An overview of EU environment policy targets and objectives

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An overview of EU environment policy targets and objectives
European Union legislation has established more than 130 separate environmental targets and objectives to be met between 2010 and 2050. Together, these can provide useful milestones supporting Europe’s transition towards a ‘green economy’, according to a report published by the European Environment Agency (EEA).


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The ‘green economy’ has emerged as a priority in policy debate in recent years. But what does the concept mean in practice and how can one measure progress towards this strategic goal? A new EEA report, ‘Towards a green economy in Europe’, provides some answers. It does so through a comprehensive overview of environmental targets and objectives established by EU legislation for the period 2010–2050 and by providing examples of analysis of progress towards achieving them.

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director, said: “This report shows that while we have been successful in agreeing a wide range of policies to protect the environment, implementing these policies remains a challenge. We are making some progress towards the EU aim of creating a green economy, but we need to keep the pressure on up to 2020 and beyond.”

The report identifies 63 legally binding targets and 68 non-binding objectives set out in EU policy covering the period 2010–2050. Of the 63 legally-binding targets, 62 have their deadlines in 2020 or before. Most of the current targets and objectives can be seen as interim steps towards a transition to a green economy, because in most cases eradicating the problems will require longer-term efforts beyond 2020.

The ‘green economy’ is an economic model which aims to increase prosperity by using resources efficiently as well as maintaining the resilience of the natural systems that sustain societies. With its 'Environmental indicator report 2012', the EEA undertook its first analysis of Europe’s progress in the transition towards a green economy, using indicators to assess resource efficiency and to address ecosystem resilience. The findings show a mixed performance, although they suggest that Europe has made more progress in improving resource efficiency than preserving ecosystem resilience.

The new overview is useful as a comprehensive basis for reviewing progress in the past, and for considering the prospects for meeting future environmental policy objectives and targets.

Progress towards environmental targets in Europe

  • The EU has a non-binding objective to cut energy use to levels 20 % below business-as-usual projections by 2020. Although this implies that consumption must be a little lower than the level in the mid-1990s, the trend since then has moved upwards. So it appears likely that achieving the 2020 objectives will require stronger policy implementation and possibly additional policy impulses.
  • Alongside policies to mitigate climate change, the EU has several policies to help Member States adapt. The European Commission encourages all Member States to adopt comprehensive adaptation strategies. By mid-2013, 16 States had achieved this.
  • Regarding air pollution, the EU has generally made good progress towards its 2010 emissions targets set by the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution. Meeting 2020 targets will require continued efforts.  Only in the case of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is there an obvious need to accelerate abatement efforts significantly. Modelling also suggests that achieving the targets is technically feasible for all pollutants except PM2.5.
  • Waste generated per capita should be in absolute decline by 2020, according to another non-binding objective. Waste generation shows a trend which, when extrapolated, suggests that the EU would narrowly miss its 2020 target. The trend is certainly ambiguous, however, with the decline in waste generation since 2007 giving some cause for encouragement.
  • Member States also have another waste-related objective, specifying that landfilling of waste should be near zero by 2020. An extrapolation of the trend points to a decline from 179 kg per capita in 2011 to 114 kg per capita in 2020, so achieving the target for near-zero landfill appears to require a radical change in waste management practices.

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