European Environment Agency’s ‘The European environment – state and outlook 2020’ report outlines the scale and urgency of environmental challenges facing us
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.
This is the 6th SOER published by the European Environment Agency (EEA), and this 2020 edition identifies serious gaps between the state of the environment and existing EU near- and longterm policy targets. Citizens’ expectations for living in a healthy environment must be met, and this will require renewed focus on implementation as a cornerstone of EU and national policies.
The message of urgency cannot be overstated. In the last 18 months alone, major global scientific reports from the IPCC, IPBES, IRP and UN Environment (1) have been published, all carrying similar messages: current trajectories are fundamentally unsustainable; these trajectories are interconnected and linked to our main systems of production and consumption; and time is running out to come up with credible responses to bend the trend.
The call for fundamental sustainability transitions in the core systems that shape the European economy and modern social life — especially the energy, mobility, housing and food systems — is not new. Indeed we made such a call in the 2010 and 2015 editions of SOER, and in recent years the EU has embedded this thinking in important policy initiatives such as the circular and bio-economy packages, the climate and energy policies for 2030 and 2050, and its future research and innovation programme. Furthermore, the EU’s sustainable finance initiative is the first of its kind to ask serious questions about the role of the financial system in driving the necessary change.
However, it is one thing to change thinking and another to bring about actual change. The focus now must be on scaling up, speeding up, streamlining and implementing the many solutions and innovations — both technological and social — which already exist, while stimulating additional research and development, catalysing behavioural shifts and, vitally, listening to and engaging with citizens.
We cannot underestimate the social dimension. There are loud and understandable calls for a just transition, in which the potential losers from the low-carbon economy are given due care and attention. The unequal distribution of costs and benefits arising from systemic changes is now recognised by policymakers, but require solid understanding, citizen engagement and effective responses.
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 longterm 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.