The European Union (EU) is making stronger progress towards a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy than in protecting biodiversity, natural capital and people’s health.
But importantly the EU remains on track towards meeting its key climate and energy targets by 2020. Moreover, Europe’s economy is growing faster than its use of raw materials, indicating better resource efficiency. However, efforts so far to reduce the environmental impact of production and consumption in key sectors of food, housing and mobility vary considerably in their success rates.
Looking beyond 2020, EU Member States need to accelerate progress in transforming key systems of production and consumption, including in food, energy and mobility, that have the greatest environmental and climate impacts.
The EEA’s latest ‘Environmental Indicator Report’ gives an overview of the EU’s progress towards 29 environmental policy objectives and the three key priority objectives: natural capital; resource-efficient, low-carbon economy; and people’s health and well-being. According to the report, many indicators show positive past trends but meeting relevant targets by 2020 remains a challenge.
‘Following the 2008 financial crisis, lower economic activity in the EU contributed to several of the positive environmental trends shown in the report’s indicators. As economic growth is returning, increased efforts are likely to be necessary to maintain progress,’ said Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director. ‘Looking beyond 2020, EU Member States need to accelerate progress in transforming key systems of production and consumption, including in food, energy and mobility, that have the greatest environmental and climate impacts’.
Based on recent trends, the report also stresses that additional efforts are necessary in order to stay on track to meet the energy efficiency target while the EU is at an increasing risk to miss its objective of reducing the overall environmental impact from the mobility sector.
A second report from the EEA highlights the fact that shifting to an environmentally sustainable society will bring huge challenges for Europe, involving fundamental changes in how it meets its demand for necessities such as food, energy, transport and housing.
The EEA report, ‘Perspectives on transitions to sustainability,’ presents a variety of analytical perspectives on systemic change, exploring what insights they collectively offer for policy, governance and knowledge creation. The report includes five academic papers drafted by internationally recognised experts in the field of sustainability transitions. For each of the five perspectives, the papers explore the conceptual background and understanding of how systemic changes occur, presenting their strengths and weaknesses and their implications for governance.
As highlighted in the five papers in the report, these systems are tied in complex ways to jobs and investments, policies and institutions, social norms and traditions. Collectively, these inter-linkages can mean that it is often very hard to achieve the needed changes and reforms through business as usual actions.
While emphasising that governments alone cannot start and steer transitions, they highlight the essential role of policy and public institutions in supporting local experimentation and learning, upscaling and reconfiguration. Governments also have a key role to play in supporting networking of local initiatives and in creating the shared goals and frameworks that can help coordinate and steer society-wide processes towards long-term sustainability goals.