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Environmental indicator report 2016-More action is needed to protect the natural environment and people’s health

This report examines if the EU and its immediate neighbours are on target to achieving by 2020 the three thematic priority objectives (natural capital; resource efficiency and low carbon economy; health and well-being) of the 7th Environment Action Programme. It does that with the help of a set of selected indicators and other information. The report also highlights the role of eco-innovation and green finance to enable meeting aspects of the resource efficiency and low carbon economy priority objective.

The EEA ‘Environmental indicator report 2016’ gives a snapshot of progress made so far by the 28 EU Member States in meeting a selected number of EU policy objectives. These are relevant to achieving the three key priority objectives of the EU’s 7th Environment Action Programme: natural capital; resource-efficient, low-carbon economy, and people’s health and well-being. The report complements ‘the European environment –state and outlook 2015’ (SOER) report.

The 7th Environment Action Programme provides an overarching framework for EU environment policy planning and implementation to 2020. It also has a long-term objective of ‘living well within the limits of the planet’ by 2050.

Progress on 29 policy objectives were assessed on whether they can be met by 2020. Individual briefings provide further information on these assessments, including country level information.

As the proportion of land used for production (agriculture, forestry, etc.) in Europe is one of the highest in the world, conflicting land use demands require decisions that involve difficult trade-offs. The decisions on trade-offs between land uses are effectively implemented through spatial planning and land management practice in the individual countries. Although the subsidiarity principle assigns land and urban planning responsibilities to national and regional government, most European policies have a direct or indirect effect on land planning and urban development. 

The average annual land take between 2000 and 2012 lay above the trajectory required to achieve the long-term goal of no net land take. However, annual land take declined between the 2000–2006 and 2006–2012 observation periods.

If the amount of land taken reduces significantly during the next observation period, Europe could reach the required trajectory. However, it is uncertain whether a further reduction will take place and at what rate, particularly given the recent period of economic recovery following the economic downturn. The outlook to 2020 therefore remains uncertain.

Scoreboard – progress and 2020 outlook

Only about a third of the objectives are expected to be achieved while it is likely that another third will not be attained and it is uncertain whether or not the remaining third will be met by 2020. The report shows that EU environmental policies have been more successful on reducing pressures on the environment, improving efficiency and meeting 2020 climate and energy targets than on reducing overall impacts on people’s health and well-being or on ensuring the resilience of natural systems.

 “Our scoreboard shows that EU environmental policies have delivered substantial improvements - Europeans enjoy cleaner air and water and more waste is being recycled. But more must be done to improve our air quality, protect our wildlife and natural resources if we are to meet our 2020 targets. It is becoming clear that we will need more integrated policies and knowledge to achieve our aim of living well within the limits of our planet, which is the long-term vision of the 7th Environment Action Programme,” said Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director.

Way ahead

Looking beyond 2020, much greater change will be required to achieve the EU’s 2050 vision of ‘living well within the limits of our planet’, the report says. This will require more ambitious environmental policies and a more fundamental transformation of the key systems that support our society, like food, energy, housing and mobility. The report stresses the need for more integrated policies and knowledge to achieve this long-term vision.