Last weekend's informal meeting of European Union environment Ministers in Palma to discuss soil protection and the heightened emphasis the Balearic government is giving to preserving and protecting the environment could not have come at a more crucial time. This week Spain was singled out by the European Environment Agency for its poor care of the environment and told to “radically” improve its approach and policies. The European Union as a whole is performing very poorly, but the spotlight is on Spain and its “very bad” care of the environment, according to the agency's Environment trends 2002 report. The agency concludes that the drive to reduce pressure on Europe's environment is making patchy progress while pressure is continuing to grow on some natural resources, especially fish stocks and land, the European Environment Agency's latest annual assessment shows. The report does however point to positive overall trends across the European Union in emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases and generation of waste, as well as to confirmed reductions in water and air pollution. Greenhouse gas emissions are 3.5% lower than in 1990, even if they showed a slight rise in the year 2000; emissions of several air pollutants have been substantially reduced; the total amount of waste, though still increasing, appears to be growing more slowly than the economy; and the introduction of many new sewage treatment plants is cutting polluting discharges to rivers and other water bodies. However, these overall reductions are in many cases due to large cuts in only a few countries or economic sectors, the report cautions. Many countries, such as Spain, and some sectors have not contributed to the positive trends, making progress patchy. And time-lags before these falls translate into improvements in the quality of the environment, combined with high background concentrations of pollutants from past emissions and sources elsewhere, mean that the impact of these pressures remains a concern. A substantial proportion of Europe's urban population remains exposed to high concentrations of harmful ground-level ozone and fine particles and pressure on some natural resources is continuing to increase. This is particularly the case for fisheries, which has been addressed by the Euroepan Union this week. Despite an overall decline in fleet capacity, continued over-fishing is putting many of the commercially important European fish stocks at high risk of collapse.

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