Estado del medio ambiente en Europa

What is the state of Europe’s natural capital?

    The concept of natural capital has emerged in recent decades and reflects the recognition that environmental systems play a fundamental role in determining economic output and human well-being. Natural capital provides the basic conditions for human existence. These conditions include fertile soil, multifunctional forests, productive land and seas, good quality freshwater and clean air. They also include services such as pollination, climate regulation and protection from natural disasters. Natural capital is both limited and vulnerable and it sets the ecological limits for our socio-economic systems.

    In many parts of Europe, the local environment is arguably in as good a state today as it has been since the start of industrialization, says the report. Reduced pollution has significantly improved the quality of Europe's air and water, but there is still a lot of progress needed to reach healthy aquatic ecosystems. Looking ahead, climate change impacts are projected to intensify, putting additional pressure on ecosystems, and the underlying drivers of biodiversity loss are expected to persist.

    Meanwhile, Europe's natural capital is not yet being enough protected, conserved and enhanced to concur with the ambitions of the EU 7th Environment Action Programme. Despite a clear progress on some issues, the challenges that Europe faces today are considerable. In many cases overall trends are still heading in the wrong direction. European natural capital is still being degraded by socio-economic activities such as agriculture, fisheries, transport, industry, tourism and urban sprawl. For example, many regional seas across the globe suffer from oxygen depletion (hypoxia) due to excess nutrient discharges, which leads to a collapse of fish stocks. Europe is already suffering from this problem.

    Global pressures on the environment have grown at an unprecedented rate since the 1990s, driven by economic and population growth, and changing consumption patterns. There are indications that our economies are approaching the ecological limits within which they are embedded, and that we are already experiencing some of the effects of physical and environmental resource constraints. The increasingly severe consequences of extreme weather events and climate change illustrate this, as do water scarcity and droughts, habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, and degradation of land and soil.

    • Biodiversity, which is the variety of life and includes all living organisms found in the atmosphere, on land and in water, is currently in an unfavorable condition, and unless changes are made in how it is addressed it will continue to be degraded in the coming decades. A high proportion of protected species (60%) and habitat types (77%) are considered to be in unfavourable conservation status, and Europe is not on track to meet its overall target of halting biodiversity loss by 2020.
    • Loss of soil functions, land degradation and climate change remain other major concerns, threatening the flows of environmental goods and services that underpin Europe's economic output and well-being. In particular, more than 25% of the EU's territory is affected by soil erosion by water, which compromises soil functions and freshwater quality. Soil contamination and soil sealing are also persistent problems. There are gaps in legislation, in relation to soil and these gaps jeopardise the provision of ecosystem services.

    The analysis summarised in Table ES.1 indicates that while environmental policy has delivered many improvements, substantial challenges remain in each of these areas.

    What is the situation of environmental policies in Europe?

      Europe's economic prosperity and well-being is intrinsically linked to its natural environment — from fertile soils to clean air and water. It is not just a vision for the environment, but also a vision for the economic and societal context of environmental issues.

      In the early 1970’s, the European Union put in place the beginning of a common environmental policy, which now amounts to some 500 directives and regulations, In 2015, Europe stands roughly halfway between the initiation of EU environmental policy in the early 1970s and the EU's 2050 vision of 'living well within the limits of the planet'. Reduced pollution, nature protection and better waste management have all contributed. European Union air policies and legislation have delivered real benefits both for human health and the environment. At the same time, they have offered economic opportunities, for example for the clean technology sector, and thereby contributing to the Europe 2020 Strategy, aimed at making the EU into a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy by 2020. For example, the environment industry sector, which produces goods and services that reduce environmental degradation and maintain natural resources, grew by more than 50% in size between 2000 and 2011. It has been one of the few economic sectors to have flourish in terms of revenues, trade and jobs since the 2008 financial crisis.

