Presented to delegates in Belgrade during the sixth ministerial conference of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) 'Environment for Europe' process, the EEA's fourth assessment report provides an overview of the environmental progress made by the pan-European region - stretching from Western Europe across the Balkans and Eastern Europe to Central Asia - over the last five to seven years.
The report points to the environmental impact of agriculture, transport, energy and other economic activities, adding that "consumption and production also place an increasing demand on natural resources, putting our environment at further risk", the EEA said in a press statement.
- Deadly air
Among the most alarming findings in the report is the observation that air pollution likely reduces the life expectancy of Western and Central Europeans by almost one year. In addition, heightened economic activity in the EU's wider neighbourhood, including Central Asia and the Caucasus region, has led to a 10% increase in air pollution since 2000, the EEA said.
"Air pollution by fine particles represents the highest risk to public health in all regions, higher than that of other air pollutants. The estimated annual loss of life is significantly greater than that due to car accidents", according to the EEA. Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland and Hungary feature among EU countries cited for particularly poor air quality levels.
EU legislators are currently debating air quality standards, with Council and Parliament expected to clash on the issue of fine particle limits (EurActiv 10/10/07).
- Thirst for clean water
Access to safe drinking water is a problem in many parts of the region, especially in rural areas. "More than 100 million people in the pan-European region still do not have access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation", the report says. Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of droughts, the EEA warns.
EU member states recently debated the issue (EurActiv 31/08/07), and the Commission proposed higher water prices as part of a July communication on water scarcity and drought, following an earlier Green Paper on adaptation to climate change.
- Departing species
Biodiversity loss is cited as a major concern in the report. "700 European species are currently under threat", according to the EEA, and "the general biodiversity trend on agricultural land is negative despite agricultural policies being increasingly geared towards biodiversity conservation", it said.
- Troubled waters
The EEA points to a wide-ranging set of problems faced by Europe's oceans, inland waters and coastal environments. They include over-fishing, eutrophication (particularly from agricultural run-offs), pollution, oil spills and regular discharges from vessels, population densities and ecosystem collapses.
Climate change is expected to exacerbate all of these problems by causing "large scale alterations in sea temperature, sea level, sea-ice cover, currents and the chemical properties of the seas", the report says.
In addition to recommending an integrated, "eco-system based" approach rather than a number of fragmented policies, the EEA recommends that "adaptation policies should include measures to reduce non-climatic impacts in order to increase the resilience of marine ecosystems and the coastal zone to climate change".
The Commission appears to have taken this advice into consideration as part of its new integrated maritime policy, announced on 10 October (EurActiv 11/10/07).
But an earlier Commission proposal for a Marine Strategy Directive, considered to be the environmental pillar of the maritime policy, received poor marks from environmental groups, particularly after the draft text was watered down in the Council (EurActiv 19/12/06).
- More communication needed
Better implementation of environmental policies and increased information flows are presented as key recommendations. "A shared environmental information system is also urgently required to deal with a prevailing lack of reliable, accessible and comparable environmental information across the region", the organisation said.