Sixth Environment Action Programme

The European Union (EU) defines the priorities and objectives of European environment policy up to 2010 and beyond and describes the measures to be taken to help implement its sustainable development strategy.


Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the Sixth Environment Action Programme of the European Community, "Environment 2010: Our future, Our choice" [COM (2001) 31 final - Not published in the Official Journal].


The Sixth Environment Action Programme of the European Community entitled "Environment 2010: Our Future, Our Choice" covers the period from 22 July 2002 to 21 July 2012. The programme is based on the Fifth Environment Action Programme, which covered the period 1992-2000, and on the decision regarding its review.

A strategic approach

This Communication makes it clear that meeting the challenges of today's environmental problems means looking beyond a strictly legislative approach and taking a strategic approach. This approach requires the use of a whole range of instruments and measures to influence the decisions made by business, consumers, policy actors and citizens.

The Communication proposes five main avenues for strategic action:

Specific actions are proposed for each of these avenues.

To improve the implementation of the legislation, the following specific actions are outlined:

To integrate environmental concerns into other policies, the Communication proposes:

Working in partnership with business could involve:

To empower citizens and change behaviour, the following actions are suggested:

To take account of the environment in land-use planning and management, the following actions are proposed:

The Sixth Environment Action Programme focuses on four priority areas for action: climate change; biodiversity; environment and health; and sustainable management of resources and wastes.

Climate change

The Sixth Environment Action Programme recognises the fact that climate change poses the main challenge for the next ten years. The objective in this area is to reduce greenhouse gases to a level that will not cause unnatural variations of the earth's climate.

In the short term, the European Union's aim is to achieve the objectives of the Kyoto Protocol, i.e. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8 % by 2008-2012 compared with 1990 levels. In the longer term, by 2020 it will be necessary to reduce these emissions by 20 to 40 % by means of an effective international agreement.

Community efforts to meet the challenges of climate change will be varied:

Nature and biodiversity

The objective given in the Communication in this area is to protect and restore the structure and functioning of natural systems and halt the loss of biodiversity both in the European Union and on a global scale.

The actions proposed to achieve this objective are as follows:

Environment and health

The objective described in the Communication in this field is to achieve a quality of the environment which does not give rise to significant impacts on, or risks to, human health.

The Communication proposes:

Management of natural resources and waste

The objective is to ensure that the consumption of renewable and non-renewable resources does not exceed the carrying capacity of the environment and to achieve a decoupling of resource use from economic growth through significantly improved resource efficiency and the reduction of waste. With regard to waste, the specific target is to reduce the quantity going to final disposal by 20 % by 2010 and 50 % by 2050.

The actions to be undertaken are as follows:

Thematic strategies

The action programme envisages the adoption of seven thematic strategies covering air pollution, the marine environment, sustainable use of resources, prevention and recycling of waste, sustainable use of pesticides, soil protection and urban environment.

These strategies are based on a global approach, by theme, rather than on certain pollutants or types of economic activity, as has been the case in the past. They set long-term objectives, based on the assessment of environmental problems and on the search for a synergy between the various strategies and with the Lisbon strategy's growth and employment objectives. They also provide an opportunity to simplify and clarify existing legislation.

The international context

The integration of environmental concerns into all aspects of the European Union's external relations is one of the Sixth Environment Action Programme's objectives. This objective takes account of the prospect of European Union enlargement and suggests there should be an extended dialogue with the administrations in the candidate countries on sustainable development, and the establishment of close cooperation with the NGOs and business in these countries. The application of international agreements on the environment is strongly encouraged.

A solid scientific basis

The Sixth Programme proposes a new approach to the development of environmental measures so that the parties concerned and the general public are more involved in their application. This approach includes a broad dialogue and the participation of industry, NGOs and the public authorities.

The programme will be increasingly based on scientific and economic analyses and on environmental indicators. For this purpose, the Commission will work in close cooperation with the European Environment Agency (EEA).


Decision No 1600/2002/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 July 2002 laying down the Sixth Community Environment Action Programme [Official Journal L 242, 10.9.2002]. This Decision establishes the Sixth Community Environment Action Programme. It lays down the objectives, timetables and priorities, the main avenues of the strategic approach and the four areas of action as described by the Communication on the Sixth Environmental Action Programme of the European Community, "Environment 2010: Our Future, Our Choice". No more than four years after the adoption of this Decision, initiatives must be taken in each area of action.

During the fourth year of operation of the Programme and upon its completion, the Commission is to submit assessment reports to the European Parliament and the Council.

Last updated: 01.09.2011