Europe’s environment – good news and bad

Here’s a striking thought: in many parts of Europe, the local environment is arguably in as good a state today as it has been since the start of industrialisation.

This direct quotation leaps out of the tome produced by the European Environment Agency to assess the progress of policy from the 1970s stretching forward to 2050, when the EU aspires to be living well within the limits of the planet.

Environmentalists are often gloomy, so it is heartening to see applause for reduced pollution, better waste management, cuts in greenhouse gases and smarter use of technology and materials.

The report says the environmental goods and services industry (created mostly by EU policy) has been one of the few highlights in Europes business – growing 50% between 2000 and 2011.

But enough of all that good news. Europe is still struggling to protect its land. Road-building, industry and urban sprawl are encroaching. From 1990-2006, 0.81% of the production potential on arable land in the EU was lost. That number looks small – until you project it 50 years into a hypothetical future.

What is more, despite reductions in pesticide and nitrogen pollution, run-off washed from farmers fields is still pushing nitrogen beyond critical levels in many areas – particularly in lowland Western Europe.

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