European Environment Agency Signals Natural Resource Stress

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, May 29 2001 (ENS) - Public policy must become more effective in influencing the growing scale and evolving patterns of production and consumption if Europe is to achieve its environmental and sustainable development goals.

This is the central message of the Environmental Signals 2001 report published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) today.

"The report shows, regrettably, that the environmental problems that are most difficult to solve, including greenhouse gas emissions, pressures on land and water resources, nitrate pollution and waste generation, remain with us," said Domingo Jiménez-Beltrán, the EEA's executive director.

Jimenez-Beltran

Domingo Jiménez-Beltrán, executive director of the European Environment Agency (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
Established by the European Union (EU) in 1990, the agency is the hub of the European Environment Information and Observation Network which takes in some 600 environmental bodies and institutes across Europe.

"These problems are consequences of the overall scale of resources use," Jiménez-Beltrán said. "If environmental and sustainability aims and targets, such as those proposed in the EU's 6th Environment Action Programme, are to be reached, higher efficiencies in the use of materials and energy will be necessary."

"This in turn requires further actions to influence the character and scale of production and consumption across the various economic sectors. Taxation is a key tool for managing demand but it needs to be applied dynamically since financial stimuli become less effective as incomes rise," he said.

The report, prepared for policy makers and the public, is a major input to the Gothenburg Summit, coming up June 15 and 16. There, EU leaders will take stock of strategies for integrating environmental protection into nine economic sectors and adopt the EU's first sustainable development strategy.

European environmental organizations expect at least one concrete program to emerge from the Gothenburg Summit. In a letter to the Heads of State and Governments of the EU earlier this month, the European Environmental Bureau which represents 134 environmental citizens groups in 28 countries, Friends of the Earth Europe and International Friends of Nature said they want the EU to become, "the most resource efficient economy in the world - reaching levels of resource use and environmental impact that are in line with the carrying capacity of the European and global environment.

"Gothenburg should result in at least one bold and concrete programme, which is "greening the economy," the environmental coalition urged.

In this year's Environmental Signals, the European Environment Agency examines the environmental impacts of households' consumption and tourism, which are covered for the first time, as well as the key transport, energy and agriculture sectors.

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Ponte Vecchio over the Arno River in Florence, Italy. This year the European Environment Agency is concentrating on river water quality. (Two photos courtesy Freefoto.com)
In terms of environmental issues, there is a new focus on river water quality, hazardous substances in marine waters, soil contamination and grasslands, plus detailed updates on climate change, air pollution and waste.

On the positive side, the report finds that inputs into the northeast Atlantic Ocean of six important hazardous heavy metals and organic substances fell significantly between 1990 and 1998.

European Union emissions of the six Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gases fell by two percent between 1990 and 1998. Data gathered the following year show a four percent fall in 1999, while emissions in the US rose by 11% in the same period, the EEA report points out.

Waste generation continues to increase and remains closely linked to economic growth.

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Traffic Jam on the Tyne Bridge, Newcastle, England
Demand for transport fuels is growing faster than overall energy demand.

Motorway construction claimed around 10 hectares (25 acres) of land every day between 1990 and 1998.

Electricity from renewable energy sources increased by about three percent per year between 1989 and 1998, but the annual growth rate needs to rise to 5.5 percent to meet the EU's proposed target for 2010,

Eco-labelling of tourist accommodation has increased significantly since 1990 but remains very marginal.

Environmental Signals 2001 also finds that eco-efficiency - the efficiency with which environmental resources are used to produce a unit of economic activity - has improved since 1990 in transport, energy supply and agriculture.

This has resulted in falls in emissions of acidifying gases and ground-level ozone precursors from these sectors. But gains in energy efficiency have been outweighed by the growth of these sectors, the agency finds.

The full text of Environmental Signals 2001 is published on the EEA's web site at: http://reports.eea.eu.int/signals-2001/index_html