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Unprecedented urgency of Europe's environmental challenge

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Unprecedented urgency of Europe's environmental challenge

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(COPENHAGEN) - A change of direction is urgently needed if Europe is to face climate challenges of 'unprecedented scale and urgency', the EU environment agency said in its 'State of the Environment' report, published Wednesday.

The European Environment Agency's (EEA) strongly-worded report finds that the EU is not on track to meeting the vast majority of environmental targets for 2020 - and the outlook for 2030 and 2040 is even bleaker.

From nature conservation to climate action, Europe is making insufficient progress across nearly all policy areas, says the report. It also emphasises the harm to human health and well-being caused by environmental degradation and pollution, and warns of a "great acceleration" of climate change.

"Europe's environment is at a tipping point," said the EEA's Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx: "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."

There is some cause for hope, says the EEA, amid increased public awareness of the need to shift to a sustainable future, technological innovations, growing community initiatives and stepped up EU action like the upcoming 'European Green Deal'.

SOER 2020 - the most comprehensive environmental assessment ever undertaken on Europe - provides a stark snapshot of where Europe stands in meeting 2020 and 2030 policy targets as well as longer term 2050 goals and ambitions to shift to a sustainable, low carbon future. The report notes that Europe has already made significant progress over the past two decades in terms of climate change mitigation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Signs of progress are also evident in other areas, such as tackling air and water pollution and the introduction of new policies to tackle plastic waste and bolster climate change adaptation and the circular and bio-economy. Furthermore, the EU's sustainable finance initiative is the first of its kind on the role of the financial sector in driving the necessary shift to a sustainable future.

But Europe will not achieve its sustainability vision of 'living well within the limits of the planet' by continuing to promote economic growth and seeking to manage the environmental and social impacts. The report urges European countries, leaders and policymakers to seize the opportunity and use the next decade to radically scale up and speed up actions to put Europe back on track to meeting its medium and longer-term environmental policy goals and targets to avoid irreversible change and damage.

The report calls on a rethink of EU investments, as well as additional policy actions 'to achieve fundamental change in the key systems of production and consumption that underpin our modern lifestyles, such as food, energy and mobility, which have substantial environmental impacts'.

Europe should also rethink how it uses existing innovations and technologies, how production processes could be improved, how research and development into sustainability could be fostered and how changes in consumption patterns and ways of living could be stimulated.

Most of the 2020 targets will not be achieved, says the report, especially on biodiversity, however it notes that 'there is still a chance to meet the longer-term goals and objectives for 2030 and 2050'.

There has been a slowing down of progress in areas such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, industrial emissions, waste generation, improving energy efficiency and the share of renewable energy. Looking ahead, the current rate of progress will not be enough to meet 2030 and 2050 climate and energy targets.

Protecting and conserving European biodiversity and nature remains the biggest area of discouraging progress. Of the 13 specific policy objectives set for 2020 in this area, only two are likely be met: designating marine protected areas and terrestrial protected areas. Looking ahead to 2030, if current trends continue, they will result in further deterioration of nature and continued pollution of air, water and soil.

Climate change, air and noise pollution impacts on the environment and human health are also still of concern. Exposure to fine particulate matter is responsible for around 400 000 premature deaths in Europe every year, affecting central and eastern European countries disproportionally. There is also growing concern over hazardous chemicals and the risks they pose. Looking ahead, the prospects for reducing environmental risks to health would be improved with better integration of environment and health policies.

'European environment - state and outlook 2020 (SOER 2020)' report

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