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Science for
Environment Policy

Future Briefs

Future Briefs are a series of horizon-scanning policy briefs, which provide an accessible overview of emerging areas of science and technology.

Latest Issue

Latest Issue

The solution is in nature

Nature-based Solutions (NbS) work with nature to benefit both natural ecosystems and the people that depend on them. By putting nature at the centre, NbS address a range of societal challenges: protecting, sustainably managing or restoring natural or modified ecosystems and supporting their health, function and biodiversity.

The research collated in this brief confirms that NbS deliver simultaneously multiple benefits and shows the wide-ranging beneficial impacts of scaling up their implementation across Europe.

Pollinators: importance for nature and human well-being, drivers of decline and the need for monitoring

Pollinators are vital to our wellbeing and the survival of nature. By helping plants reproduce, pollinators support a steady supply of healthy and economically valuable food for humans and prop up entire ecosystems. However we are at risk of losing these benefits, and many others, with the ongoing and dramatic decline of pollinators witnessed around the world.

This Future Brief presents an overview of research into the benefits of pollinators for food production and security, the essential role of pollinators in nature, the drivers of change in pollinator populations and the importance of monitoring for pollinator protection.

What helps SMEs to eco-innovate? - January 2020

How is it possible to become eco-innovative as a small-to-medium enterprise (SME)? What benefits could eco-innovations bring to your company? Together SMEs make up over 99% of all enterprises in the EU, accounting for two-thirds of total employment. Though the environmental footprints of individual firms may be relatively small, their collective impact is much more significant.

This Future Brief presents some of the latest research, evidence and trends, seeking to understand which particular measures can best help SMEs to act on their key drivers, overcome their key barriers, and innovate towards more sustainable, resource-efficient, eco-friendly business.

What are the health costs of environmental pollution? - December 2018

Environmental pollution causes death, pain and suffering. How do we estimate the economic impact of these health damages on society? And what should we pay to reduce or avoid the damage? This report explores how to assign an economic value to the health impacts of pollution, with a focus on the effects of air, chemical and noise pollution. Costing health impacts has a number of uses in environmental policymaking, from communicating the burden of pollution to informing taxes on polluting activities.

Towards the Battery of the Future - September 2018

High-quality and innovative batteries are imperative for the EU in the context of its move towards a low-carbon, climate-friendly and more circular economy. However, manufacturing and using batteries, as well as the way they are treated at the end of their life, also has environmental impacts.

This Future Brief from Science for Environment Policy provides an overview of technical aspects of battery design and production which enable the environmental footprint of batteries to be lowered. It also highlights how battery technologies are evolving to deliver better performance.

Persistent organic pollutants: towards a POPs-free future – October 2017

The majority of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) identified until now are banned or restricted around the world owing to concerns about their harm to ecosystems and human health. However, this is not the end of the story; even long-banned POPs still linger in the environment; others are still in use and are being directly emitted; and new POPs may be identified for which we have limited information. This Future Brief from Science for Environment Policy presents recent research into POPs’ potential impacts, the levels and future outlook for POPs in the environment and humans, and how we can reduce our use of POPs.

Precautionary Principle: decision-making under uncertainty – September 2017

One of the greatest challenges facing today’s environmental policymakers is how to deal with complex risks, such as those associated with climate change. These risks are difficult to deal with because they are not precisely calculable in advance. Where there is scientific uncertainty about the full extent of possible harms but ‘doing nothing’ is also risky, decision-makers may use the precautionary principle. This Future Brief explores the role of the precautionary principle in EU law and policy, and examines key points of discussion drawn from the evidence.

Noise abatement approaches – April 2017

As the sources and severity of noise pollution continue to grow, there is a need for new approaches to reduce exposure. This Future Brief looks at the complex and pervasive problem of noise pollution: a problem with no single solution, requiring a combination of short-, medium- and long-term approaches and careful consideration of the nature of the noise source.

Environmental impact investment – December 2016

Impact investing refers to investments that intend to generate measurable social and/or environmental impacts, as well as a financial return. Often described as ‘doing good while doing well’ it is part of a wider strategy to shift finance towards more sustainable projects. This Future Brief explores research into impact investment, with an emphasis on environmental impact investing in Europe.

