EEA Signals 2014 – Well-being and the environment - Building a resource-efficient and circular economy in Europe

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Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Transition towards a green economy

Our quality of life, health and jobs all depend on the environment. However, the way and the rate we are using up natural resources today risk undermining our well-being along with nature’s ability to provide for us. We need to fundamentally transform the way we produce, consume and live. We need to green our economy and the transition needs to start today.

Our planet has limited resources and today, we are extracting and using more resources than the planet can sustainably deliver. Natural resources fuel our production and consumption, and create wealth and jobs, contributing to our quality of life and well-being.

Everything around us comes from nature. In one form or another, our homes, cars, bicycles, food, clothes and energy were and are part of the environment. We extract raw materials, process them and build our communities. This connection with and dependence on the environment have always been essential to our existence.

But there is a downside to our level of resource consumption. We are actually exerting so much pressure on the environment that we risk weakening its capacity to provide for us in the future.

Our activities are releasing pollutants into our atmosphere and plastics into our oceans. Our ecosystems are changing faster than before, at unnatural rates. Increased trade introduces new species that can invade entire ecosystems. Climate change is altering precipitation patterns. Yields become less reliable, causing hikes in food prices. We can clearly see that some regions and countries are more vulnerable. However, some environmental impacts, like air pollution, affect everyone, albeit at varying degrees.

Future pressures urge us to take action today

Our current consumption and production are already unsustainable with more than 7 billion of us across the planet, and the population is projected to increase to around 9 billion by mid-century, with billions still in poverty, aspiring a higher standard of living.

Our resource use degrades and decreases the natural capital that will be available to sustain the well-being of future generations. At the very least, this will mean less land and less freshwater per person will be available to produce the food we will need.

To ensure our quality of life and long-term well-being, we need to green our economy and the transition needs to start today. But how can we achieve this? How do we transform our economy into one that preserves the environment while ensuring our quality of life?

Boosting Europe’s resource efficiency

To start with, our economy has to become more resource efficient. We will effectively need to get more out of less. We need to decrease the amount of resources we extract and use.

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