Fully Integrated Approach Needed to Make Europe a Resource Efficient Green Economy

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has released its fourth Environment State and Outlook report – SOER 2010 – a comprehensive assessment of how and why Europe’s environment is changing, and what we are doing about it. SOER 2010 concludes that a fully integrated approach to transforming Europe to a resource-efficient green economy can not only result in a healthy environment, but also boost prosperity and social cohesion.

The EEA’s new assessment shows that global demands for natural resources to feed, clothe, house and transport people are accelerating. These mounting demands on natural capital are exerting increased pressure to ecosystems, economies and social cohesion in Europe and elsewhere. However, SOER 2010 confirms that well-designed environmental policies continue to improve Europe’s environment without undermining Europe’s growth potential.

Prof Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of EEA.

“We are consuming more natural resources than is ecologically stable. This is true for both Europe and the planet as a whole. Climate change is the most visible sign of instability so far, but a range of global trends suggest greater systemic risks to ecosystems in future. The nature of the current financial crisis should give us pause for thought,” says Prof Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of EEA.

A complete shift to a resource-efficient green economy requires that all environmental resources – biodiversity, land, carbon, rivers, the seas and the air we breathe – are fully considered in production, consumption and global trade decisions.

‘There are no quick fixes but regulators, businesses and citizens need to work together and find innovative ways to use resources more efficiently. The seeds for future action exist: the task ahead is to help them take root and flourish,’ concludes McGlade.

SOER 2010 also highlights a greater understanding of the links between climate change, biodiversity, resource use and people’s health – and how tools like spatial planning, ecological tax reform, pollution prevention, precaution and resource accounting can underpin a natural capital-based approach to their management.

Key findings and recommendations include:

* Climate change: The European Union has made progress in cutting emissions and expanding renewable energy. The EU-27’s 2009 emissions stand 17 % below the 1990 level and therefore very close to the bloc’s target of cutting emissions 20 % by 2020. However, sectoral trends are not all positive. EU-27 emissions from transport rose by 24% between 1990 and 2008.

* Climate change adaptation: Even if Europe meets all its emission reduction targets and world leaders agree on bold measures during the climate talks currently taking place in Cancun, Mexico, Europe will still need to adapt to ongoing and expected climate change impacts. Dedicated management of natural capital can help deal with these challenges.

* Biodiversity, ecosystems and people’s health: The Natura 2000 network of protected areas, which now covers around 18 % of EU land, has helped protect endangered species and preserve green spaces for leisure. Air and water quality legislation has reduced pressure on biodiversity and people. On the other hand, intensification of land use, loss of habitats and overfishing prevented the EU from meeting its target of halting biodiversity loss by 2010.

* Integrated solutions with a global perspective: By showing the many links between different challenges, environmental and others, SOER2010 encourages us to increase integrated actions across different policy areas dealing with these challenges, so as to deliver improvements quicker and maximise co-benefits (e.g. mitigate climate change and improve air quality at the same time).

* Resource efficiency: Food, energy and water security are key drivers of land use as often conflicting demands increase (e.g. for food, feed and fuel). Accounting and pricing that takes full account of resource use impacts are essential for steering business and consumers towards enhanced resource efficiency.

* Citizen involvement: Policy alone cannot halt or reverse environmental trends. We need to increase the number of citizens committed to reducing their impact on the environment by involving them in collecting data and through social media.

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