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 "The European environment – state and outlook 2020": a call for a change of direction and enhanced actions

On the 4th of December 2019 the European Environment Agency published the latest SOER report on the state of environment: ‘’The European environment – state and outlook 2020” (SOER 2020). “We have to do more, we have to act differently” – it is, in a nutshell, the main message of the SOER 2020. It is also a kind of prescription for dealing with urgent environmental challenges and also a way to gain a global development that balances societal, economic and environmental aspects.


The need for urgent systemic solutions

The European Environment Agency emphasizes that due to the pace and character of changes occurring in the environment in relation with societal, economic and technological processes, we are at a critical moment. Our planet is getting more and more populated, we are achieving better economic results but at the same time we use environmental resources more intensively. The EEA states that probably the next decade will offer us the last possibility to take proper action to prevent irreversible changes in environment, climate, threatening a well-being on our planet.

The European political and legal achievements in the area of protection of the environment and climate, taken out of the environment as a separate theme, are significant. The wide range of the European Union’s actions have resulted in some developments, but they are still insufficient. Europe is confronted by persistent problems in areas such as biodiversity loss, resources use, climate change impacts and environmental risk to health and well-being. Additionally, the challenges for the state of environment become more serious due to the so-called global megatrends, including for example demographic change. At the same time rapid technological change brings new risks and uncertainties.


The scope and structure of the report

In the above mentioned report “The European environment – state and outlook 2020” the EEA presents an in-depth analysis of the state of environment, its changes, current achievements, areas needing urgent actions and prospects. The report is an integrated assessment of the state of the environment in relation with complex driving forces and implications of environmental changes. The report consists of 4 parts. In Part One the EEA provides the global context that shapes Europe’s development, in Part Two – European environmental and sectoral trends and outlooks. Part Three is dedicated to the factors constraining or enabling transformative changes. The conclusions are included in Part Four which gives reflections on how Europe can shift its trajectory and achieve a sustainable future. This just published integrated assessment is subtitled “Knowledge for transition to a sustainable Europe”. Instead of the Synthesis, published so far in the SOER package at one time, the EEA is going to publish, in one year from now, a separate report with a so far working title “A Knowledge to Action“. It will be based on the results of various debates and dialogues, held with a range of stakeholders at different levels, inspired by the SOER 2020 conclusions.


Chances to meet the targets

The EEA says that while most of the 2020 targets will not be achieved, there is still a chance to meet the longer-term goals and objectives for 2030 and 2050. Protecting and conserving European biodiversity and nature remains the biggest area of discouraging progress. Of the 13 specific policy objectives set for 2020 in this area, only two are likely to be met. On the other hand Europe has made important gains in resource efficiency and the circular economy. But the recent trends highlight slowing down of progress in areas such as reducing greenhouse emissions, industrial emissions, waste production, improving energy efficiency and the share of renewable energy. Climate change, air and noise pollution impacts as well as risks from using dangerous chemicals are cause for concern for human health.

According to the EEA we are still able to achieve the vision set out in the Seventh Environment Action Programme (7th EAP), which envisages that by 2050 “we live well, within the planet’s ecological limits.” However it is uncertain and needs profound changes in the character of actions and level of ambitions. The EEA emphasizes that we have to strengthen the tools for the implementation of environmental policies as well as be innovative in managing environmental challenges. Europe needs to find the right way for transformative changes of main systems including energy, food and mobility systems. The EEA points out that not only technological aspects and production processes but also consumption patterns and lifestyles need reconsideration. Achieving it requires urgent, consistent and united actions encompassing a broad range of political areas and engaging various representatives of the society.

The forth part of SOER 2020 points out some several substantial areas where action is needed to enable transitions. They are the following:

a) strengthening policy implementation, integration and coherence;

b) developing more systemic, long-term policy frameworks and binding targets;

c) leading international action towards sustainability;

d) fostering innovation throughout society;

e) scaling up investments and reorienting finance;

f) managing risks and ensuring a social fair transition;

g) linking knowledge with action.


What is SOER?

The SOER – state of environment report – is a flagship product of the European Environment Agency. Under the regulation establishing the EEA and the European Environment Information and Observation Network (EIONET) and adopted in 1990, the EEA is obliged to publish a report on the environmental state, trends and outlooks every 5 years. SOE reports are comprehensive assessments of the state of environment, trends and prospects. The SOER 2020 is a sixth report of this type. Similarly to the previous reports the SOER 2020 was prepared in strong cooperation with EIONET – a partnership network of institutions and experts from 33 EEA member countries and 6 cooperating countries.


Involvement of Poland in SOER 2020

The Chief Inspectorate for Environmental Protection (CIEP) was involved in works on SOER 2020 due to the responsibility for the coordination of cooperation with the European Environment Agency within EIONET. This involvement included: giving opinions on work and implementation plan, on SOER 2020 prototype, on communications plan; providing additional data sets or the processes of collection of the additional data from other institutions, participation in the report consultations divided into a few stages as well as verification of translation of selected elements of the SOER 2020 package into Polish. Participation in the consultations encompassed analysis of and giving opinion on the content of the report, conducting consultations with many institutions at national level, preparing comments and transmitting them to the EEA via dedicated IT tools.


Available materials:

Full version of SOER 2020 – integrated assessment (only in English)

Press release (translations available)

SOER 2020 Summary (translations available)

Full SOER 2020 package


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