Policy context

Europeans have become increasingly aware of environmental problems in recent decades. The European Commission puts forward policies and programmes designed to protect natural habitats, keep air and water clean, ensure proper waste disposal, improve knowledge about toxic chemicals, and help businesses move towards a sustainable economy.

Seventh EU environment action programme (7th EAP)

Environment action programmes have helped shape EU environment policy since the early 1970s. The 7th programme, adopted in late 2013 and running to 2020, is entitled 'Living well, within the limits of our planet'. It outlines what the EU needs to achieve by 2050. The recent strategic initiatives on which it draws include the 2020 Biodiversity Strategy and the Low Carbon Economy Roadmap.

Europe 2020 — Europe's growth strategy

In March 2010, EU leaders unveiled the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. It includes three targets relating to the environment and climate change:

  • greenhouse gas emissions 20 % lower than 1990
  • 20 % of energy from renewables
  • a 20 % increase in energy efficiency.

‘A resource-efficient Europe' - one of the strategy's flagship initiatives - supports a shift towards sustainable growth via a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy.

The Communication ‘Towards a Circular Economy' promotes a fundamental transition where resources are not simply extracted, used and discarded, but are put back in the loop so they can stay in use for longer.

Sustainable development strategy

Sustainable development means meeting current needs without jeopardizing future generations' ability to meet their own needs.

The Commission adopted the 2009 Review of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy in July of that year. It notes that the EU has incorporated sustainable development into a broad range of its policies in recent years. The strategy will continue to provide a long-term vision and the overarching policy framework for all EU policies and strategies.

Environmental statistics


  • the state of the environment and the pressures on it
  • the availability of natural resources (e.g. air, water, and soil)
  • how human activities affect the environment
  • how effective our attempts at mitigating this impact are.

Environmental accounts

Environmental accounts, on the other hand, provide a framework for investigating interaction between the economy and the environment, providing answers to questions like:

  • what are the implications for sustainability of our current patterns of production and consumption?
  • what impact would new "green" taxes have? Who bears the tax burden – producers (industries) or consumers (households)?
  • what "embedded" pressures on the environment in non-EU countries are caused by our patterns of trade?
  • how many people work in the "environment industry", producing environmental goods and services such as wind turbines or solar panels?

Environmental accounts complement environmental and economic statistics. The data can be used for integrated environmental-economic modelling, analysing the impact of economic trends and environmental issues and assessing environmentally-related economic instruments (e.g. taxes).