Europe’s environmental footprints found to exceed several safe limits

28 April 2020

Article: 54/1708

The European Environment Agency (EEA) and the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) have published a joint report that explores two key questions related to Europe’s long-term environmental and climate ambitions. The first question examines how to define a ‘safe operating space’ for Europe, where all humanity can continue to develop and thrive, while the second asks whether Europe’s consumption, or environmental footprint, is currently smaller or larger than the estimated ‘safe operating space’.

The report acknowledges that there are different ways to allocate Europe’s operating space in the global context, which inevitably involve normative choices about fairness, equity, international burden sharing, sovereignty and the right for development. Based on these different allocation principles, the study arrives at a minimum European share of 2.7%, a maximum share of 21% and a median share of 7.3% of the global limits.

The report shows that Europe currently exceeds its safe operating space for the nitrogen cycle by a factor of 3.3, the phosphorous cycle by a factor of 2.0, and land system change by a factor of 1.8. Conversely, Europe does live within its limits when it comes to freshwater use, although problems with overconsumption and water scarcity remain locally and regionally.

Source: EEA, 17 April 2020