European Union


The EU has some of the world's highest environmental standards. Environment policy helps green the EU economy, protect nature, and safeguard the health and quality of life of people living in the EU.

Green growth

Protecting the environment and maintaining a competitive EU presence on the global market can go hand in hand, and environment policy can play a key role in creating jobs and stimulating investment. 'Green growth' entails developing integrated policies that promote a sustainable environmental framework. Environmental innovations can be implemented and exported, making Europe more competitive and improving people's quality of life. Fairness is paramount in all this.

Protecting nature

Nature is our life support system, so we need to look after it. We share resources like water, air, natural habitats and the species they support, and we also share environmental standards to protect them.

Europe is working to safeguard these natural resources and halt the decline of endangered species and habitats. Natura 2000 is a network of 26,000 protected natural areas, covering almost 20% of the EU's land mass, where sustainable human activities can coexist with rare and vulnerable species and habitats.

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:

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

Global challenges

As the world population continues to expand, with ever-greater numbers of city-dwellers, global environmental challenges become more pressing. More action is needed to ensure that

  • air, oceans and other water resources are kept clean
  • land and ecosystems are used sustainably
  • climate change is kept to manageable levels.

As a global actor, the EU plays a key role in international efforts to promote sustainable development globally.

Current EU policy up to 2020 is based on the 7th Environment Action Programme – the dual responsibility of the EU institutions and national governments.


Manuscript updated in November 2014

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

See also

EU institutions and bodies

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