The Future of EU Environmental Policy

Over the past 40 years the EU has set up a relatively comprehensive and dense body of environmental legislation which, although far from perfect, is certainly a success story. Times are changing and increasing complexity of inter-linkages between policies on climate change, biodiversity and natural resources, coupled with financial and political volatility mean EU policy is likely to move in a new direction in the coming decade. That is the suggestion made by the recent report produced by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) and commissioned by the All Party Parliamentary Environment Group (APPEG). Here are some of the key areas of EU environmental policy that the IEEP has identified as being high on the agenda over the next few years.

Climate Change and Energy

Despite being among some of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the world, EU member states are also among the most active in seeking to address the issue. The Kyoto Protocol commits the EU-15 to reducing average GHG emissions by 8 per cent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. In 2009 the EU implemented the 20-20-20 target, which aims to reduce GHG emission by 20 per cent, increase the share of renewable energy by 20 per cent and reduce energy consumption by 20 per cent, all by the year 2020. Progress towards these targets is mixed with the steady rise in the share of renewable energy sources in stark contrast to the energy saving estimates. A number of studies have demonstrated that more ambitious climate mitigation polices are needed in Europe which could modernise the EU economy and infrastructure, create jobs and enhance competitiveness in fast growing global markets for low-carbon goods and services.


Emissions from transport are a major source of the EU’s GHG emissions, in 2010 it accounted for more than a fifth of GHG emissions from the EU. Increasing demand has offset potential gains from improvements in the energy efficiency of new vehicles. Further impacts of transport include problems with poor air quality, noise and transport infrastructure also puts huge pressure on Europe’s ecosystems and biodiversity. Currently there is a major effort to promote the use of biofuels and accelerate the process of electrifying road vehicles, however, many challenges exist in ensuring that these alternative fuels and energy sources are sustainable and are in fact low carbon.


The EU environmental policies regarding water pollution have improved freshwater quality for many of its member states, including the UK. There are, however, growing problems in relation to water quantity, in particular in the south of Europe. EU water policy provides a comprehensive legislative framework that aims to address issues related to water quality as well as water demand and availability. 2012 will be an important year for EU water policy with the current “fitness-check” being undertaken by the Commission.


Despite the establishment of a European network of protected areas (Natura 2000) and wide ranging regulatory framework, biodiversity continues to decline. 2010 targets of halting biodiversity loss within the EU were not met, mainly due to continuing increases in key pressures such as intensification of agriculture and habitat fragmentation. Over the last few years there has been increasing recognition of the economic value of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the policy process. A new EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 was produced in 2011 which sets out six main targets relating to: full implementation of the birds and habitats Directives, maintaining and restoring ecosystems and their services, increasing the contribution of agriculture and forestry to maintaining and enhancing biodiversity, ensuring the sustainable use of fisheries resources, combating invasive alien species and helping to avert global biodiversity loss.