Environmental issues in the European Union

Environmental issue in the European Union include the environmental issues identified by the European Union as well as its constituent states. The European Union has several federal bodies which create policy and practice across the constituent states.


Air pollution

A report from the European Environment Agency shows that road transport remains Europe's single largest air polluter.[1]

National Emission Ceilings (NEC) for certain atmospheric pollutants are regulated by NECD Directive 2001/81/EC (NECD).[2] As part of the preparatory work associated with the revision of the NECD, the European Commission is assisted by the NECPI working group (National Emission Ceilings – Policy Instruments).[3]

Directive 2008/50/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2008 on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe (the new Air Quality Directive) has entered into force on 11 June 2008.[4]

Individual citizens can force their local councils to tackle air pollution, following an important ruling in July 2009 from the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The EU's court was asked to judge the case of a resident of Munich, Dieter Janecek, who said that under the 1996 EU Air Quality Directive (Council Directive 96/62/EC of 27 September 1996 on ambient air quality assessment and management [5]) the Munich authorities were obliged to take action to stop pollution exceeding specified targets. Janecek then took his case to the ECJ, whose judges said European citizens are entitled to demand air quality action plans from local authorities in situations where there is a risk that EU limits will be overshot.[1]


Since the late 1970s, the European Union's (EU) policy has been to develop and drive appropriate measures to improve air quality throughout the EU. The control of emissions from mobile sources, improving fuel quality and promoting and integrating environmental protection requirements into the transport and energy sector are part of these aims.

The main advising agency of the EU is the European Environment Agency (EEA). It came into force in late 1993, after the decision to locate the EEA in Copenhagen. Work started in earnest in 1994. The EEA's mandate is to help the community and member countries make informed decisions about improving the environment and integrating environmental considerations into economic policies, and to coordinate the European environment information and observation network (Eionet). Eionet is a partnership network across member states involving approximately 1000 experts and more than 350 national institutions. The network supports the collection and organisation of data and the development and dissemination of information concerning Europe's environment.

Climate change

Increase of average yearly temperature in selected cities in Europe (1900–2017)[6]

Climate change in Europe has resulted in an increase in temperature of 1 °C in Europe in the last hundred years. According to international climate experts, global temperature rise should not exceed 2 °C to prevent the most dangerous consequences of climate change.[7] Emission reduction means development and implementation of new energy technology solutions. Some people consider that the technology revolution has already started in Europe, since the markets for renewable technology have annually grown.[8]

The European Union commissioner of climate action is Frans Timmermans since 1 December 2019.[9]

Protected areas

Protected areas of the European Union are areas which need and/or receive special protection because of their environmental, cultural or historical value to the member states of the European Union.


The European Union (EU) is considered by some to have the most extensive environmental laws of any international organisation.[10] Its environmental policy is significantly intertwined with other international and national environmental policies. The environmental legislation of the European Union also has significant effects on those of its member states. The European Union's environmental legislation addresses issues such as acid rain, the thinning of the ozone layer, air quality, noise pollution, waste, water pollution and sustainable energy. The Institute for European Environmental Policy estimates the body of EU environmental law amounts to well over 500 Directives, Regulations and Decisions.

Renewable energy

Share of renewable energies in gross final energy consumption in selected European countries (2019)

Renewable energy plays an important and growing role in the energy system of the European Union. The share of energy from renewable sources in gross final consumption of energy was 18% in 2018. This is double the share in 2004 with 8.5%.[11] The Europe 2020 strategy includes a target of reaching 20% of gross final energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020, and at least 32% by 2030.[11] These figures are based on energy use in all its forms across all three main sectors, the heating and cooling sector, the electricity sector and the transport sector.

The share of renewable sources in gross final consumption of energy has grown in all member states since 2004. The leading state was Sweden with over half (54.6%) of its energy provided by renewable sources in 2018 in terms of gross final energy consumption, followed by Finland (41.2%), Latvia (40.3%), Denmark (36.1%) and Austria (33.4%).[11] The lowest proportion of renewables in 2018 was recorded in the Netherlands (7.4%), Malta (8.0%), Luxembourg (9.1%) and Belgium (9.4%).[11]

The renewable energy directive enacted in 2009 lays out a framework for individual member states to share the overall EU-wide 20% renewable energy target for 2020.[12] Promoting the use of renewable energy sources is important both to the reduction of the EU's energy dependence and in meeting targets to combat global warming. The directive sets targets for each individual member state taking into account the different starting points and potentials.[12] Targets for renewable energy use by 2020 among different member states varies from 10% to 49%.[12] As of year end 2018, 12 EU member states had already met their national 2020 targets, two years ahead of schedule.[11]

European Green Deal

The European Green Deal is a set of policy initiatives by the European Commission with the overarching aim of making Europe climate neutral in 2050.[14][15] An impact assessed plan will also be presented to increase the EU's greenhouse gas emission reductions target for 2030 to at least 50% and towards 55% compared with 1990 levels.

