Over a decade has passed since the Rio Earth Summit awakened the world to the growing environmental threat of unsustainable agricultural, industrial, commercial and household practices.
Environmental protection is now high on the international agenda. There is also much closer focus on environmental research and sustainable development, largely through the European Union’s efforts in this area. But huge challenges still have to be met. Despite political and technological progress, the pressure on the environment and Earth’s natural resources has not eased to any significant extent.
Environmental problems, such as ozone depletion, species loss, climate change, urban pollution, and water contamination, are too vast and complex to be solved by any one country alone. Indeed, all members of the Union rely to some extent on shared natural resources which need to be carefully managed.
Achieving sustainable development – reconciling today’s prosperity with future generations’ quality of life – demands the rapid, efficient and targeted conversion of new knowledge into socially, economically and environmentally acceptable solutions.
European environmental research
Initially, the main role of science was to make an inventory of the state of the environment, but today it is required to do much more. Research supplies specific and concrete data not only on the extent of the problem but what can be done to correct it, as well as the technical and socio-economic input upon which coordinated effort to achieve sustainable development depends.
Indeed, the Union’s Framework Programmes for research are anchored on the need to better coordinate all 27 Member States’ contributions to the European and global effort. This is why the EU is giving its backing, as a matter of priority, to research activities designed to recommend practical and actionable ideas and technologies for easing or remedying environmental problems.
Action supported by science
For almost three decades, EU research has prioritised various issues, such as climate change, water quality, the marine environment, and the quality of life in Europe’s cities and cultural heritage – where transnational and multidisciplinary collaboration are essential. It has bridged the gap between political and public perceptions of sustainable development, and prepared the ground for the creation of a European Research Area in environmental research.
Over the years, the Union has launched research programmes and created integrated tools to support policy-making at all levels, putting sophisticated impact assessment and monitoring tools – and state-of-the-art research findings – at the disposal of all stakeholders throughout Europe. Reliable research also informs the EU’s negotiation of international treaties, such as the Kyoto Protocol, and provides an authoritative scientific basis for Community policy in fields as diverse as tourism, industry, health and transport.
Promoting greater awareness
Through the Union’s exhaustive efforts to promote greater awareness of science in society, results emanating from its environmental research initiatives may also have knock-on effects on the day-to-day decisions made by industry, commerce and Europe’s citizens – the ultimate goal being to find a sustainable balance.
Today, teams of scientists from countries across the enlarged EU are working together to investigate a range of research themes , with the aim of producing new environmental tools and technologies to promote sustainable development.
Only by acting now on the best research and information available can the right policy decisions be made to safeguard the planet.