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European environment – state and outlook report 2015 – evidence and trends to guide policy action

The European Environment Agency has launched its five-yearly assessment of the European environment in a global context. HEAL’s Executive Director presented an evaluation on what this means for health at a launch event co-hosted by the European Policy Center in Brussels.

The extensive report includes assessments and data at global, regional and country level as well as cross-country comparisons. HEAL welcomes a specific chapter on health and the environment and highlights this report should be viewed as an urgent public health alert for EU and national policy makers, in particular, the EU Commission President Jean- Claude Juncker and his team.



The report presents a mixed picture. It clearly shows that EU regulation has worked in improving the environment and quality of life, while driving innovation, job creation and growth. However, Europe still faces a range of persistent and growing environmental challenges. Addressing these challenges requires fundamental changes in the systems of production and consumption and future prosperity depends on bolder steps on policy, knowledge, investment and innovation. These are just some of the key messages from the report.

Although European’s enjoy cleaner air and water, less waste and more resources are recycled, Europe remains a long way from achieving the objective of ‘living well within the limits of the planet by 2050’, as set out in the 7th Environment Action Programme (EAP).

The assessment underlines that although EU environmental and climate policies continue to offer major opportunities for preventing heart and lung disease, protecting particularly children and future generations, there is still a serious health impact from the environment such as air and noise pollution in urban areas, where the majority of Europeans live. There is a huge challenge that current efforts to improve air quality are insufficient, while climate change will increase the pressure. This means particular problems for people in cities as heat waves turn cities and houses into heat traps. HEAL reiterates the need to have a greater public discussion on liveable cities of the future.

HEAL’s perspective

During the closing panel discussion, HEAL Executive Director, Génon K. Jensen (left), provided HEAL’s assessment and ways in which EU policies could use environmental policies as solutions to improve people’s health and reduce healthcare expenditures. She highlighted that the rich data, evidence and messages provided in this new assessment could help build the narrative of a compelling story on why moving to a low carbon energy and resource efficient economy is a public health vision come true.

Although health benefits and costs frame as a driver for more ambitious environmental policies has come a long way, she warned that we are far from proving a health promoting environment or one that does not result in harm to health, particularly to those more vulnerable.

Ms Jensen highlighted the tremendous prevention opportunities through environmental policies to address one of the global megatrends in the report, the increasing burden of non-communication or chronic diseases, like cancer, heart disease or obesity and its associated economic costs. WHO says that about 25% of the burden of disease and death is attributable to environmental causes, which is also likely to be underestimated, and this is set to grow. Air pollution is set to be the number one cause of premature deaths globally from environmental factors in 2050.

“Tackling air pollution improves our health, it is a piece of public health legislation. WHO has recognised this and is currently considering a global resolution in May to help drive this angle forward and further engage health ministers and the health community.”

HEAL welcomed the report’s focus on chemicals highlighting that the growing use of chemicals has been associated with an observed increase of endocrine related diseases and disorders in humans.

“We believe action to urgently address and reduce exposure to EDCs is needed and another public health intervention.”

“This assessment clearly states we need greater action on environmental policies, yet a development which we fear will slow down and reverse environment gains that Europe has achieved is the EU US trade negotiations for a new agreement called TTIP. Many recent reports are showing it could wipe out or seriously reverse many of the environmental health protection standards Europe has achieved”.

HEAL’s Executive Director Génon K. Jensen closed with the following statement:

“I would like to leave you with a final message – Environmental protection can and should more frequently be framed as public health action, and it makes economic sense. As public health and medical advocates, we welcome this report and see it through the frame of a comprehensive long-term diagnosis; one which offers quite a few treatments that policy makers need to take if we want to keep not only our planet and ecosystems healthy; but most importantly the health of European citizens.”

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Last updated on 12 March 2015

About HEAL

The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. Read more »

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HEAL has over 70 member organisations, representing health professionals, not-for-profit health insurers, doctors, nurses, cancer and asthma groups, citizens, women’s groups, youth groups, environmental NGOs, scientists and public health institutes. Members include international and Europe-wide organisations, as well as national and local groups. Read more »

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