Members' Research Service By / November 28, 2017

Benefits of EU environmental and climate action

EU environmental action aims to preserve, protect and improve the quality of the environment. It contributes to protecting human health and ensures the sustainable utilisation of natural resources.

© Shutterstock / De MONNKA

Written by Dessislava Yougova,

Dokuzak waterfall in Strandja mountain, Bulgaria during autumn
© Shutterstock / De MONNKA

EU environmental action aims to preserve, protect and improve the quality of the environment. It contributes to protecting human health and ensures the sustainable utilisation of natural resources.

The EU shares competence in the area of environment with the Member States, and has legislated on a range of environmental issues such as air and water quality, climate change, species and habitat protection.

There are several reasons to address environmental issues at the European level, especially when environmental problems are transnational by nature. Harmonising environmental norms at the EU level is also the only way to put environmental protection at the heart of the single market. Environmental issues often require long-term action which means constant investment and policy stability. Less subject to short-term political perturbation, the EU can provide the long-term dimension in a different way to national governments.

Environmental laws are essential to Europe’s welfare, but must be properly implemented and respected. According to a recent study , ‘EU enforcement action brings considerable benefits for citizens and the environment. In some cases, EU legal action has reduced the economic costs and losses that typically result from damage to human health and the environment when environmental legislation is flouted. In other cases, it has contributed to a better quality of national legislation and decision making’.

The European Commission highlights that full implementation of EU environment legislation could save the EU economy €50 billion every year in health costs and direct costs to the environment. According to Eurobarometer, three out of four citizens consider European laws necessary to protect the environment in their country, and four out of five agree that European institutions should be able to check whether the laws are being correctly applied ( European Commission press release ).

According to The European environment: state and outlook 2015 , published by the European Environment Agency, ‘Europe’s environment and climate policies have delivered substantial benefits, improving the environment and quality of life, while driving innovation, job creation and growth’. However, there is still a range of environmental challenges that Europe has to address. Delivering on the circular economy, improving air quality, and addressing climate change are some examples of areas where enhanced action at the EU level is essential.

General studies

Environmental policy and politics in the European Union , Tom Delreux and Sander Happaerts, Palgrave, 2016, 304 p.
The book highlights the role of the environmental policy as a major area of EU activity. With more than 400 pieces of legislation in force, EU environmental policy has a considerable impact on the state of the environment in Europe and is a deeply Europeanized policy area with important transversal effects.

Study to assess the benefits delivered through the enforcement of EU environmental legislation , Milieu/COWI, September 2016, 2012 p.
This study assesses the impact of the Commission’s enforcement action in five environmental sectors: waste, water, nature protection, air and environmental impact assessment. It shows that EU legal action brings considerable benefits for citizens and environment by reducing economic costs and losses resulting from damage to human health and the environment when environmental legislation is flouted, or by contributing to a better quality of national legislation and decision making.

Report on the influence of EU policies on the environment , IEEP, August 2013, 60 p.
According to this report, the European level has grown progressively since the 1970s to become the core framework in most areas of environmental policy. It now covers air and water pollution, major aspects of climate change mitigation, waste and recycling, biodiversity conservation, the regulation of chemicals, noise, environmental liability and justice, marine protection and more other issues. As several examples illustrate, EU measures can provide direction, drive and clear context in which specific initiatives and approaches to national and regional conditions can be framed.



Evaluation study to support the Fitness Check of the Birds and Habitats Directives : Final Report, Milieu [et al.], March 2016, 668 p.
The aim of this study is to evaluate the benefits and changes resulting from implementation of the Nature Directives, which are additional to the results from action taken at national or regional levels. It shows that the transnational character of nature justifies EU level action as a more effective way to achieve the conservation objectives of the Directives and that these Directives have introduced innovative changes that provide added value to what would likely have resulted without the EU legislation.

