Europe needs to work harder to protect its water resources from increasing pressures. This was one of the messages that emerged during 2012, ‘European Year of Water’. The European Environment Agency (EEA) has also presented important findings in many other areas, including air, climate, biodiversity and chemicals.
Europe needs to redouble efforts to keep sufficient quantity and quality of fresh water to maintain our ecosystems that sustain our society and economy, according to a series of reports published by the EEA during 2012 assessing the state of European waters. These reports evaluated critical aspects of water to support policymaking, focusing on resource efficiency and water economics, ecological and chemical status, hydro-morphology, vulnerability and biodiversity.
* Almost half of Europe’s water bodies will miss the target set by the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and still be in poor ecological status in 2015.
* ‘Hydromorphological’ changes, such as dams, straightening and dredging can also damage ecosystems, preventing migration and spawning. This affects around 40 % of rivers and transitional water bodies and 30 % of the lakes.
* Water use often exceeds water availability, resulting in water stress across much of Europe. This has knock-on effects for the economy and the natural world.
* Drought is increasing across Europe. The number of countries affected by drought per decade increased from 15 in the period 1971–1980, to 28 in the period 2001–2011. Climate change is expected to exacerbate this problem.
* The EEA also reported that the quality of bathing water across Europe declined slightly between 2009 and 2010, but the overall quality was still high. More than nine out of 10 bathing water sites met the minimum requirements in 2011.
* More positively, the EEA is working with new partners to improve its water data. In December the EEA met with water utilities from across Europe, as a first step to sharing data and improving knowledge on water resources.
* Solutions to many of Europe’s water problems have been analysed in the European Commission’s Water Blueprint, published in 2012, which was supported by the EEA’s water reports in 2012.
Elsewhere in Europe’s environment
* Climate change has been observed in all regions of Europe, the EEA reported in November 2012. The last decade (2002–2011) was the warmest on record in Europe, with European land temperature 1.3° C warmer than the pre-industrial average.
* Greenhouse gas emissions fell 2.5 % in 2011, despite renewed economic growth in many areas. A mild winter was the main cause of this decrease.
* New cars sold in 2011 were 3.3 % more efficient than those sold in 2010.
* Almost a third of Europe’s city dwellers are exposed to excessive concentrations of airborne particulate matter (PM), one of the most important pollutants in terms of harm to human health. Traffic pollution is still a major problem in Europe, causing harmful levels of pollutants including nitrogen oxide levels above legally agreed ceilings.
* Protected areas now cover more than fifth ofEurope’s land, but only 4 % of the marine area controlled by the European Union is protected. This EEA report marks the 20th anniversary of the EU Habitats Directive and also the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
* Demand for materials is so intense that between 20 and 30 % of the resources we use in Europe are now imported, damaging ecosystems and human health far beyond Europe’s borders.
* Chemicals which disrupt the hormone system – also known as ‘endocrine disrupting chemicals’ – may be a contributing factor behind the significant increases in cancers, diabetes and obesity, falling fertility, and an increased number of neurological development problems.
In 2013, the EEA will support ‘European Year of Air’ with data and analysis. This will feed into the European Commission’s review of air quality legislation.