The European environment — state and outlook 2020
Knowledge for transition to a sustainable Europe
Europe will not achieve its 2030 goals without urgent action during the next 10 years to address the alarming rate of biodiversity loss, increasing impacts of climate change and the overconsumption of natural resources. The European Environment Agency’s (EEA) latest ‘State of the Environment’ report states that Europe faces environmental challenges of unprecedented scale and urgency. The report says, however, there is reason for hope, amid increased public awareness of the need to shift to a sustainable future, technological innovations, growing community initiatives and stepped up EU action like the European Green Deal.
While European environment and climate policies have helped to improve the environment over recent decades, Europe is not making enough progress and the outlook for the environment in the coming decade is not positive, according to the ‘The European environment — state and outlook 2020 (SOER 2020)’ report.
SOER 2020 is the most comprehensive environmental assessment ever undertaken on Europe. It provides a stark snapshot of where Europe stands in meeting 2020 and 2030 policy targets as well as longer term 2050 goals and ambitions to shift to a sustainable, low carbon future. The report notes that Europe has already made significant progress over the past two decades in terms of climate change mitigation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Signs of progress are also evident in other areas, such as tackling air and water pollution and the introduction of new policies to tackle plastic waste and bolster climate change adaptation and the circular and bio-economy. Furthermore, the EU’s sustainable finance initiative is the first of its kind on the role of the financial sector in driving the necessary shift to a sustainable future.
Urgent call for scaling up and speeding up change
While these achievements are significant, Europe will not achieve its sustainability vision of ‘living well within the limits of the planet’ by continuing to promote economic growth and seeking to manage the environmental and social impacts. The report urges European countries, leaders and policymakers to seize the opportunity and use the next decade to radically scale up and speed up actions to put Europe back on track to meeting its medium and longer-term environmental policy goals and targets to avoid irreversible change and damage.
The current range of European policy actions provide an essential foundation for future progress but they are not enough. Europe needs to do things better, it needs to address certain challenges differently, and it needs to rethink its investments. Achieving Europe’s goals will require better implementation and improved coordination between current policies. It will also need additional policy actions to achieve fundamental change in the key systems of production and consumption that underpin our modern lifestyles, such as food, energy and mobility, which have substantial environmental impacts.
The report also stresses the importance of how governments can enable a transition to sustainability and the need to address things differently. For example, Europe should rethink how it uses existing innovations and technologies, how production processes could be improved, how research and development into sustainability could be fostered and how changes in consumption patterns and ways of living could be stimulated.
Lastly, achieving such change will require investing in a sustainable future and stopping using public funds to subsidise environmentally damaging activities. Europe will gain immensely from such a change in investment priorities because of the economic and social opportunities that it can create. At the same time, it will be crucial to listen to public concerns and ensure widespread support for such a shift — a socially fair transition.