The European environment – state and outlook 2020 is published by the EEA every five years as mandated in its regulation. SOER 2020 is the 6th SOER published by the EEA since 1995. 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.

The outlook is dark, but not necessarily pessimistic as we still have a chance to intervene.

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 states that Europe faces environmental challenges of unprecedented scale and urgency.

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director

Why to read this report

There are many reasons to read the report. After all, it is about our future. But there are specific pieces of the content to look for. First of all, the report embedes the theory of “Planetary Boundaries”. Consequently the report is not only about GHG/CO2 emissions, but it looks at sustainability more holistically. This is explained in greater details under “systemic challenges”.

Furthermore, it describes 7 specific approaches to address the important and urgent challenge.

Systemic challenges

The persistence of major environmental challenges can be explained by a variety of related factors. First, environmental pressures remain substantial despite progress in reducing them.  This implies a need to go beyond incremental efficiency improvements and to strengthen the implementation of environmental policies to achieve their full benefits. The complexity of environmental systems can also mean that there is a considerable time lag between reducing pressures and seeing improvements in natural capital, and human health and well-being.

Perhaps the most important factor underlying Europe’s persistent environmental and sustainability challenges is that they are inextricably linked to economic activities and lifestyles, in particular the societal systems that provide Europeans with necessities such as food, energy and mobility.

SOER 2020

Where does Europe go from here?

Achieving the EU’s 2050 sustainability vision is still possible, but it will require a shift in the character and ambition of actions. That means both strengthening established policy tools and building on them with innovative new approaches to governance.

  1. Strengthening policy implementation, integration and coherence: Full implementation of existing policies would take Europe a long way to achieving its environmental goals up to 2030.
  2. Developing more systemic, long-term policy frameworks and binding targets: The coverage of long-term policy frameworks needs to be extended to other important systems and issues, starting with the food system, chemicals and land use.
  3. Leading international action towards sustainability: Europe cannot achieve its sustainability goals in isolation. The EU has significant diplomatic and economic influence, which it can use to promote the adoption of ambitious agreements in areas such as biodiversity and resource use.
  4. Fostering innovation throughout society: Changing trajectory will depend critically on the emergence and spread of diverse forms of innovation that can trigger new ways of thinking and living.
  5. Scaling up investments and reorienting finance: Although achieving sustainability transitions will require major investments, Europeans stand to gain hugely – both because of avoided harms to nature and society, and because of the economic and social opportunities that they create.
  6. Managing risks and ensuring a socially fair transition: Successful governance of sustainability transitions will require that societies acknowledge potential risks, opportunities and trade-offs, and devise ways to navigate them. Policies have an essential role in achieving ‘just transitions’.
  7. Linking knowledge with action: Achieving sustainability transitions will require diverse new knowledge, drawing on multiple disciplines and types of knowledge production. This includes evidence about the systems driving environmental pressures, pathways to sustainability, promising initiatives and barriers to change.

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