      At the same time, growing understanding of the characteristics of Europe's environmental challenges and their interdependence with economic and social systems in a globalised world has brought with it increasing recognition that existing knowledge and governance approaches are inadequate. It is also more and more recognized that the environmental problems that the world is facing are far from simple, and depend on many interacting factors. Therefore, the level of ambition of existing environmental policy may be inadequate to achieve Europe's long-term environmental goals. For example, projected greenhouse gas emissions reductions are currently insufficient to bring the EU onto a pathway towards its 2050 target of reducing emissions by 80–95%. In addition, existing policies have arguably been less successful in halting biodiversity loss due to habitat destruction and overexploitation; in eliminating risks to human health resulting from the combination of chemicals introduced into our environment; or in halting climate change.

      It is against this backdrop that the EEA State and Outlook report 2015 about the European environment has been written. Based on data and information from numerous published sources, this synthesis report evaluates the European environment's state, trends and prospects in a global context, and analyses opportunities to recalibrate policies and knowledge in line with a 2050 vision.

      This 2050 vision, laid out in the 7th environmental action programme of the EU states in particular:

      'In 2050, we live well, within the planet's ecological limits. Our prosperity and healthy environment stem from an innovative, circular economy where nothing is wasted and where natural resources are managed sustainably, and biodiversity is protected, valued and restored in ways that enhance our society's resilience. Our low-carbon growth has long been decoupled from resource use, setting the pace for a safe and sustainable global society.'

      This has been translated into three thematic objectives outlined in the 7th Environment Action Programme which are :

      1. to protect, conserve and enhance Europe's natural capital;
      2. to turn Europe into a resource-efficient, green and competitive low-carbon economy, and
      3. to safeguard Europe's citizens from environment related pressures and risks to health and well-being.

      The above vision was adopted by the European Union in 2013 but the inherent ambition is by no means limited to this programme, and a host of recent policy documents have complementary or similar ambitions at their core

      This shift in the policy framework to a more systemic perspective on natural capital marks an important step towards the implementation of such integrated management approaches. In this context, to achieve this 2050 vision, regulatory actions will focus on three key areas:

      1. protecting the natural capital that supports economic prosperity and human well-being;
      2. stimulating resource-efficient, low-carbon economic and social development;
      3. safeguarding people from environmental health risks.

      What progress has been made in the EU towards an efficient, low-carbon economy?

        Here, short-term trends are encouraging. European greenhouse gas emissions have decreased by 19% since 1990 despite a 45% increase in economic output. Other environmental pressures have also decoupled in absolute terms from economic growth. Fossil fuel use has declined, as well as emissions of some pollutants from transport and industry.

        The EU's total resource use has declined by 19% since 2007, less waste is being generated and recycling rates have improved in nearly every country, although Europe remains far from the ideal of a circular economy, where nothing is wasted. While policies are working, the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent economic recessions have also contributed to the reduction of some pressures.

        However, it remains to be seen whether all improvements will be sustained as the prevailing model of economic development — based on steadily growing resource use and harmful emissions — cannot be sustained in the long term. This grounded the recognition that the emergence of resource efficiency and the low-carbon economy are European policy priorities. For example, the demand for transport has increased in recent decades; air transport in particular reached an all-time high in 2011. Transport can have impacts in terms of air and noise pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and landscape fragmentation, which can impact human health. Accordingly, fundamental changes in the way Europe transports people and goods are needed to reduce impacts. Encouragingly, there is some evidence of a cultural shift away from car use in developed urban regions, particularly among younger generations. At the same time, cycling, using a car pool, or opting for public transport are becoming more popular.

        A transition to a low-carbon economy will thus require a greater reduction in emission, and further reduction of the dependence on fossil fuels would be a good way to, in turn, further reduce greenhouse gas emissions in addition to enhancing energy security. However, it appears that existing measures will be insufficient to achieve the 40% reduction by 2030, which has been proposed by the European Commission as the minimum needed to remain on course for the 2050 target.

        How are people safeguarded from environmental risks to their health?

          Human health and well-being are intimately linked to the state of the environment. Good quality natural environments can provide multiple benefits to physical, mental and social well-being. On the contrary, environmental degradation — such as that caused by air and water pollution, noise, radiation, chemicals or biological agents — can have negative effects on health.

