The EU has some of the world's highest environmental standards, developed over decades. Its main priorities today are: protecting endangered species and habitats and using natural resources more efficiently – goals that also help the economy by fostering innovation and enterprise.
The EU has a strategy to stop the decline of endangered species.
The EU has a strategy to stop the decline of endangered species and habitats by 2020. The centrepiece is Natura 2000, a network of 26 000 protected natural areas covering almost 20% of the bloc's land mass.
These are not nature reserves, but rather sites where sustainable human activities can take place without threatening rare and vulnerable species and habitats.
If we are to avoid a crisis in our use of limited natural resources, fundamental changes are needed to our economy. As well as lawmaking, the EU helps provide the public education, research and public funding crucial for this.
Its response is a blend of long-term plans and incremental changes – like promoting eco-friendly products and encouraging greater use of energy-efficiency labels on consumer appliances like washing machines.
Protecting Europe's shared water resources and ecosystems effectively from pollution, climate change and marine litter requires concerted action at EU level.
EU water policy aims to:
Clean water reflects a sound environment.
Air quality is an area where the EU has been very active, setting ambitious, cost-effective standards and targets for a number of pollutants, including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter and lead.
Whilst overall air-quality trends in the EU are encouraging, continued effort is needed.
If we can reduce the amount of waste generated in the first place, disposing of it will automatically become simpler. The EU is aiming to do this through:
Where waste can't be prevented, materials should be recovered, preferably by recycling. That's why the EU is calling for improved manufacturing methods and asking consumers to demand greener and recycled products and less packaging.
The EU’s main way of backing environmental and conservation projects is through its LIFE programme, which disburses funds both in the EU and outside, in potential member countries and other neighbouring countries.
Since 1992, LIFE has put some €2bn into over 3,000 projects, like reintroducing the bearded vulture in Andalusia, converting laminates into energy and aluminium and restoring coastal meadows and wetlands on Baltic Sea islands.
Published in February 2013
This publication is part of the 'European Union explained' series