EEA: ‘we’ve got 10 years to turn the tide in climate change’
Europe has to become far greener within the next ten years to avoid the increasingly damaging effects of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. That is the conclusion of the most extensive analysis of the European environment ever. The European Union hardly meets its goals.
According to the study the Flemish newspaper De Morgen could have a look at, Europe has to cope with some unprecedented environmental challenges. “The rapid deterioration of our biodiversity is a catastrophy. We’ve got ten years to turn the tide.”
Next week, Frans Timmermans, ‘super commissionary’ of the European Commission, will introduce the Green Deal. It will be the first climate law that has to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent in the world, where pollution has disappeared and food is produced sustainably.
Fortunately, the most severe environmental policy in the world has led to some successes. Water and air are cleaner and CO2 emissions went down 22% compared to 1990. We recycle more than half of our waste, and the energy consumption from renewable energy has doubled since 2005.
Still, the situation looks bad. Europe only meets six of its 35 environmental goals. One of the difficulties is that the demand for energy is rising again since 2014. Even greenhouse gases caused by transport have increased by 30% compared to 1990 due to the growing number of cars and the fact that fossil fuels still prevail.
“Also, the popularity of SUVs partly annuls the positive evolution of engine technology,” researchers say. In the period between 1990 and 2016, they were responsible for an increase of emissions instead of a decrease. In the same period, the part of greenhouse gases caused by transport in the EU went up from 15 to 24%.
We’re producing increasingly more waste and the positive evolution when it comes to air pollution is slowing down. But the loss of biodiversity is sounding the greatest alarm. Only 16% of all protected habitats and species are in “an ecologically healthy state”. The number of birds and butterflies, which are a perfect indicator of nature’s state, has decreased significantly since 1990.
Also, for us, humans, chemical substances in the environment are a tenacious problem. “Research shows that there are far more harmful substances in the air than expected, but we don’t know the exact effects of most of those substances yet,” explains Hans Bruyninckx, director of the European Environmental Agency (EEA) (Europees Milieu Agentschap, EMA).
Another underestimated problem that seems to grow worse by 2030 is noise. At least 20% of all Europeans lives in an environment with dangerously high noise levels, mainly caused by road traffic. In the long term, it leads to 48.000 people more with a heart disease per year and 12.000 premature deaths.
Europeans also suffer from climate change, with more and more frequent heatwaves, for instance.
Sealife is threatened as well. Although the number of protected areas has doubled between 2012 and 2016, and overfishing has stopped, the EU doesn’t meet its target for 2020: 93,9% of commercial fish stocks in the Mediterranean Sea are still overfished. And in the meantime, an additional 8 million tons of plastic cause the warming up and acidification of the sea.
“Europe will only be able to bend this harmful trend when it stops all damaging systems and introduces sustainable alternatives rapidly,” says Bruyninckx. “The positive thing is that there is public support for it now.”
The Green Deal has to make Europe the first climate-neutral and pollution-free continent in the world. “It will give politicians a unique chance to slow down the destruction of our natural capital. Their successors won’t have that chance anymore.”