          For example, in 2011, about 430 000 premature deaths in the EU were attributed to exposure to fine particulate matter (PM 2.5). Exposure to environmental noise is estimated to contribute to at least 10 000 premature deaths due to coronary heart disease and strokes each year, and a growing use of chemicals, particularly in consumer products has been associated with an observed increase of endocrine diseases and disorders in humans.

          The problem is that the projected improvements in air quality, for example, are not expected to be sufficient to prevent continuing harm to health and the environment, while health impacts resulting from climate change are expected to worsen.

          Despite substantial improvements in recent decades, environmental health challenges remain considerable and the outlook for environmental health risks in coming decades is uncertain and raises concern in some areas. Indeed, in addition to known problems, new health issues are emerging. These are associated with long-term environmental and socio‑economic trends, lifestyle and consumption changes and the rapid uptake of new chemicals and technologies. Furthermore, the unequal distribution of environmental and socio-economic conditions contributes to pervasive health inequalities.

          What are the challenges that the European environment faces?

            Although Europe has made progress in reducing some key environmental pressures, often these improvements have not yet translated into improved ecosystem resilience or reduced risks to health and well-being and the long-term outlook is often less positive than recent trends might suggest.

            A variety of factors contribute to these disparities. The dynamics of environmental systems can mean that there is a substantial time lag before declining pressures will translate into improvements in the state of the environment. In addition, many pressures remain considerable in absolute terms despite recent reductions. For example, fossil fuels still account for three-quarters of the EU energy supply, imposing a heavy burden on ecosystems through climate change, acidification and eutrophication impacts.

            Feedbacks, interdependencies and lock-ins in environmental and socio-economic systems also undermine efforts to mitigate environmental pressures and related impacts. For example, if unsustainable systems of production and consumption are responsible for many environmental pressures, they also provide diverse benefits, including jobs and earnings. Thus, improved efficiency in production processes can lower the costs of goods and services, and result in increased consumption (the 'rebound effect'). This can create strong incentives for sectors or communities to resist change and changing exposure patterns and human vulnerabilities, for example linked to urbanisation, can also offset reductions in pressures.

            Perhaps the most difficult challenges for European environmental governance arise from the fact that environmental drivers, trends and impacts are increasingly globalised. Today, a variety of long-term megatrends affect Europe's environment, consumption patterns and living standards. For example, the escalating resource use and emissions that have accompanied global economic growth in recent decades have offset the benefits of Europe's success in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, as well as creating new risks.

            Globalisation of supply chains also means that many impacts of Europe's production and consumption occur in other parts of the world, where European businesses, consumers and policymakers have relatively limited knowledge, incentives and scope to influence them. For example, depending on the type of pressure, between 24% and 56% of the associated total footprint occurs outside Europe while total demand for food, feed, and fibre is projected to grow by about 60% between now and 2050 while the area of arable land per person may decrease by 1.5% per year if no major policy changes are initiated (FAO, 2009, 2012).

            This globalisation of supply chains can reduce EU consumer awareness of the social, economic, and environmental implications of their purchasing decisions, which means that consumer choices may produce environmentally and socially undesirable outcomes.

            How can the 2050 vision be implemented?

              In its 7th Environment Action Programme, the EU envisions that young children today will live around half their lives in a low-carbon society, based on a circular economy and resilient ecosystems. Achieving this commitment can put Europe at the frontier of science and technology but calls for a greater sense of urgency and more courageous actions. This report offers a knowledge-based contribution towards meeting those visions and goals and come to the conclusion that traditional incremental approaches based on the efficiency approach will not suffice. Rather, unsustainable systems of production and consumption require fundamental rethinking in the light of European and global realities.

              The overall challenge for the next decades will be to recalibrate mobility, agriculture, energy, urban development, and other core systems of provision in such a way that global natural systems maintain their resilience, as the basis for a decent life.

