The European Environment Agency (EEA) published last Tuesday a report that shows the substantial efforts that have been made in the EU regarding the objective of “living well within the limits of the planet”. It also clearly states that substantial steps must be made in order to be able to reach the environmental goals by 2050, one of which is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95%.
The analysis of the report is directed towards the European Commission (EC) which is about to respond positively in 2015 through environmental packages on Circular Economy, EU Biodiversity Strategy, Ocean Governance and Air Quality.
In addition to the measures that must be implemented to meet the designated targets, it is of great importance that more attention is being paid in providing a “proper” and “greener” education and culture to the future generations which is the cornerstone in the solution of the world’s climate issues.
Europe’s environmental situation
Hans Bruyninckx, EEA’s Executive Director, said: “Our analysis shows that European policies have successfully tackled many environmental challenges over the years. But it also shows that we continue to harm the natural systems that sustain our prosperity. While living within planetary limits is an immense challenge, there are huge benefits in responding to it. Fully using Europe’s capacity to innovate could make us truly sustainable and put us at the frontier of science and technology, creating new industries and a healthier society.”
Through this statement, the EEA’s Executive Director provides evidence that the strategy which was set for 2020 is not yet accomplished and the next 5 years seem to be crucial. First of all, the green industry has expanded by more than 50% between 2000 and 2011, showing that is not affected by the recent 2008 financial crisis but on the contrary has gained power. Secondly, the EU has accomplished to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 19% (almost reach the 20% target) since 1990 while the economy has grown by 45%. Thirdly, the findings of this study reveal that the air quality has largely been improved due to the decrease of the air pollutants’ emissions.
However, there are areas in the environmental agenda that don’t show enhancement and for sure are not in line with the targets that have been set in the Europe 2020 Strategy. More specifically, the report points out the disappearance of the animals’ and plants’ habitats while Europe faces difficulties in governing the marine ecosystems.
EU must act now
European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella said: “I see the State of the Environment Report 2015 as the ‘starting line’ of my mandate. The report clearly shows that EU environmental policies are delivering benefits. Environmental policies are also delivering jobs. The rapid growth of the green economy even during the worst years of the recession bodes well for Europe’s competitiveness. We must stay ever vigilant to ensure that good policy, well implemented, means excellent environmental results both on land and at sea. Innovative investment to safeguard prosperity and quality of life are a priority. The long-term investment we make today can ensure that in 2050 we live well, and within the limits of the planet.”
The European Commission is determined to continue and expand the environmental policies in order to bring better results and thus meet the EEA’s targets. Now the main point for the EU is not whether it is going to reduce the gas emissions by 20% by 2020 (it is nearly there), but more so whether the percentage will be doubled by the end of 2030 and meet the final goal of 80-95% decrease of gas emissions in the next 35 years.
EU: a candidate with potentials
The 80-95% decrease of greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2050 sounds quite unrealistic now (if continues at the same rates) but even so Europe must try very hard to meet this target for the sake of its citizens. Of course, the fact that Europe has been the best “student” (among the rest of the world) in the fight against global warming and climate change and that is also providing financial aid (€7.3 billion over 2010-2012) to developing countries in order to tackle this long-lasting issue is rather promising.
We must not forget that the EU has long been a pioneer in the international negotiations on climate change and played a vital role in the development of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. Moreover, the EU has contributed the most in the new global climate agreement where more countries will probably participate and further reductions of gas emission will be applied in the future.
Education: a sector to invest on
One of the sectors that need more attention is no other than education and especially the part of environmental awareness of the EU citizens. The EU should invest more on the in-depth knowledge and culture of the environment and its issues, by helping its citizens understand the matter in full. We need environment more than the environment needs us in order to survive and “flourish” on this planet.
It is only with the true engagement of the European citizen that we can give a direct punch at climate change and its extended consequences on the ecosystem and thus our lives. And this is where the EU will be asked to tackle an issue that has often awfully failed in the past; to pass the “EU message” beyond the slim frontiers of the capital of Belgium, Brussels. Climate change is not a “Brussels-bubble” based issue but clearly a European one.
All in all, the big question on climate change is whether the EU has the inspired democratic tools to help its peoples embrace and actively participate in its “Green strategy”. The answer is to be given in the years to come.