The EAP: a vision to guide Sustainable Development and Urban Innovation

The European Union 7th Environment Action Programme to 2020 (EAP) provides a coherent vision to guide sustainable development and urban innovation in terms of a lifestyle and the global quality of life. The EAP has guided environmental policy in the European Union since the mid-1970’s, and the latest version provides a vision and objectives which are clearly cast in terms of human society living in harmony with nature. The long-term vision of the current EAP describes a style of life as a holistic goal to guide sustainable development:

“In 2050, we live well, within the planet’s ecological limits. Our prosperity and healthy environment stem from an innovative, circular economy where nothing is wasted and where natural resources are managed sustainably, and biodiversity is protected, valued and restored in ways that enhance our society’s resilience. Our low-carbon growth has long been decoupled from resource use, setting the pace for a safe and sustainable global society.”

Three Key Objectives

The 7th EAP for 2020 identifies three priority areas where more action is needed to protect nature and strengthen ecological resilience, boost resource-efficient, low-carbon growth, and reduce threats to human health and wellbeing linked to pollution, chemical substances, and the impacts of climate change:

  1. The first action area is linked to “natural capital” – from fertile soil and productive land and seas to fresh water and clean air – as well as the biodiversity that supports it. Natural capital includes vital services such as pollination of plants, natural protection against flooding, and the regulation of our climate. Policy must commit to halt biodiversity loss and preserve the marine environment. The sustainable use of land includes the protection of soil as well as forest resources. The programme sets out the need for more effective action to protect oceans and seas, safeguard fish stocks, and reduce marine litter.

  2. The second action area concerns the conditions that will help create a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy. These conditions involve an energy production policy that recognizes the impact on climate change, as well as the impact of consumption and waste management on the environment. The holistic goal is an economy which uses resources efficiently, yet is balanced with the need for competitiveness and the achievement of sustainable growth.

  3. The third key action area covers challenges to human health and wellbeing, such as air and water pollution, excessive noise, and toxic chemicals. The EAP sets out to secure reductions in air and noise pollution with the goal of a non-toxic living environment, and proposes to address risks associated with the use of chemicals in products and chemical mixtures, especially those that interfere with the endocrine system.

The 7th EAP includes two “horizontal priority objectives”, which apply across multiple policy areas:

  • Implement policies for sustainable urban planning and design.  Cities often share a common set of problems such as poor air quality, high levels of noise, greenhouse gas emissions, water scarcity, and waste. 
    Policy must promote and expand initiatives that support innovation and the sharing of best practice in cities.

  • The final priority concerns wider global challenges.  All of the key priority objectives can only be achieved by cooperating on a global approach.  International partners must engage more effectively in working towards the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals.  The EAP also proposes to explore further steps that could be taken to reduce impacts on the environment.

    Living well, within the limits of our planet, is a global aim.