Complete green shift needed, says EU agency

 

EUROPE NEEDS to make “a complete shift to a resource-efficient green economy” in order to boost prosperity and social cohesion in the context of a healthy environment, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA).

In its fourth assessment of Europe’s environment, released yesterday, the agency admits there are “no quick fixes”, but said regulators, business and citizens need to work together to achieve the transformation required.

“Global demands for natural resources to feed, clothe, house and transport people are accelerating,” it says. “These mounting demands on natural capital are exerting increased pressure on ecosystems, economies and social cohesion in Europe and elsewhere.”

Dr Mary Kelly, director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said it supported the EEA’s findings that the transition to a “green economy” would bring substantial benefits for the environment, the economy and society. “It would give us an opportunity to ensure that economic growth, when it returns, is sustainable. This is an important consideration, particularly in these difficult economic times,” she said, adding that the Wexford-based EPA had contributed to the report.

The EEA’s “state and outlook” report, published every five years, notes the EU has cut its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent since 1990, and now stands very close to its stated target of cutting emissions by 20 per cent by 2020.

The report concedes that not all trends are positive. For example, throughout the 27 EU member states, emissions from transport rose by 24 per cent between 1990 and 2008 – largely through the growth in car use and truck traffic.

Road and air freight recorded the largest increases (43 per cent and 35 per cent, respectively, between 1997 and 2007), while rail and inland waterways declined. Air travel within the EU was the fastest growth area, rising 48 per cent over the same period.

A graph in the report shows Ireland had the second highest per capita EU greenhouse gas emissions in 2008, outstripped only by Luxembourg. In both cases, the figures are inflated – in Ireland’s case by agriculture and in Luxembourg by external factors.

Ireland was followed by Estonia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Cyprus, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Germany. The countries with the lowest per capita emissions were Sweden, Malta, Lithuania, Hungary, Portugal, France, Spain, Slovakia, Italy, Bulgaria and the UK.

Even if Europe meets all its emissions reduction targets and world leaders agree on “bold measures” during the UN climate talks in Cancún, Mexico, the EEA report warns that Europe “will still need to adapt to ongoing and expected climate change impacts”. The costs of adaption “may amount to billions of euro per year in the medium and long term”, it says. Timely adaptation measures “may reduce potential damages very significantly and pay off many times, compared to inaction”.

Dealing with biodiversity, the report admits that intensification of land use, loss of habitats and overfishing “prevented the EU from meeting its target of halting biodiversity loss by 2010” – even though protected habitats cover 18 per cent of its total land area.

It states: “Food, energy and water security are key drivers of land use, as often conflicting demands increase. Accounting and pricing that takes full account of resource use impacts are essential for steering business and consumers towards enhanced resource efficiency.”

It also cautions that policy alone cannot halt or reverse environmental trends. “We need to increase the number of citizens committed to reducing their impact on the environment by involving them in collecting data and through social media,” it says.

The EEA’s report can be accessed online at www.eea.europa.eu/soer