Natural resources and human well-being in a green economy - EEA environmental indicator report 2013


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This is a presentation of the European Environment Agency's 'Environmental indicator report 2013'. The report explores the implications of a transition to a green economy, focusing on the interaction of resource consumption, environmental trends and human well-being. The report aims to support implementation of the European Union’s 7th Environmental Action Programme (7th EAP), which sets the long-term objectives of environmental policymaking in the EU.

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Natural resources and human well-being in a green economy - EEA environmental indicator report 2013

  1. 1. Natural resources and human well-being in a green economy EEA environmental indicator report 2013
  2. 2. Meeting our future needs The EEA interprets a ‘green economy’ as one where policies and innovations enable society to use resources efficiently, enhancing human well-being in an inclusive manner, while maintaining the natural systems that sustain us. In the context of rapidly growing global environmental pressures, maintaining human well-being in coming decades will depend heavily on finding ways to meet resource needs at much lower environmental costs. The overarching goal of maximising the benefits that we derive from nature while preserving ecosystem resilience is central to the transition to an inclusive green economy.
  3. 3. Measuring well-being and environmental pressures Access and exposure to environment Resource needs for consumption Links between resources The ‘Environmental indicator report 2013’ contains thematic assessments of food, water, energy and housing systems to analyse the trends in demand and the supply mechanisms . The resulting environmental pressures are then interpreted in terms of human exposure and selected health and wellbeing impacts.
  4. 4. Main findings Despite efficiency gains in some areas, European demand for food, water, energy and housing exerts major pressures on the environment, with indirect effects on human health and well-being. Mitigating these closely related impacts will require integrated policy responses and better spatial planning.
  5. 5. Food systems and human well-being Food is a key determinant of human health and well-being, but it is also associated with major impacts on: • land cover • ecosystem dynamics • the distribution and abundance of habitats and species • soil quality • water quality • air quality. The demand for food and the way we secure it is a key issue in a green economy context.
  6. 6. Agricultural production in Europe EU production of cereals, 1961–2012 7 6 5 4 Area harvested (10 Area harvested (10 million hectares million hectares) ) Yield (tonnes/ Yield (tonnes/hectare) hectare) 3 2 Production (100 Production million tonnes) (100 million tonnes) 1 0 Source: FAO The EU-27 is largely self-sufficient for meat, dairy, cereals and beverages, while it is a big net importer of fodder. A decrease of farmland in the EU has been more than offset by a big increase in productivity, achieved by rationalisation of farming methods and increased chemical inputs (fertilisers and pesticides).
  7. 7. Environmental pressures related to the food system Percentage change in use of nitrogenous fertilisers, 2000-2011 200 150 100 50 0 -50 -100 Source: Eurostat Food provisioning triggers more than one third of consumption-related acidifying emissions and one sixth of greenhouse gas and ground ozone precursor emissions. Agriculture dominates the food system’s environmental impacts through the associated conversion of rural habitats, irrigation and drainage of land, and emissions of substances such as nitrogen oxide, methane and ammonia into the air, soil and water.
  8. 8. Well-being implications of the food system Proportion of overweight and obese adults in selected EU Member States by educational level, 2008 Women Men Low level Medium level Malta Czech Rep. Slovakia Estonia Romania Germany Latvia Turkey Bulgaria Hungary Poland France Belgium Austria Cyprus Spain Greece Slovenia Malta Romania France Germany Bulgaria 40 Belgium 10 Turkey 45 Spain 20 Czech Rep. 50 Estonia 30 Austria 55 Hungary 40 Cyprus 60 Slovenia 50 Poland 65 Latvia 60 Slovakia 70 Greece 70 High level Source: Eurostat, 2011 Human health is directly impacted by three aspects of food: nutritional value, chemical safety and microbiological safety. Malnutrition can manifest itself in undernourishment as well as obesity; affected by individual consumption patterns, food production and distribution mechanisms, and a person’s social and physical environment. The obesity crisis points at systemic challenges and potential co-benefits of consumption, lifestyle and environmental changes.
  9. 9. Water systems and human well-being Water is abstracted from groundwater and surface water (rivers and lakes) to provide drinking water and for economic activities, predominantly: • energy production (cooling water) • agriculture • industry. How and where water is used has consequences for ecosystem functioning and biodiversity, which are themselves vital for ensuring the sustainability of water supplies. Freshwater resources play a crucial role in the European economy. All economic sectors depend on water for their development.
  10. 10. Water use in Europe Water use for irrigation, industry, energy cooling and public water supply in the early 1990s and the period 1998 to 2007 Europeans appropriate around 13 % of all freshwater resources each year. The extent to which the water is returned to local water systems after use varies between the different sectors. Almost all water used as cooling water in energy production is returned to local water systems, but the consumption of water through crop growth and evaporation typically means that only about 30 % of the water abstracted for agriculture is returned.
  11. 11. Environmental pressures related to the water system Total ammonium concentrations in rivers between 1992 and 2010 in different geographical regions of Europe The direct and indirect pressures affecting water bodies from abstraction and use include the water quantity, the quality of the water body’s biological community and the presence of chemical substances in the water. EU and national legislation has led to improvements in the concentration levels of some water pollutants, such as ammonium. However, the ecological status of Europe’s water ecosystems is often poor and the presence of some pollutants remain a problem.
  12. 12. Well-being implications of the water system Inland bathing water quality in the European Union, 1990-2011 The quantitative, ecological and chemical status of European water bodies impact human health by undermining the ability of ecosystems to provide essential services that underpin human well-being, and also through drinking and/or bathing water quality. In 2010, 7 EU Member States reported 14 waterborne disease outbreaks involving 17 733 human cases. Following many years of investment in the sewage system and improvements in wastewater treatment, bathing waters have become much cleaner.
