From policy ambition to environment and climate action in Europe

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Environmental degradation and climate change are impacting us all — our health, economy and society. To address growing challenges and impacts, Europe has set ambitious policies and targets.

Leena Ylä-Mononen


Executive Director, European Environment Agency.

Vertical photo: 
Leena Ylä-Mononen.
Square photo: 
Leena Ylä-Mononen.
Horizontal photo: 
Leena Ylä-Mononen.

Many studies, including our five yearly State and Outlook of Europe’s environment reports (SOER) point to the scale and the extent of the challenges we face. Our recently published European Climate Risk Assessment concludes that many climate risks have already reached critical levels and could become catastrophic without urgent and decisive action, and that Europe is not prepared for these growing risks.

To address environmental degradation and climate change, Europeans have set ambitious policy targets, adopted legislation and put in place numerous initiatives over the past four decades. Environment action programmes have been one of the backbones of these efforts.

The EU’s current 8th Environment Action Programme (EAP) entered into force in May 2022. It will guide environment policies until 2030 and contribute to delivering on Europe’s long-term vision of living well and within planetary boundaries by 2050. The EEA was given the task to assess progress towards the 8th EAP priority objectives annually.

The first of these monitoring reports was published in December 2023. The report takes stock of progress towards Europe’s key environment and climate goals, based on the 28 indicators and monitoring targets which were outlined in the 8th EAP monitoring framework Communication.

Our assessment concludes that the EU risks missing most of the targets by 2030. Reducing environmental and climate pressures related to production and consumption is assessed to be particularly challenging. This priority objective includes targets on reducing energy consumption and increasing the rate of circular material use and the share of area under organic farming. All these targets look very unlikely to be achieved by 2030.

On the other hand, the EU is very likely to achieve several other targets. For example, the share of green economy will continue to increase. Similarly, premature deaths attributable to exposure to fine particulate matter will decline in line with the zero-pollution action plan aim.

Overall, the report highlights that achieving a number of the 8th EAP monitoring targets requires progress several times faster than what we achieved the past ten years.

Action, delayed action or inaction

Every day, the impacts of climate change or environmental pollution hit the headlines: snowless ski slopes, contaminants found in water, air pollution, droughts, floods... People’s health and livelihoods are threatened. We know that we need to act. We also know that the longer we wait or the slower we act, the bigger the problems will become. And the resilience and the ability of our society, economy and the environment to cope with the problems, will weaken.

At the same time, we can also see that change is not easy. Achieving a net-zero, clean, nature-positive and circular economy requires time, investments and commitment. Change also entails difficult choices. And we have to recognise that every choice is likely to impact some groups more than others.

This is also the case if we choose not to act or if we act too slowly. Some of us will be affected more than others. These inequalities come across in many of our reports, pointing to health and climate impacts affecting specific groups or regions more severely. And, of course, other regions of the world are in most cases hit much harder than Europe. A recent EEA briefing on just transitions stresses that policies intended to shift Europe towards a greener, climate-neutral, circular economy must be informed by concepts of justice and fairness if they are to succeed.

Urgent, decisive and fair action

Earlier this week, the European Commission published its mid-term review of the 8th EAP, highlighting the extensive set of legislation already put in place to achieve its objectives as well as challenges identified in our monitoring report. Implementation, finance and just transition are among the key enablers underlined in the European Commission’s review.

Faced with growing challenges, we must act urgently, decisively and fairly. To start with, implementing fully the existing environment and climate policies and legislation, including mainstreaming their requirements into other policies, will significantly help the EU progress further towards its targets. Additional measures may also be necessary. Ensuring that sufficient resources are made available throughout this transition is another vital component. And most importantly, when faced with difficult choices, we must support those most affected.

At the EEA, we are committed to supporting Europe’s policy makers and the public by providing the knowledge and data needed to achieve Europe’s long-term vision of living well and within planetary boundaries by 2050.

“This article was originally published on the European Environment Agency’s website on 15 March 2024”.

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