Europe’s state of the environment 2020: change of direction urgently needed to face climate change challenges

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Europe will not achieve its 2030 goals without urgent action during the next 10 years to address the alarming rate of biodiversity loss, increasing impacts of climate change and the overconsumption of natural resources. The European Environment Agency’s (EEA) latest ‘State of the Environment’ report just published states that Europe faces environmental challenges of unprecedented scale and urgency. The report says, however, there is reason for hope, 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 European Green Deal. The CMCC Foundation contributed to the report in the framework of the ETC/CCA activities.

Source: EEA press release

While European environment and climate policies have helped to improve the environment over recent decades, Europe is not making enough progress and the outlook for the environment in the coming decade is not positive, according to the European environment – state and outlook 2020 (SOER 2020) report.

The European environment – state and outlook 2020 is published by the EEA every five years and is the most comprehensive environmental assessment ever undertaken on Europe. It offers solid, science-based insights on how we must respond to the huge and complex challenges we face, such as climate change, biodiversity loss and air and water pollution.

SOER 2020 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.

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 current range of European policy actions provide an essential foundation for future progress but they are not enough. Europe needs to do things better, it needs to address certain challenges differently, and it needs to rethink its investments. Achieving Europe’s goals will require better implementation and improved coordination between current policies. It will also need 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.

The report also stresses the importance of how governments can enable a transition to sustainability and the need to address things differently. For example, Europe should 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.

Lastly, achieving such change will require investing in a sustainable future and stopping using public funds to subsidize environmentally damaging activities. Europe will gain immensely from such a change in investment priorities because of the economic and social opportunities that it can create. At the same time, it will be crucial to listen to public concerns and ensure widespread support for such a shift a socially fair transition.

SOER 2020 has been prepared in close collaboration with the EEA’s European Environment Information and Observation Network (Eionet). The report draws on the Eionet’s vast expertise of leading experts and scientists in the environmental field, across the EEA’s 33 member countries and six cooperating countries.

The work of the European Topic Centre on Climate Change impacts, vulnerability and Adaptation (ETC/CCA), a consortium of 15 European institutions contracted by the EEA and lead by the CMCC Foundation, feeds into the cycle of these large assessments every 5 years. Silvia Medri, CMCC senior scientific manager at CSP – Climate Simulation and Prediction Division, is the current coordinator of the ETC/CCA.

In the last 5 years, the ETC/CCA contributed to a range of EEA thematic and assessment reports (e.g. impacts and vulnerability; adaptation and disaster risk reduction; sectoral assessments on agriculture, energy, urban and social aspects of adaptation; monitoring and evaluation of adaptation at the national level) that provided analytical contributions to the SOER2020 chapter 7 “Climate change”, and also chapter 17 “Responding to societal challenges”.

Read more:

Read and download the integral version of “European environment – state and outlook 2020 (SOER 2020)” report.

The executive summary in 26 languages. Read and download the English version here.

SOER at a glance.

The press release (in English).

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