EU environment outlook report identifies need for urgent action

eu environment outlook soer 2020
© iStock/DieterMeyrl

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has released a coruscating report on the current state and future outlook of environment policy in the EU.

The EEA’s ‘European environment – state and outlook 2020’ (SOER 2020) report, a comprehensive assessment of Europe’s implementation of climate policy to date, outlines the progress made so far within the EU towards official sustainability and emissions reduction targets for 2020, 2030 and 2050. Per its regulation, the EEA produces an SOER every five years; today’s report is the sixth SOER since 1995.

SOER 2020 identifies a number of areas in which significant environmental progress has been made by the EU, highlighting the bloc’s continuing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote climate change adaptation and cut plastic waste; as well as the EU’s sustainable finance initiative, which is the first programme of its kind to integrate sustainability in the financial sector. However, the report emphasises that the EU will not meet the majority of its environment and climate targets for 2020; and if the current rate of progress is maintained it will also miss its longer term targets for 2030 and 2050. If current trends continue, the report predicts a bleak outlook for Europe in terms of air and water pollution, biodiversity and global heating.

EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx said: “Europe’s environment is at a tipping point. We have a narrow window of opportunity in the next decade to scale up measures to protect nature, lessen the impacts of climate change and radically reduce our consumption of natural resources. Our assessment shows that incremental changes have resulted in progress in some areas but not nearly enough to meet our long term goals. We already have the knowledge, technologies and tools we need to make key production and consumption systems such as food, mobility and energy sustainable. Our future wellbeing and prosperity depend on this and our ability to harness society wide action to bring about change and create a better future.”

The EEA’s report states that it is still possible for the EU to reach its environment and sustainability targets for 2030 and 2050, but that concerted effort is needed to accelerate current strategies and policies. The report details seven key priorities for improving Europe’s environmental outlook:

  • Full implementation of existing environmental policies;
  • Integrating sustainability as a necessary goal within the framework of policy development;
  • Using the diplomatic and economic sway the EU holds to encourage the adoption of international agreements on sustainability, biodiversity and conservation;
  • Promoting sustainable innovation to improve societal uptake of environmentally sound lifestyles;
  • Increasing public and private investment in sustainable endeavours;
  • Ensuring a ‘just transition’ to sustainability in industry; and
  • Promoting education and knowledge sharing to fully optimise the potential of both technical and socio-political innovation.

Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President of the European Commission, said: “The State of the Environment Report is perfectly timed to give us the added impetus we need as we start a new five-year cycle in the European Commission and as we prepare to present the European Green Deal. In the next five years we will put in place a truly transformative agenda, rolling out new clean technologies, helping citizens to adapt to new job opportunities and changing industries, and shifting to cleaner and more efficient mobility systems and more sustainable food and farming. There will be multiple benefits for Europe and for Europeans if we get this right, and our economy and our planet will be winners too. This is an urgent global challenge, and a unique opportunity for Europe.”


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