Regulation initiative. A range of evaluation tools and methods are available to evaluate environment policies against these criteria, for example the European Commission’s Evalsed sourcebook.

EEA’s contributions to environmental policy evaluation

The EEA provides environmental information for policy-makers and the public, and contributes to evaluating environmental policy. Initially focusing on the effectiveness of policies (for example, the reporting on environmental measures project), the EEA’s work has evolved to also focus on:

  • methodologies for evaluation, in order to further improve how we understand the relationship between policies and changes in the state of Europe’s environment;
  • the effect of policies on specific systems, such as mobility, in order to better understand and evaluate the way policies can contribute to transitions towards a more sustainable society in Europe;
  • the integration of environmental policies in other policy areas (for example, the common fisheries policy).

EEA publications contributing to environmental policy evaluation are available here.



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