European Environment Agency (EEA)

Towards a green economy in Europe


Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

EU environmental policy targets and objectives 2010–2050

1 Moving towards a green economy in Europe

Global economic crisis, soaring commodity prices and growing awareness of humanity's impact on the environment have pushed the 'green economy' concept into mainstream policy debate in recent years. In large part, this reflects a recognition that the prevailing model of economic growth — founded on ever-increasing consumption of resources and emission of pollutants — simply cannot be sustained in a world of finite resources and ecosystem capacity.

1.1 The green economy — a vision for development
Changing the way that society manages the interaction of the environmental and economic domains requires actions across all sectors. The green economy concept can play a valuable role in this context by providing a coherent vision to guide policy and planning. A 'green' economy can be understood as one in which environmental, economic and social policies and innovations enable society to use resources efficiently — enhancing human well-being in an inclusive manner, while maintaining the natural systems that sustain us (EEA, 2012b).

Essentially, the green economy concept comprises a twin challenge. First, we need to focus on the economy, finding ways to increase prosperity without increasing resource use and environmental impacts. Put simply, we need to become more resource efficient.

By itself, however, resource efficiency will not guarantee steady or declining resource use. After all, we could become more efficient but still put excessive demands on the environment. For that reason, to achieve sustainability we also need to focus on ecosystem resilience — the status, trends and limits of natural systems.

While addressing the twin challenge of boosting resource efficiency and maintaining ecosystem resilience, there is a clear need to integrate a third focus: human well-being. This aspect is important because the benefits we derive from the environment and the harms that we suffer due its degradation are not always reflected in market prices and therefore require separate consideration. Equally important, there is a need to ensure an equitable distribution of the benefits and costs of economic restructuring.

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