The European Union (EU) is making stronger progress towards a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy than in protecting biodiversity, natural capital and people’s health. An annual European Environment Agency (EEA) environmental indicator report analyses whether the EU is achieving by 2020 a selected set of environmental objectives.

The EEA ‘Environmental Indicator Report 2017’ gives an overview of the EU’s progress towards 29 environmental policy objectives. These are relevant to the achievement of the 7th Environment Action Programme (EAP) three key priority objectives: natural capital; resource-efficient, low-carbon economy; and people’s health and well-being.

The annual report draws every year on the same 29 indicators — updated with latest data — to provide an outlook on meeting each of the 29 objectives by 2020. According to the report, many indicators show positive past trends but meeting relevant targets by 2020 remains a challenge.

‘Following the 2008 financial crisis, lower economic activity in the EU contributed to several of the positive environmental trends shown in the report’s indicators. As economic growth is returning, increased efforts are likely to be necessary to maintain progress,’ said Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director. ‘Looking beyond 2020, EU Member States need to accelerate progress in transforming key systems of production and consumption, including in food, energy and mobility, that have the greatest environmental and climate impacts’.

This year’s report changed the prospects of meeting two selected objectives compared with last year’s assessment. The EU outlook of meeting by 2020 the ammonia reduction commitment was revised from ‘likely’ to ‘uncertain’. Ammonia emissions come mainly from agriculture. Also, the 2020 prospects of keeping the average annual rate of land take below 800 km2 from 2000-2020 were revised from ‘uncertain’ to ‘unlikely’ to be achieved.

Based on recent trends, the report also stresses that additional efforts are necessary in order to stay on track to meet the energy efficiency target while the EU is at an increasing risk to miss its objective of reducing the overall environmental impact from the mobility sector.

The updated results of this year’s report confirmed the overall results of last year’s assessment by key 7th EAP priority objectives:

  • Protect nature and strengthen ecological resilience: The EU’s natural capital is not yet being protected, maintained and enhanced in line with the ambitions of the 7th EAP. The 2020 outlook remains bleak overall for the selected set of objectives related to this priority objective.
  • Boost sustainable, resource- efficient, low carbon growth: The EU remains on track towards meeting its key climate and energy targets by 2020. Moreover, Europe’s economy is growing faster than its use of raw materials, indicating better resource efficiency. However, efforts so far to reduce the environmental impact of production and consumption in key sectors of food, housing and mobility vary considerably in their success rates.
  • Effectively address environment-related threats to health and well-being: There have been substantial reductions in emissions of air and water pollutants in recent decades. However, key concerns persist around air quality and noise pollution in urban areas and chronic exposure of the population to complex mixtures of chemicals in products.

Source: EEA