              The report underlines the urgent need for Europe to shift towards a much more integrated approach for addressing persistent, systemic environmental challenges. It identified the transition towards a green economy as one of the changes needed to secure the long-term sustainability of Europe and its neighborhood. The notion of the 'circular economy where nothing is wasted' (EU, 2013) is central to efforts to boost resource efficiency. Waste prevention, reuse and recycling enable society to extract maximum value from resources, and adapt consumption to actual needs. In doing so, they reduce demand for virgin resources, thereby mitigating related energy use and environmental impacts.

              The limited evidence of progress in effecting this fundamental shift suggests that neither environmental policies alone nor both economic and technology-driven efficiency gains, are likely to be sufficient to achieve the 2050 vision.

              Instead, living well within ecological limits will require fundamental transitions in the systems of production and consumption that are the root cause of environmental and climate pressures. Such transitions will, by their character, entail profound changes in dominant institutions, practices, technologies, policies, lifestyles and thinking. Recalibrating existing policy approaches can make an essential contribution to such transitions.

              In the environment and climate policy domain, four established and complementary approaches could enhance progress to long-term transitions if considered together and implemented coherently. These are:

              • mitigating known ecosystem and human health impacts while creating socio-economic opportunities through resource-efficient technological innovations;
              • adapting to expected climate and other environmental changes by increasing resilience, for example in cities;
              • avoiding potentially serious environmental harm to people's health and well-being and ecosystems by taking precautionary and preventive actions, based on early warnings from science;
              • restoring resilience in ecosystems and society by enhancing natural resources, contributing to economic development and addressing social inequities.

              Europe's success in moving towards a green economy will depend in part on striking the right balance between these four approaches. Policy packages that include objectives and targets explicitly recognising the relationships between resource efficiency, ecosystem resilience and human well-being would accelerate the reconfiguration of Europe's systems of production and consumption. Governance approaches that engage citizens, non-governmental organisations, businesses and cities would offer additional levers in this context. When it comes to policy gaps, the most important problems are the timeframes that current policy frameworks address (too few long-term binding targets); and their degree of integration. Both the EU and European countries have continued to set new objectives and targets for the period 2025 to 2050 but this only occurs in a small number of policy areas and few of these new objectives and targets are legally binding.

              The financial crisis has not reduced the focus of European citizens on environmental issues. Indeed, European citizens strongly believe that more needs to be done at all levels to protect the environment, and that national progress should be measured using environmental, social and economic criteria.

              What are the practical opportunities identified for steering the needed transitions in unsustainable systems of production and consumption?

                The common timeframe that applies to the EU's 7th Environment Action Programme, the EU's Multiannual Financial Framework 2014–2020, the Europe 2020 Strategy and the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (Horizon 2020) offers a unique opportunity to harness synergies across policy, investment and research activities in support of the transition to a green economy. Among the existing opportunities available, the report identified more particularly:

                • The implementation, integration and coherence of environment and climate policy. The foundation for short- and long-term improvements in Europe's environment, people's health and economic prosperity rests on full implementation of policies, and better integration of the environment into the sectoral policies that contribute most to environmental pressures and impacts. Such areas include energy, agriculture, transport, industry, tourism, fisheries and regional development.
                • Investing for the future. The production-consumption systems that meet basic social needs such as food, energy, housing and mobility rely on costly and long-lasting infrastructure, meaning that investment choices can have long-term implications. This makes it essential to avoid investments that lock society into existing technologies, and thereby limit innovation options or hinder investments in substitutes.
                • Supporting and upscaling niche innovations. The pace of innovation and diffusion of ideas plays a central role in driving systemic transitions. In addition to new technologies, innovation can take diverse forms, including financial tools such as green bonds and payments for ecosystem services; integrated resource management approaches; and social innovations such as 'prosumerism', which merge the role of consumers and producers in developing and providing, for example, energy, food and mobility services.
                • Improving the knowledge base. There is a gap between available monitoring data and indicators, and the knowledge required to support transitions. Addressing this gap requires investment in better understanding of systems science, forward-looking information, systemic risks and the relationships between environmental change and human well-being.

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