As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems.
Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.
- In Mediterranean countries unsustainable water use (particularly for agriculture and tourism) combines with a changing climate to create increasing water scarcity.
- The ecosystem of the Alps , including its glaciers, is increasingly at risk due to extensive transportation, tourism and a warmer climate.
- Europe is surrounded by seas and its coastal and marine environments are under pressure due to both human activity and climate change.
- The average consumption patterns of Europeans in terms of food, housing and mobility are unsustainably high and have severe impacts beyond the continent.
- High import dependency with respect to fossil fuels raises concerns about energy security for most of the continent.
- Three out of four Europeans live in cities that face high pollution levels, produce high emissions and waste and draw on extensive resources.
Climate change risks:
- Rising mean annual temperatures and heat waves put Southern Europe and the Mediterranean under water stress. Agriculture is one of the most vulnerable sectors.
- Increased melting of snow, ice and permafrost is likely to occur in mountainous regions and in the sub-Arctic with consequences for water availability and ecosystem balance.
- Sea-level rise, storms and floods threaten European coasts, deltas and floodplains, especially in low-lying countries such as the Netherlands.
Socio-political and socio-economic challenges:
Most of Europe has a high adaptive capacity with respect to climate change, and a large body of environmental legislation exists. However, those areas with the least capacities are often also most exposed to climate change. Capacity is reduced especially in some Southern and Eastern European countries because they lag behind on regulations and exhibit more pronounced institutional shortcomings.
In the course of its integration process, the European Union has expanded its competences in the area of foreign and security policy as well as environmental policy. Crisis prevention, the implementation of a sustainable development programme, and regional stability are central elements of the EU foreign policy action framework. In its Communication on Conflict Prevention (April 2001), the European Commission examines the essential instruments of conflict prevention as well as civilian crisis management and gives recommendations for subsequent political steps in this area. In addition to drugs and small weapons, the Communication mentions resource management and access to natural resource as well as increasing environmental degradation as cross-cutting areas that have to be taken into consideration under a comprehensive conflict prevention approach. Increasing environmental degradation is to be combated by means of strengthened cooperation in bilateral and regional partnership programmes as well as in the context of international environment conventions.
- The European Union has created a comprehensive body of regulations on virtually all environmental issues. The EU also cooperates with its neighbour countries and is often seen as an environmental frontrunner.
- The Joint Paper by the High Representative and the European Commission on “Climate Change and International Security” (CCIS) concluded in 2008 that climate change is a threat multiplier and compromises the interests and security of the EU and its partners around the world. It outlined the main threats climate change poses and provides recommendations on how to tackle the implications of climate change. Three overarching recommendations were made:As a follow up a EU Roadmap on Climate Change and International Security was drafted and developed in close collaboration between representatives of the EC, the Council Secretariat (SEC), as well as representatives of the EU presidency troika and Member States. From March 2008 to December 2009 a set of main activities such as regional consultation was carried out.
- Enhancing capacities at the EU level, to improve the abilities of the EU and its Member States for early warning, analysis and response to climate-induced implications for security.
- EU multilateral leadership to promote global climate security and to build and implement a successful post-2012 international agreement on climate change.
- Cooperation with third countries to commence dialogue, create awareness, share analysis and cooperatively address the challenges of climate change.
- As part of the restructuring of European Foreign Policies, the EU outlined its current EU climate diplomacy in a Joint Reflection Paper prepared by the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the services of the Commission. According to this paper, published 9th of July 2011, EU climate diplomacy combines the three strands of promotion of ambitious climate action, the support of implementation of climate policies and measures, and activities in the area of climate change and international security
In addition to this climate diplomacy approach, there are numerous regional arrangements to address environmental degradation within Europe and also as part of Europe’s foreign relations.
- Major international organisations (OSCE , REC, UNECE , UNDP and NATO) joined their efforts in the ENVSEC framework to manage environment and security issues, fostering both intra-regional and external cooperation in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, the Southern Caucasus and South-Eastern Europe.
- Environment for Europe (EfE ), overseen by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), brings together (inter)governmental and private sector actors, civil society organisations and other stakeholders of environmental governance.
- The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE ) promotes the sustainable use of natural resources, including soil and water.
- There are several institutions concerned with sub-regional environmental issues, e.g. the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC ), the Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM ), the Alpine Convention, and the Blue Plan, the regional activity centre of the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP ).
EEA (without date): Environmental Topics.
DG Environment of the European Commission 2012: Environmental topics.
Permanent Secretariat of the Alpine Convention 2011: Environmental Protection and Mountains. Is Environmental Law Adapted to the Challenges Faced by Mountain Areas?
Plan Bleu (without date): Plan Bleu – Regional Activity Centre.