  13. 13. Energy systems and human well-being Although fundamental to modern lifestyles and living standards, energy production can also cause considerable harm to the environment and human well-being. There are financial, environmental and human costs to all energy sources and technologies. However, the greatest aggregate burden today comes from fossil fuels, including through: • resource extraction • transportation • energy generation and use • emission of pollutants. Energy is central to the functioning of European economies and societies, but the continuing dominance of fossil fuels in the energy mix leads to major environmental pressures.
  14. 14. Energy generation in Europe EU-27 primary energy consumption by fuel, 1990-2011 Within Europe there are substantial variations in the mixture of fuels and technologies used to generate energy, but as a whole Europe is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. In 2011, fossil fuels accounted for 76 % of EU-27 primary energy consumption. The contribution of fossil fuels to national energy consumption varies between 96 % in Cyprus to 37 % in Sweden. A substantial proportion of EU-27 energy output relies on fuels imported from non-EU countries.
  15. 15. Environmental pressures from energy consumption Impacts of fossil fuel and bioenergy air emissions The most significant and widespread environmental burdens from fossil fuels result from the emissions released when they are burned. Fossil fuels account for a substantial proportion of EU emissions of a range of pollutants. Some of these pollutants have a direct effect on plants and animals, but impacts also occur via the myriad of linkages and interactions in ecosystems. In general, renewable energies cause much less environmental harm than the alternatives that currently dominate the energy system.
  16. 16. Well-being implications of energy systems EU urban population exposed to harmful levels of air pollution, measured against: EU limit values WHO guidelines Despite a decline in recent years, human exposure to energy-related air pollutants in Europe remains considerable.
  17. 17. Housing and human well-being Housing is a fundamental human demand, accounting for a substantial share of total human use of natural resources. The environmental pressures associated with housing include the following: • mining, energy and water use • infrastructure developments • land use • loss and fragmentation of natural habitats • waste generation • heating and transport during use phase. The health and well-being impacts of housing include comfort and the attractiveness of the living environment where the housing is located.
  18. 18. 130 120 130 120 110 120 110 100 110 100 90 100 90 80 90 80 70 80 70 Housing demands in Europe 90 number of households population 2009 2004 1996 2010 2005 1997 2006 1998 2006 2001 1993 2007 2002 1994 2008 2003 1995 number of households 2003 1998 1990 2004 1999 1991 2005 2000 1992 1994 1993 1992 100 1991 1990 70 2001 1996 2002 1997 110 1999 1994 2000 1995 120 1997 1992 1998 1993 130 1995 1990 1996 1991 Development of population, household size and total number of households in the EU-27, 1990-2010 number of households population average ho average household size 80 number of households population 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 1996 1995 1994 1993 1992 1991 1990 70 average household size Source: Enerdata, 2013 Housing demand is largely driven by total population growth and average household size, as well as increasing wealth. The European population is projected to increase from around 500 million people currently to 526 million people in 2040, with a significant decrease in household size. This trend is already apparent in the period 1990 to 2010, and can be assumed to have negative consequences for the overall efficiency of material and energy use.
  19. 19. Environmental pressures from housing resource use Compactness of urbanisation – the share of urban areas compared with population density Source: EEA and Eurostat, 2011 Pressures from the housing system originate throughout the life cycle of the housing stock: from the extraction of raw materials and the fabrication of products, through to construction and use, and finally demolition and the recycling of materials. In addition, the increased fragmentation of natural habitats resulting from urbanisation and the construction of infrastructure may lead to biodiversity loss. The knock-on effects on energy for transport add to the environmental pressures of urban sprawl.
  20. 20. Well-being implications of housing systems Percentage of population unable to keep their homes warm (percentage of specified population), 2011 Below relative poverty level Total population 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Source: Eurostat A society’s choices about how to meet its housing needs have diverse impacts on human well-being; shaping general living conditions and personal comfort, access to green spaces and areas for outdoor recreation, the quality of the indoor climate, and related exposure to chemicals and air pollutants. Adequate heating is one of the most basic determinants of human well-being. The proportion of lowincome population groups that have difficulty maintaining comfortable indoor temperatures is on average twice the proportion of high income groups.
  21. 21. Natural resources and human well-being The ‘Environmental indicator report 2013’ illustrates the complex interdependence of Europe’s systems for meeting its food, water, energy and housing needs. Although resource efficiency in Europe is generally improving and the environmental pressures related to resource use are declining, diverse well-being impacts are still significant. Integrated spatial planning is key to overall efficiency improvements. In international terms, European lifestyles remain very resource intensive, imposing a disproportionate burden on the Earth’s finite resources and systems. Society’s mechanisms for managing food, water, energy and material resources differ significantly. Governments have generally established a mixture of market-based and regulatory policy instruments to balance resource use against related environmental pressures. However, these policy instruments fail to consistently address the human health impacts of exposure to multiple environmental pressures and the regional and social inequalities.
  22. 22. Natural resources and human well-being in a green economy EEA environmental indicator report 2013 The ‘EEA environmental indicator report 2013’ is available in full here. Other EEA publications on the green economy can be found here.