Sustainable development was defined in a 1987 report of the United Nations as ''development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs''. Sustainable development is a key objective of the European Union. Article 3 of the Treaty on the European Union proclaims that the Union shall work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. According to the Treaty on the functioning of the EU, environmental protection requirements must be integrated into the definition and implementation of the Union policies and activities, in particular with a view to promoting sustainable development (Article 11 TFEU, ex Article 6 TEC).
In its relations with the wider world, the Union declares that it ''shall contribute to peace, security, the sustainable development of the Earth…'' (Article 3 TEU). It affirms that it shall define and pursue common policies and actions, and shall work for a high degree of cooperation in all fields of international relations, in order, inter alia, to: foster the sustainable economic, social and environmental development of developing countries, with the primary aim of eradicating poverty; and help develop international measures to preserve and improve the quality of the environment and the sustainable management of global natural resources, in order to ensure sustainable development (Article 21 TEU).
In fact, the European Union's environment programme aims at a development, which takes into account the present economic and social needs without jeopardising, through resource misuse, the development possibilities of future generations [COM/2001/31]. To be sustainable, growth must be decoupled from negative environmental impacts and be based on sustainable consumption and production patterns. This means that short term economic gains at the expense of the environment should be replaced by a more sustainable model of economic and social development, which may constitute the basis for greater efficiency and competitiveness, both at a Union level and internationally.
The Göteborg European Council (15-16 June 2001) approved a European Union strategy for sustainable development, proposed by the Commission [COM/2001/264], based on: coordinated development of common policies addressing the economic, environmental and social dimensions of sustainability and having sustainable development as their core objective; a set of headline objectives to limit climate change and increase use of clean energy, address threats to public health, manage natural resources more responsibly; and the steps to implement the strategy and review its progress at every spring meeting of the European Council (Cardiff process launched in 1998).
The sixth European environment action programme (6EAP) sets out environmental objectives for the years 2001 to 2010 and outlines the action that needs to be taken to achieve them [Decision 1600/2002]. The programme focuses on four priority issues:
1. tackling climate change by reducing greenhouse gases according to the objectives of the Kyoto Protocol [see section 16.3.4], i.e. achieving the Union's target of reducing emissions by 8% by 2008 to 2012 (compared to 1990 levels) and by 20 to 40% by 2020, through structural changes and stronger efforts on energy-saving, especially in the transport and energy sectors, the establishment of an EU-wide emissions trading scheme, further research and technological development;
2. nature and biodiversity, i.e. protecting and restoring the structure and functioning of natural systems and halting the loss of biodiversity notably through: the implementation of environmental legislation; protection, conservation and restoration of landscapes; completion of the Natura 2000 network to avert the threats to the survival of many species and their habitats in Europe, through a set of sectoral biodiversity action plans; new initiatives for protecting the marine environment; and a thematic strategy for protecting soils [COM/2001/162];
3. environment and health, i.e. achieving a quality of the environment which does not endanger human health, necessitating inter alia: a fundamental overhaul of the Union's risk-management system for chemicals [COM/2001/88], a strategy for reducing risks from pesticides, protection of water quality in the Union, noise abatement and a thematic strategy for air quality;
4. sustainable management of natural resources by decoupling resource use from economic growth, in particular through: improved resource efficiency; taxation of resource use; increased recycling and waste prevention with the aid of an integrated product policy.
The Financial Instrument for the Environment (LIFE+) supports the implementation of the 6th EAP, including the thematic strategies, and finance measures and projects with European added value in Member States [Regulation 614/2007]. It also finances operational activities of NGOs that are primarily active in protecting and enhancing the environment at European level. The new programme is divided into three strands:
· LIFE+ Nature and Biodiversity, which focuses on the implementation of the EU directives on the conservation of habitats and of wild birds, as well as further strengthening the knowledge needed for developing, assessing, monitoring and evaluating EU nature and biodiversity policy and legislation [see also section 16.4];
· LIFE+ Environment Policy and Governance, which covers the other 6EAP priorities including climate change, environment and health and quality of life, and natural resources and wastes, as well as strategic approaches to policy development, implementation and enforcement;
· LIFE+ Information and Communication, which aims at disseminating information and raising awareness on environmental issues, including forest fire prevention.
The Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) is a European Earth monitoring programme aiming at coordinating European activities in the field of satellite observation and remote sensing so as to provide support for government policies (in particular concerning the environment, agriculture, regional development, fisheries, transport and common foreign and security policy) by developing a global independent European monitoring capacity [Regulation 911/2010, see also section 17.3.4]. The GMES provides the public authorities, European researchers and businesses with reliable and independent information concerning the environment and security. The advantage of the GMES system lies in the fact that it pools data obtained from a variety of sources and presents them in a user-friendly format.
The Directive laying down general rules aimed at the establishment of the Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community (INSPIRE) should assist policy-making in relation to policies and activities that may have a direct or indirect impact on the environment [Directive 2007/2, last amended by Regulation 976/2009]. INSPIRE deals with spatial information such as environmental observations, statistics, etc. that are held in electronic form by or on behalf of public authorities and concern the areas where a Member State has or exercises a jurisdictional right. The information covers themes such as administrative borders, air, soil and water quality observations, biodiversity, land use, transport networks, hydrography, altitude, geology, population and species distribution, habitats, industrial facilities and natural risk zones. INSPIRE aims to coordinate users and suppliers of information in such a way that information originating from different sectors will be combined and disseminated.