In the context of the Paris Agreement, and therefore using today's emissions as baseline, since 1990 EU emissions already dropped by 25% at 2019,[16] a 55% reduction target using 1990 as baseline represents in 2019 terms a 40% reduction target, which can be calculated using this equation:

According to the Emissions Gap Report 2020 by the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), meeting the Paris Agreement's 1.5° temperature increase target (with 66% probability) requires GtCO2e 34/59 = 57% emissions reduction globally from 2019 levels by the year 2030, therefore well above the 40% target of the European Green Deal.[17]

This 57% emission reduction target at 2030 represents average global reductions, while advanced economies are expected to contribute more.[18]


Pesticide spraying in spring

A pesticide, also called Plant Protection Product (PPP), which is a term used in regulatory documents, consists of several different components. The active ingredient in a pesticide is called “active substance” and these active substances either consist of chemicals or micro-organisms. The aims of these active substances are to specifically take action against organisms that are harmful to plants (Art. 2(2), Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009[19]). In other words, active substances are the active components against pests and plant diseases.

In the Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009,[19] a pesticide is defined based on how it is used. Thus, pesticides have to fulfill certain criteria in order to be called pesticides. Among others, the criteria include that they either protect plants against harmful organisms - by killing or in other ways preventing the organism from performing harm, that they enhance the natural ability of plants to defend themselves against these harmful organisms, or that they kill off competing plants such as weeds.

Within the European Union a 2-tiered approach is used for the approval and authorisation of pesticides. Firstly, before an actual pesticide can be developed and put on the European market, the active substance of the pesticide needs to be approved for the European Union. Only after approval of an active substance, a procedure of approval of the Plant Protection Product (PPP) can begin in the individual Member States. In case of approval, there is a monitoring programme to make sure the pesticide residues in food are below the limits set by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The use of PPPs (i.e. pesticides) in the European Union (EU) is regulated by the Regulation No 1107/2009[19] on Plant Protection Products in cooperation with other EU Regulations and Directives (e.g. the regulation on maximum residue levels in food (MRL); Regulation (EC) No 396/2005,[20] and the Directive on sustainable use of pesticides; Directive 2009/128/EC).[21] These regulatory documents are set to ensure safe use of pesticides in the EU regarding human health and environmental sustainability. The responsible authorities within the EU working with pesticide regulation are the European Commission, EFSA, European Chemical Agency (ECHA); working in cooperation with the EU Member States. Additionally, important stakeholders are the chemical producing companies, which develop PPPs and active substances that are to be evaluated by the regulatory authorities mentioned above.

Conservative Agriculture Spokesman Anthea McIntyre MEP and colleague Daniel Dalton MEP [22] were appointed to the European Parliament's special committee on pesticides on the 16th of March 2018. Sitting for nine months, the committee will examine the scientific evaluation of glyphosate, the world's most commonly used weed killer which was relicensed for five years by the EU in December after months of uncertainty. They will also consider wider issues around the authorisation of pesticides.

Invasive species

Procambarus fallax f. virginalis, caught from an established population in southwestern Germany.

In 2016, following the EU Regulation 1143/2014[23] on Invasive Alien Species, the European Commission published a first list of 37 IAS of Union concern.[24] The list was first updated in 2017[25] and comprised 49 species. Since the second update in 2019,[26] 66 species are listed as IAS of EU concern.

The species on the list are subject to restrictions on keeping, importing, selling, breeding and growing. Member States of the European Union must take measures to stop their spread, implement monitoring and preferably eradicate these species. Even if they are already widespread in the country they are expected to manage the species to avoid further spread.[27]

Government organizations


European Environment Agency Building in Copenhagen in winter
The European Environment Agency (EEA) is the agency of the European Union (EU) which provides independent information on the environment.

Climate Programme

The European Climate Change Programme (ECCP) was launched in June 2000 by the European Union's European Commission, with the purpose of avoiding dangerous climate change.

The goal of the ECCP is to identify, develop and implement all the necessary elements of an EU strategy to implement the Kyoto Protocol. All EU countries' ratifications of the Kyoto Protocol were deposited simultaneously on 31 May 2002. The ECCP involved all the relevant stakeholders working together, including representatives from Commission's different departments, the member states, industry and environmental groups.[28]

The European Union Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS) is perhaps the most significant contribution of the ECCP, and the EU ETS is the largest greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme in the world.

In 1996 the EU adopted a target of a maximum 2 °C rise in global mean temperature, compared to pre-industrial levels. Since then, European Leaders have reaffirmed this goal several times.[29][30][31] Due to only minor efforts in global Climate change mitigation it is highly likely that the world will not be able to reach this particular target. The EU might then be forced to accept a less ambitious target or to change its climate policy paradigm.[32]

Directorate General

The Directorate-General for Environment (DG ENV) is a Directorate-General of the European Commission, responsible for the European Union policy area of the environment.

