Europe has strong environmental governance structures and mechanisms in place. In particular, the European Union (EU) has been implementing robust environmental policies over the last four decades. Regular monitoring, reporting and assessment required by legislation is an integral part of EU environmental governance, helping to inform policy makers whether policies are effective, and to identify emerging issues. This concept has already or is being emulated in neighbouring countries and, although to a lesser extent, through the pan-European Environment for Europe ministerial process that was initiated in 1991. Moreover, since the 2002 Earth Summit in Johannesburg, the EU’s agenda has been increasingly oriented to external multilateral policies.

Both EU and non-EU European countries are also well on track to meet their own Kyoto targets. European countries are implementing climate-related policies ranging from carbon taxes to emissions trading schemes, stimulating renewable energy systems and local voluntary efforts by municipalities. More recently, climate change adaptation strategies are being developed. Large-scale reductions in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions can only be achieved through a tightly coordinated combination of different policies targeting different economic sectors and sources of emissions. The EU, with some of its neighbouring countries, is also a major donor to various global efforts to combat climate change.

Across most of Europe, many aspects of air quality have improved in recent decades, although problems still remain, particularly related to urban air quality, human health and ecosystem degradation. The pan-European scientific monitoring network of the Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution has been pivotal in building credibility, shaping policies and monitoring air quality trends. A variety of policies, often mutually enforcing, are being applied at regional, national and local scales. Tools cover both obligatory and voluntary implementation mechanisms, and many are being replicated elsewhere in the world, or have the potential to be.

Freshwater policies have been implemented successfully through a mix of policy instruments, often directed through strong umbrella legislation, but challenges such as overuse of water and water pollution persist in parts of Europe. The transboundary nature of most European rivers calls for close international cooperation, and integrated water resources management is increasingly the guiding mechanism for implementation. River basin management plans have shown potential for transfer and use throughout the region, water pollution from non-point sources has been effectively reduced through broad clusters of policies that complement each other, and water metering and water pricing have stimulated more responsible use of water.

Prevention, reuse and recycling of municipal wastes are among the most regulated activities in the region. Comprehensive legislation supported by monitoring networks is helping to ensure compliance with regulations, but waste volumes continue to grow. In Eastern Europe, a legacy of industrial wastes from the socialist period still poses ecological problems. Policy focus is shifting towards producers’ responsibility by encouraging innovative approaches such as ecodesign, new business models and changing life styles. The EU legislation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances (REACH), which replaces a patchwork of previous directives and regulations, looks promising for the regulation of chemicals in coming years.

The European region is at the forefront of multinational biodiversity conservation efforts. Networks of protected areas have been successfully established through Natura 2000 and comparable efforts outside the EU, also stimulating an improved knowledge base for preserving and monitoring biodiversity. However, due to landscape, ecosystem and habitat degradation both within and outside protected areas, the overall conservation status of habitats and species is showing no sign of improvement. Through national initiatives for sustainable forest management and payments for ecosystem services, the challenges of biodiversity conservation, climate change and protection of freshwater resources are being addressed in an integrated way, and are already showing positive results.

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