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The EU has some of the world's highest environmental standards, developed over decades. Environment policy helps protect Europe’s natural capital, encourages business to green the EU economy, and safeguards the health and wellbeing of people living in the EU.

Protecting natural capital

EU environmental legislation protects our shared natural capital, like water, air quality, habitats and birds.

Endangered butterfly resting on a flower © EU

The EU has a strategy to stop the decline of endangered species.

Europe works to protect nature and stop the decline of endangered species and habitats through Natura 2000, a network of 26,000 protected natural areas covering almost 20% of the EU's land mass. These are not nature reserves, but zones where sustainable human activities can take place without threatening rare and vulnerable species and habitats.

A resource-efficient green economy

The successful economies of tomorrow will be the ones that most efficiently use scarce natural resources like water, minerals, metals and timber. Europe's environment policy tries to create conditions that encourage individuals and industries to use resources more carefully, throughout their life cycle. Environmental measures aim to:

  • help individuals and businesses understand the true value of natural resources
  • lower the environmental impact of production and consumption, especially of food, housing and transport
  • ensure that waste is managed as a resource
  • help prevent or reduce water stress in the EU.
Woman drinking water from fountain © Bilderbox

Clean water reflects a sound environment.

Safeguarding the health and wellbeing of people living in the EU

Water, air pollution and chemicals are among people's top environmental concerns. To safeguard people from environment-related pressures and risks to health and wellbeing, EU policy aims to:

  • ensure safe drinking and bathing water
  • improve air quality and decrease noise
  • reduce or eliminate the effects of harmful chemicals.

Global challenges

As the world population continues to expand, and ever greater numbers live in cities, global environmental challenges become more pressing. More action will be needed to ensure that air, water and oceans remain clean, that land and ecosystems are used sustainably, and climate change is kept to manageable levels. The EU plays a key role in international efforts to develop the solutions needed to ensure sustainable development globally.

EU environment policy is guided by its Environment Action Programme (EAP). It is now up to the EU institutions and member governments to ensure this programme is implemented, and that its priority objectives are met by 2020. 



Updated in November 2014

This publication is part of the 'European Union explained' series


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