EASAC Environment Programme
The Environment Programme provides independent and leading edge scientific assessments and advice to EU environment policy communities.
Topics are selected by EASAC Council on the basis of advice from the Environment Steering Panel and can encompass a wide range of environmental issues of priority interest to the EU (such as climate change, air and water quality, wastes and resources, biodiversity, ecosystems and sustainability). In accordance with EASAC's comprehensive quality control procedures, Environment Programme reports are submitted to external peer review before being endorsed by all of EASAC's member academies.
See list of all publications of the EASAC Environment Programme here.
Since 2018, work under the auspices of the Environment Programme has comprised the following (in order of publication):
February 2018. An analysis considering the potential role of Negative Emission Technologies (NETs) in reducing atmospheric CO2 concentration was published to inform the EU’s position in international political discussions on the potential role of NETs in meeting Paris Agreement targets, its policies on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), and research priorities, and. A group of senior scientists from across Europe reviewed the scientific evidence on several possible options for CO2 removal (CDR) using NETs and concluded that these technologies offer only limited realistic potential to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Scenarios and projections of NET’s future contribution to CDR that allow Paris Agreement targets to be met appear optimistic on the basis of current knowledge and should not form the basis of developing, analysing and comparing scenarios of longer-term energy pathways for the EU. The limited potential for CDR underlines the need to strive as hard as possible to mitigate emissions to make any need for NETs more manageable. At the same time, NET measures such as re-/afforestation and increasing soil carbon contents deserve continued political encouragement, and R&D on other NETs – in particular CCS – should continue to identify the best technologies and the conditions under which they can contribute to climate change mitigation.
- March 2018. An update of EASAC’s 2013 analysis of trends in extreme weather events in Europe considers the evidence since published on some of the statistics presented in the earlier report and extends the previous analysis. The updated figures show a continuation of the trends previously observed, whereby climate-related extreme events are rising, with particularly sharp rises in hydrological events. There is increasing evidence for a weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), and for amplified Arctic warming influencing the behaviour of the jet stream, both potential sources of future disruptions in European weather patterns. Thanks to increasingly sophisticated modelling, climate change was concluded to have increased the probability of extreme events, including heatwaves, increased risks of wildfires, extreme rainfall and associated floods, and coastal flooding due to sea-level rise. The update confirms the earlier conclusions on the importance of increasing the adaptability of Europe’s infrastructure and social systems to a changing climate. In view of the importance of these large-scale phenomena to Europe’s climate, EASAC will keep a watching brief on this and other findings to provide further updates in the future.
June 2018. Since the publication of the 2017 report on “Multi-functionality and Sustainability in the European Union’s Forests”, EASAC engaged with the European Commission, the European Parliament and other stakeholders on the science underlying the use of forest biomass as a form of ‘renewable’ energy. A new Commentary emphasizes and clarifies three key points regarding carbon neutrality of forest bioenergy. Firstly, that the concept of all bioenergy being carbon-neutral is too simplistic and does not offer any general context-independent justification to increase forest utilisation. Actual carbon neutrality involves a ‘payback’ period of usually several decades and until payback is achieved, the effects of bioenergy combustion on climate are negative. Secondly, that the proximity of current levels of warming to the 1.5°C Paris targets requires that only projects with payback periods of one decade or less should be regarded as ‘renewable energy’. And thirdly, that the distorting effects of the current separation of combustion and Land Use and Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) emission accounting rules on climate must be considered. As discussed in the 2017 report, the use of forest biomass for energy can be climate neutral or climate positive after short payback periods, but regulations should differentiate between these and climate-negative applications. EASAC therefore advises policy-makers to focus their attention on ensuring that regulations lead to positive contributions to climate change mitigation within a climate-relevant timescale, and that incentives are limited to measures that deliver positive contributions to climate change mitigation.
- September 2018. A major report by a multidisciplinary group of European experts reviews recent scientific understanding on the roles of soils and considers implications for integrated policy solutions towards ensuring the sustainability of Europe’s soils. Soils provide numerous essential services in terrestrial ecosystems, ranging from the support of plant growth in agriculture and forestry to moderation of flood risks, water purification, large-scale carbon storage, and support of biodiversity. However, despite soils’ essential roles, they are threatened by sealing, compaction, reductions in quality and organic-carbon content, and erosion, and insufficiently included in sustainability planning in the EU. The report aims to contribute to debate and decisions on soil sustainability within the European Commission, European Council and European Parliament, as well as national governments and other stakeholders, and identifies many opportunities for policy-makers to safeguard the valuable resource of soils for the benefit of the EU’s citizens.
- February 2019. A Commentary was published to bring together and update the findings of EASAC’s 2017-2018 work on forest bioenergy, carbon neutrality, and Negative Emission Technologies (NETs). As global CO2 emissions continue to exceed levels compatible with achieving Paris Agreement targets, attention has been focusing on bioenergy as a ‘renewable’ energy source, and the potential of carbon capture and storage (CCS) for removing CO2 from the atmosphere (carbon dioxide removal, CDR). Scientific findings confirmed EASAC’s earlier conclusions that biomass should not be regarded as a source of renewable energy under the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED) unless the replacement of fossil fuels by biomass leads to real reductions in atmospheric CO2 concentrations within a decade or so, and that reporting requirements under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme should be amended to reflect the real contribution of biomass energy to climate change mitigation over this timescale. Regarding the role of NETs involving CDR, this commentary concludes that existing Nationally Determined Contributions need to be strengthened and mitigation made the first priority ahead of any reliance on future NETs. Reversing deforestation, reforestation, increasing soil carbon levels, and enhancing wetlands remain the most cost-effective and currently viable approaches to CDR, and should be implemented urgently as low-cost solutions. The role of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) retains substantial risks and uncertainties over its environmental impact and effectiveness. Climate models suggest that early application of NETs in parallel with mitigation offers a greater chance of achieving Paris Agreement targets and avoiding catastrophic environmental and social impacts, than applying NETs at a larger scale later this century. EU and national governments should identify a European R&D programme for NETs in line with their own skills and industrial base.
- March 2020. A report examining the scientific aspects of plastics packaging and the circular economy was published to assist in the development of the European Commission’s circular economy package, its Plastics Strategy, and specific measures on the use of ‘single-use plastics’ (SUPs). Packaging plastics can offer an almost infinite range of options for manufacturers, both in terms of function and design. Their durability and resistance to degradation means that if they ‘leak’ into the environment, they persist. Leakage has been increasing rapidly and its detrimental impact, especially on the marine environment, and has attracted wide public and political concern. The amount of plastic entering the environment far exceeds that which is recycled, with large quantities being exported from Europe to low and middle-income countries that do not have appropriate disposal or recycling facilities: this "low-cost option" is wholly unethical and unsustainable. This report reviews the negative consequences of the current linear economy for plastic packaging, the scope for improvement towards a more circular pattern of production and use, and options for increasing recycling rates and reducing leakage into the environment. For the report, European experts examined scientific issues related to the environmental impact of plastics in the environment, extended producer responsibility, technical issues in recycling, consumer behaviour, the role of bio-based and degradable plastics, and targets for research and innovation. They identified numerous implications for the development of policies to address these challenges in an integrated manner.
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The EASAC Environment Programme is guided by the Environment Steering Panel (ESP) which meets twice per year under the Chairmanship of Professor Lars Walloe. Their Programme's Director is Professor Mike Norton.