In February 2010, departments relating to climate change were split off from the environment, industry and external relations DGs to form the DG Climate Action.[33]

By state

See also


  1. http://correu.cs.san.gva.es/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.transportenvironment.org/Publications/prep_hand_out/lid:516%5B%5D
  2. Directive 2001/81/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2001 on national emission ceilings for certain atmospheric pollutants
  3. "Terms of Reference, Working Group on the Revision of National Emissions Ceilings and Policy Instruments" (PDF). (24.4 KiB)
  4. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/JOHtml.do?uri=OJ:L:2008:152:SOM:EN:HTML
  5. OJ L 296, 21.11.1996, p. 55. Directive as amended by Regulation (EC) No 1882/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council (OJ L 284, 31.10.2003, p. 1); Directives 96/62/EC, 1999/30/EC, 2000/69/EC and 2002/3/EC shall be repealed as from 11 June 2010
  6. Kayser-Bril, Nicolas (24 September 2018). "Europe is getting warmer, and it's not looking like it's going to cool down anytime soon". EDJNet. Retrieved 25 September 2018.
  7. Carter, J.G. 2011, "Climate change adaptation in European cities", Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 193-198
  8. Ilmastonmuutos otettiin yhä vakavammin[permanent dead link]; Yle 30.12.2008 (in Finnish)
  9. Abnett, Kate (2020-04-21). "EU climate chief sees green strings for car scrappage schemes". Reuters. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  10. Jordan, A.J. and C. Adelle (ed.) (2012) Environmental Policy in the European Union: Contexts, Actors and Policy Dynamics (3e). Earthscan: London and Sterling, VA.
  11. Share of renewables in energy consumption in the EU reached 18% in 2018. Eurostat News Release, 23 January 2020.
  12. "European Union Renewable Energy Directive, 2009" (PDF).
  13. Eurostat Share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption, as of May 2021
  14. Tamma, Paola; Schaart, Eline; Gurzu, Anca (2019-12-11). "Europe's Green Deal plan unveiled". POLITICO. Retrieved 2019-12-29.
  15. Simon, Frédéric (2019-12-11). "EU Commission unveils 'European Green Deal': The key points". www.euractiv.com. Retrieved 2019-12-29.
  16. "Press corner". European Commission - European Commission. Retrieved 2021-01-10.
  17. https://wedocs.unep.org/xmlui/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/34426/EGR20.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
  18. Heil, Mark T.; Wodon, Quentin T. (1997). "Inequality in CO₂ Emissions Between Poor and Rich Countries". The Journal of Environment & Development. 6 (4): 426–452. ISSN 1070-4965.
  19. "Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 October 2009 concerning the placing of plant protection products on the market and repealing Council Directives 79/117/EEC and 91/414/EEC". Regulation No. 1107/2009 of 24 November 2009. Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  20. "Regulation (EC) No 396/2005 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 February 2005 on maximum residue levels of pesticides in or on food and feed of plant and animal origin and amending Council Directive 91/414/EEC.". Regulation No. 396/2005 of 16 March 2005. Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  21. "Directive 2009/128/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 October 2009 establishing a framework for Community action to achieve the sustainable use of pesticides". Directive No. 2009/128/EC of 21 October 2009. Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  22. "Two Conservative MEPs appointed to European Parliament's new pesticides committee | Conservative MEPs".
  23. Regulation (EU) No 1143/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 October 2014 on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species. OJ L 317, 4.11.2014: 35–55. ELI: http://data.europa.eu/eli/reg/2014/1143/oj
  24. Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2016/1141 of 13 July 2016 adopting a list of invasive alien species of Union concern pursuant to Regulation (EU) No 1143/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council. C/2016/4295. OJ L 189, 14.7.2016: 4–8. ELI: http://data.europa.eu/eli/reg_impl/2016/1141/oj
  25. Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/1263 of 12 July 2017 updating the list of invasive alien species of Union concern established by Implementing Regulation (EU) 2016/1141 pursuant to Regulation (EU) No 1143/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council. C/2017/4755. OJ L 182, 13.7.2017: 37–39. ELI: http://data.europa.eu/eli/reg_impl/2017/1263/oj
  26. Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/1262 of 25 July 2019 amending Implementing Regulation (EU) 2016/1141 to update the list of invasive alien species of Union concern. C/2019/5360. OJ L 199, 26.7.2019: 1–4. ELI: http://data.europa.eu/eli/reg_impl/2019/1262/oj
  27. "List of Invasive Alien Species of Union concern - Environment - European Commission". ec.europa.eu. Archived from the original on 2019-08-19. Retrieved 2020-01-28.
  28. inadim. "European Climate Change Programme – EUbusiness.com - EU news, business and politics". eubusiness.com. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
  29. "Winning the Battle Against Global Climate Change" (Press release). European Union. 9 February 2005. Retrieved 19 January 2013.
  30. R.S.J. Tol (2007), Europe's long-term climate target: A critical evaluation, Energy Policy, 35 (1), 424–432
  31. Oliver Geden (2013), Modifying the 2°C Target. Climate Policy Objectives in the Contested Terrain of Scientific Policy Advice, Political Preferences, and Rising Emissions, SWP Research Paper 5
  32. Oliver Geden (2012), The End of Climate Policy as We Knew it, SWP Research Paper 2012/RP01
  33. "Commission creates two new Directorates-General for Energy and Climate Action". European Commission. 17 February 2010. Retrieved 12 December 2014.