EU Behind in Meeting Key Environmental Targets

The European Union is struggling to satisfy many of its major environmental goals. In its annual EU Environment-related Indicators Assessment, released last week, the Environment Directorate-General acknowledged that while the region has made some progress, it has fallen behind in meeting a variety of critical environmental targets.

The European Environment Agency uses 37 core indicators to measure progress in achieving EU-wide goals in the areas of agriculture, climate change, pollution, biodiversity, and resource use. The 2008 indicators “reveal that in most areas there has been little improvement, with only one indicator showing positive progress towards reaching EU targets,” the assessment says.

Goals showing lagging performance include reducing freight transportation, expanding electricity generation from renewable energy sources, cutting particulate matter pollution in urban areas, and halting biodiversity loss and unsustainable fishing.

Poor environmental indicators within new member states, mostly in Eastern Europe, are a reason for many of the failing grades. Yet much of the progress within the EU is found within these same countries. For instance, in 2005 the EU’s original 15 countries produced 14 percent of their electricity from renewable sources—showing no growth from the previous year—whereas usage within new member states, lead by Romania, grew from 9.1 percent to 10.7 percent over the same period.

“Air emissions” is the lone indicator ranked with a good performance. The EU is projected to meet its 2010 target of reducing emissions of the acid rain-causing gases nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide, in accordance with the National Emissions Ceilings Directive. Individual member states are likely to exceed the ceiling, the EU says.

While the EU hands itself a poor performance rating, the region’s environmental record is still considered progressive when compared to other industrialized nations, especially the United States. The EU acknowledges challenges in meeting its goal of reducing regional greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent over 1990 levels by 2020. Yet in 2005, EU emissions dropped 0.8 percent, an 11 percent decline over 1990 levels. The United States, in contrast, released some 16 percent more emissions in 2005 than in 1990.

Europe’s high environmental standards reflect a growing environmental movement among the region’s citizens. A 2007 survey found that 87 percent of respondents in EU nations had either some or very much concern for climate change.

The European Union is struggling to satisfy many of its major environmental goals.