Synthetic biology and biodiversity – September 2016

Synthetic biology is an emerging field and industry, with a growing number of applications in the pharmaceutical, chemical, agricultural and energy sectors. While it may propose solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing the environment, such as climate change and scarcity of clean water, the introduction of novel, synthetic organisms may also pose a high risk for natural ecosystems. This future brief outlines the benefits, risks and techniques of these new technologies, and examines some of the ethical and safety issues.

No Net Land Take by 2050? – April 2016

Land and soil are limited natural resources essential to all human life. One of the major environmental challenges facing Europe is an increasing demand for development, which threatens ecosystem services. This Future Brief focuses on how land and soil could be used efficiently to continue to provide these functions and services for generations to come.

Identifying Emerging Risks - April 2016

How can we better anticipate environmental changes? In our rapidly changing world, risks occur from ongoing changes (such as those occurring in the climate), to more sudden-onset risks, such as mutating microbial pathogens. This Future Brief explores some of the tools and approaches that can be used to identify emerging risk, including strategic foresight tools, citizen science and state-of-the-art monitoring technologies.

Sustainable Aquaculture - May 2015

Aquaculture is the fastest growing sector of worldwide food production and is facing a new era of expansion in Europe. What are the environmental implications of this, and can the sector expand sustainably? This Future Brief presents an overview of research into aquaculture’s impacts, and considers how it could develop in balance with environmental goals.

The Value of Natura 2000 ­– May 2015

The Natura 2000 network encompasses nearly a fifth of EU territory and provides protection for more than a thousand rare and threatened species. The benefits provided by the network are estimated to be worth €223–314 billion per year. In this new Future Brief we examine the 'value' of Natura 2000 from different angles: in terms of biodiversity conservation, the benefits for people, and economic value.

Innovation in the European water sector - May 2015

How do we safeguard both water quality and quantity? This brief looks at the best ways to recycle and re-use water, the latest water treatment technologies, and innovation within water governance itself.

Wind & solar energy and nature conservation – January 2015

How are land-based ecosystems are affected by wind and solar photovoltaic infrastructure? And how can win-win solutions for conservation and climate benefits may be developed?

Public risk perception and environmental policy – October 2014

How does the public perceive environmental risk? What are the pitfalls of communicating uncertainty? Understanding why over- or under-estimations occur is essential to finding the right policy balance.

Underwater Noise – June 2013

The oceans are increasingly exposed to sounds from human activities, such as shipping and the building of foundations for offshore construction projects. What impact do these sounds have on species that inhabit the marine environment? This Future Brief from Science for Environment Policy explores existing research on the ecological effects of underwater sound. Key gaps in our knowledge are also highlighted, and potential strategies for reducing negative impacts on marine species are outlined.

Earth Observation's Potential for the EU Environment – February 2013

Earth observation from space by satellites, combined with ground-level observations, can provide a wealth of data relating to the land, oceans and atmosphere. This Future Brief examines how the data can inform Europe's environmental policy.

Bioelectrochemical Systems – February 2013

This Future Brief examines the use of bioelectrochemical systems, such as microbial fuel cells (MFCs) and microbial electrolysis cells (MECs), to treat wastewater and generate electricity, hydrogen and valuable chemicals.

Green Behaviour – October 2012

The role that policy can play in supporting and encouraging the public's pro-environmental behaviour is examined in this Future Brief. The report explores different policy methods to reward green behaviour, such as financial incentives.

Offshore Exploration and Exploitation in the Mediterranean – April 2012

This Future Brief examines the impacts of exploration on marine and coastal environments. Focusing on oil, gas and mineral exploration as well as renewable energy schemes, the report considers evidence from recent scientific research, including reports following the Deepwater Horizon incident in 2010.

Biodiversity and Health – October 2011

An emerging body of research is now uncovering a hugely important range of ecosystem services: the benefits of biodiversity for human health. This Future Brief explores emerging issues and recent developments in our understanding of the link between biodiversity and health.

Plastic Waste: redesign and biodegradability – June 2011

This Future Brief explores current research into the redesign of plastics and developments in biodegradable plastics. It considers the implications of redesign and increased use of biodegradable plastics, as well as policy options to maximise benefits and minimise risks.