The environment remains one of the most important areas affecting the quality of life and interacts across many other fields in a multitude of ways. From some of the more apparent areas – such as energy use and water quality, to ones less visible – such as legislative approximation and the building of skills in enforcement bodies, all have a role to play in ensuring that governments and the public sector have sufficient capacities and capabilities to protect the environment, further enabling sustainable growth and development.
This interconnectivity means that issues relating to environmental sustainability must be considered in every project that we undertake. Changes to public sector activities and processes should be able to be implemented in a manner that both takes account of current challenges and also addresses challenges that are likely to emerge in the future.
The EU has strict environmental legislation for both current and future member countries. Harmonising domestic environmental legislation with the EU’s demands can be complex. Moreover, existing and prospective member states have to develop appropriate capacity and train local NGO, ‘watchdogs’ and other environmental organisations to monitor environmental activities within their countries, underpinned by systems and commensurate penalties for any organisations that breach the legislation. Teaming up with other countries in regional networks is one way to strengthen environmental initiatives and often an essential requirement given those environmental issues, such as CO2 emissions, often transcend national boundaries.
It has long been appreciated that environmental effects – positive but all too often negative – do not stop at national borders, and nor is responsibility for the environment solely the remit of one government department. Concerted international cooperation is needed, with countries working toward similar aims and objectives. Enabling cooperation between different public sector bodies – be these government departments or policy and monitoring or enforcement arms – is essential for effective measures to be enacted.
Key is the effective collection, collation, analysis and assessment of data and evidence to create policies and to determine their impact. Enabling the provision of new and novel data streams — as well as their effective use by policy- and decision-makers, businesses, academia and the public (among others) — has a major role to play in enabling steps to be taken.
Achieving environmental milestones, including lowering carbon emission, is a condition of entry into many international organisations. To cut emissions, clean-energy technologies in industry should be investigated and supported with appropriate ﬁnancial incentives. Regulations for emissions and air quality should also be formulated and monitoring systems developed.
Reducing waste and recycling any unavoidable waste can produce signiﬁcant cost savings. The ﬁrst step is identifying the major sources of waste and the relative opportunities for decreasing volumes and recycling. Would the creation of public recycling facilities justify their cost? And what are the costs of not recycling or not reducing waste in terms of potential liabilities for contamination or environmental damage? The relative toxicity of the waste also needs to be taken into account, especially in rural areas dependent on agriculture.
Water is an obvious and critical part of life. How can water systems be most effectively managed to ensure a sufficient, sustainable and adequate water supply for the population? At the same time, how can the environmental quality of water systems – from river basins to supply infrastructure – be improved? The needs of different members and groups in society need to be considered — from the public, to industry and agriculture — as does the environmental impact of any change: both now and looking into the future.