The EASAC Environment Programme provides independent and leading edge scientific assessments and advice to EU environment policy communities, drawing together experts from across the science academies of the EU. 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). Since 2013, work under the auspices of the environment programme has included:
A major analysis of trends in extreme weather events in Europe published in December 2013 which considers the implications for national and European Union adaptation strategies. This was based on a more detailed analysis of the underlying science and the measures available for adaptation by EASAC's Extreme Weather Working Group.
In November 2014, EASAC published a policy statement on shale gas and issues of particular relevance to Europe.
In April 2015, a major project on the impacts of neonicotinoid insecticides on ecosystem services of importance to agriculture was released. This was a very detailed evaluation of the large amount of new evidence on the effects of neonicotinoids not just on honeybees but on the whole range of pollination, natural predator control and soil ecosystem services as well as biodiversity. The expert group brought together leading experts from 13 of EASAC's academies and reached clear conclusions which represented the current state of the science. The report was launched at a meeting in Brussels attended by over a hundred stakeholders and attracted substantial media coverage. EASAC's report provided valuable input to the Commissions revaluation of the science commencing in May 2015.
EASAC also completed a major analysis of the wide range of issues related to the general theme of Marine sustainability. This has a particular focus on the scientific aspects of a sustainable ecosystem-based approach to management of human activities, including seafood management. The report also comments on how the supporting science needs to be optimised, including the needs for observation, data infrastructures and relevant human-capacity building. The study was developed to be relevant to European Commission marine and maritime activities which include Horizon 2020, the Copernicus programme, the Blue Growth agenda, and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. The interim results of this were announced in time for world Ocean Day on June 8, 2015 and the full report published in January 2016.
A report updating the recent scientific developments related to climate change and global warming was published to provide advice to European policymakers ahead of the December 2015 COP 21 meeting of the framework Convention on climate change. This came to the conclusion that the speed of climate change was proceeding in areas faster than IPCC models had predicted, that this meant that the 2oC target should be seen as an upper limit and that a lower target should be sought in international negotiations. The COP 21 outcome was consistent with this conclusion and EASAC recommendation.
Another controversial issue during 2015 was related to the circular economy, where the European Commission had withdrawn its earlier 2014 proposals and undertaken to provide a new policy by the end of 2015. EASAC thus established a working group during the winter of 2015 in order to produce a commentary which should inform discussion on the contents of a circular economy policy. This was published in November 2015 and the comparison has also been made between EASAC’s recommendation and the commission's policy announced in December.
An examination of the differences in greenhouse gas footprint between different sources of oil was released in March 2016 and showed the very large range in footprints between different sources of crude oil. This was not just from unconventional sources such as oil from tar sands or oil shale, but it also included some conventional sources with very high emissions. This recommended that the EU should differentiate between oil feedstocks of different greenhouse gas intensity so that emissions from the transport sector could be properly accounted for, and market signals influence investment decisions and innovation priorities towards lower carbon sources of crude oil.
Two projects followed on from the initial examination of the circular economy, and the Commission’s decision to review its approach to “indicators of progress” and "critical materials" to achieve its circular economy objectives of reducing environmental impact and increasing European competitiveness. EASAC carried out these studies with the assistance of the original circular economy expert group and released both reports on 30th of November 2016. In its report "Indicators for a Circular Economy", EASAC points out that measuring progress towards the circular economy is crucial, and indicators should not just be chosen because of their convenience or simplicity. They should be directly relevant to the central objectives- both the environment and European competitiveness- and also reflect what matters to the public and other stakeholders. The report analyses in detail the various options and pros and cons of different approaches to indicators and offers advice to the Commission as it considers deriving a set of indicators for the circular economy.
The second report on "Priorities for Critical Materials in the Circular Economy" looked at the issue from the point of view of economic importance, technological importance and the basic geological distribution of critical elements. This report offers some potential approaches to analysing scarcity and identifying which elements are likely to be at risk of future scarcity. It looked at the challenge of critical materials from two angles: how to increase the supply of critical materials and how to improve recycling rates for these materials. In the latter context, measures to improve the content very low rates of recycle of critical materials are included.
A major project nearing completion addresses the competing demands on a limited resource from Europe’s forests, with particular focus on meeting the objectives of raw material supply, bioenergy while protecting biodiversity and contributing positively to climate change mitigation (assisted by the Council of Finnish Academies). A project on examining the potential viability of technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (negative evolution technologies) is also underway. A further project examining issues related to ensuring sustainability of Europe’s soils has also just started (with the assistance of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences). See current projects page.
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.