Despite progress in some areas, Europe must do more to
create the 'green economy' needed for the continent to become
sustainable, according to a new report from the European
Environment Agency (EEA).
Copenhagen, May 16, 2012
-Green economy is set to be one of the two main themes at
United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in Rio de
Janeiro in June this year. Simply put, a 'green economy'
is one in which environmental, economic and social policies and
innovations enable society to use resources efficiently, while
maintaining the natural systems that sustain us.
'The focus on green economy in Rio reflects the issue's
importance as a key environmental priority, and is particularly
timely, given that it can provide a path to renewed economic growth
and job creation in response to the current severe economic crises
facing Europe,' EEA Executive Director Jacqueline McGlade said.
The 'Environmental indicator
report 2012' presents established indicators that illustrate
progress towards improving resource efficiency, and indicators that
depict the risk of passing environmental thresholds. Jointly, they
enable policymakers and the public to reflect on where Europe
stands vis-à-vis some aspects of a green economy.
The green economy is one in which
environmental, economic and social policies and innovations
enable society to use resources efficiently, thereby enhancing
human well-being in an inclusive manner, while maintaining the
natural systems that sustain us. At its core is the twin
challenge of improving resource efficiency whilst ensuring a
resilient structure and functioning of ecosystems that
can deliver the many ecosystem services we rely
Several of the indicators presented in this report show
encouraging trends, while others point to issues that require
European environmental policies have helped Europe use resources
more efficiently. However, policies aimed at making ecosystems more
resilient have been less successful. Both are central to Europe
achieving a green economy and becoming sustainable, according to
The report emphasises that improving resource efficiency remains
necessary, but stresses that this in itself may not be sufficient
to ensure a resilient, sustainable natural environment.
In some cases, reduced ecosystem resilience may even be
irreversible, for example biodiversity loss leading to
species extinction, or when environmental or
climate tipping points are passed.
Following these findings, the report also considers the merits
of designing policy objectives and targets that more explicitly
address the links between resource efficiency, ecosystem resilience
and human well-being to support the transition to a green
The report uses well-established environmental indicators,
assessing progress towards a green economy along six environmental
- Nitrogen emissions and threats
to biodiversity: progress has been made to reduce
pollution causing acidification and eutrophication. However,
nitrogen emissions from sewage and agriculture remain
high, and these pollutants continue to damage ecosystems and
- Carbon emissions and climate change:
domestic greenhouse gas emissions have decreased
substantially across the European Union but continue to rise on the
global level. Rising temperatures threaten ecosystem
- Air pollution and air quality: air pollutant emissions
have decreased in many parts of Europe; nonetheless, poor air
quality is still a serious health issue, particularly in many
- The marine environment: overfishing,
shipping and other maritime activities put pressure on
the marine environment; leading to altered, often less
resilient marine ecosystems.
- Stress on water resources: managing water
use and demand has helped reduce water use in all sectors; but high
levels of water stress still endanger ecosystems in European water
bodies. This problem is exacerbated by climate change and
inefficient water use in some areas.
- Use of material resources: there has been
progress in 'decoupling' economic growth and material resource use.
However, overall consumption and production patterns are not
The report notes that a transformation to a green economy
in Europe encompasses multiple dimensions. At the core of
a transformation to a green economy is the integration of
economic and environmental policies in a way that
highlights the opportunities for new sources of economic
development, while avoiding unsustainable pressure on the
quality and quantity of natural capital.
At the same time, such a transformation has the potential
to enhance social equity and fair burden-sharing in policy
design, the sharing of environmental costs and access
to environmental benefits. It directly influences three main
dimensions of human well-being:
• Social equity in today's Europe: for example, ensuring
fair access to the benefits of nature and protection from the
impacts of pollution and health risks;
• International burden-sharing: for example, by addressing
hidden ecological costs in trade, fair shares in carrying
environmental burdens, and environmental footprints of
• Intergenerational aspects: for example, by addressing the
natural and social capital stocks that we pass on to future
generations and the discount rates used in the context of
long-term economic projects and environmental
It is worth noting, states the report, that a transformation to
a green economy implies a departure from the 'business as
usual' economic paradigm, which is socially and economically
A green economy can create new opportunities, in particular
related to new jobs across many sectors of the economy or
through a substitution process by shifting jobs from
industries that rely on non-renewable resources (such as
fossil fuels) to those that rely on renewable resources (such
as recycling industries) fishing, energy,
resource-intensive manufacturing, recycling, building and
The Environmental indicator
report 2012' can be downloaded from here.
*Editor's Note: A
recent report on the West Coast Clean Economy undertaken
by GLOBE Advisors and the Centre for Climate
Strategies (and published on behalf of the Pacific Coast
Collaborative in March 2012) contains a comprehensive discussion on
the importance of moving away from 'business as usual'
policies and programs. Check here for more information on the West Coast
Clean Economy Report.