Marine protected areas in Europe’s seas: An overview and perspectives for the future , EEA, October 2015, 40 p.
This document reports on progress made to date in establishing Marine protected areas (MPAs) and networks in Europe’s seas. MPAs are a key policy measure and management tool for addressing increasingly complex threats to marine ecosystems resulting from multiple human activities and the effects of climatic change. They are also a key mechanism to safeguard biodiversity and increase the resilience of ecosystems to new threats.


European bathing water quality in 2016: report , EEA, May 2017, 24 p.
For over 40 years the EU’s Bathing Water Directive, which sets water quality standards and monitoring guidelines, has ensured vast improvements in providing clean bathing water across Europe. See also information by country

The cost of non-Europe in water legislation , EPRS/Triple E consulting, May 2015, 128 p.
This study examines the state of implementation of current EU water legislation and identifies the cost of the lack of further European action in this field. It estimates that the benefits of full implementation of existing legislation could reach 2.8 billion euro per year and demonstrates also that further European action in this field could provide further added value of some 25 billion euro per year. See also the Infographic: Potential benefits of EU water legislation


Evaluation of the EU ETS directive , Umweltbundesamt [et al.], November 2015, 303 p.
This study, carried out within the project “Support for the Review of the EU Emissions Trading System”, concludes that the EU ETS Directive is highly relevant for the EU’s climate policy. It is effective in reducing GHG emissions from the sources covered, and it provides the incentives to reduce emissions efficiently. The EU ETS in general is coherent with other EU policies, in particular in the areas of energy efficiency, renewables, other climate policies and environmental regulation for industrial installations. There is significant EU-added value in this legislation.

EU global environmental leadership

EU actorness, cohesiveness and effectiveness in environmental affairs , Tom Delreux, in: Journal of European Public Policy , 16 Jun 2014, 17 p.
The aim of this contribution, based on comparative data of nine international negotiations resulting in a multilateral environmental agreement, is to address the cohesiveness of the European Union in international environmental negotiations and to examine the effect of this on the EU’s effectiveness.

The EU as a global ecological power: The logics of market integration , Eloi Laurent, Jacques Le Cacheux, OFCE/Sciences Po, May 2010, 17 p.
This paper shows how the EU became a global ecological power that influences environmental policies throughout the world. It highlights the decisive role of Single market integration in fostering convergence of environmental policies at the European level as well as in extending European influence at the global level. The approach is illustrated with the case of climate policy, detailing the EU’s influence on economic instruments developed worldwide to mitigate climate change.

EU funding for environment and climate change actions

Support for an external and independent LIFE mid term evaluation report , ECORYS, March 2017, 546 p.
The purpose of this study is to assess the performance of the LIFE Programme during the past three years with respect to the implementation, development and enforcement of EU environmental and climate legislation. The conclusions are derived from 96 questions addressing effectiveness, efficiency, coherence, relevance, EU added value, sustainability, impact, and other specific aspects of the Programme. The evaluation concludes that LIFE is delivering in line with set targets. There is evidence of a positive cost-benefit ratio when comparing funding to societal gains.

Mainstreaming of climate action into ESI Funds , COWI, May 2016, 143 p.
The European Council’s conclusions in February 2013, supported by the European Parliament in the October 2012 resolution stated that climate action objectives will represent at least 20 % of EU spending in the 2014-2020 period. This report analyses the achievements in this regard. It concludes that European Structural and Investment Funds have delivered a strong contribution to the political target of 20 %. In total, some 25 % of the support is allocated for climate action.

Ex post evaluation of Cohesion Policy programmes 2007-2013, focusing on the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund (CF): Environment, Milieu/COWI/ Csil, March 2016, 180 p.
This evaluation analyses the progress and achievements of Cohesion Policy for environment related infrastructure focusing on two areas: waste management and water. Broad review of the portfolio of projects and operational programmes and a more detailed analysis of the quality of the financial analysis for 20 selected major projects were carried out. The study found that the support for environment for the programming period 2007-2013 represented about € 46.5 billion. In many EU13 and southern EU15 Member States, Cohesion Policy is one of the main sources of public financing and therefore provided a major contribution to achieving EU water and waste targets.

Visit the European Parliament page on ‘Climate change‘.


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