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"Towards Sustainability"

the European Community Programme of policy and action in relation to the environment and sustainable development

(better known as The Fifth EC Environmental Action Programme)

The general approach and strategy of the Fifth Environmental Action Programme (pdf ~8,500K), which was approved by the Council and the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States on February 1 1993, differed from previous programmes. As its title 'Towards Sustainability' implies, the programme set longer term objectives and focused on a more global approach. In the light of the Fifth Environmental Action Programme the features of sustainability are:

The Fifth Environmental Action Programme formed the environmental agenda for the last decade. Two major principles underpin it:

First, the integration of the environmental dimension in all major policy areas is a key factor. Environmental protection targets can only be achieved by involving those policy areas causing environmental deterioration.

Secondly, only by replacing the command-and-control approach with shared responsibility between the various actors, eg. governments, industry and the public, can commitment to agreed measures be achieved.

The strategy "Towards Sustainabilty" required a wide range of instruments:
The Strategy covered basically the following areas:
Five 'Target Sectors'
Energy Sector
Seven 'Themes and Targets'
Climate change
Acidification and Air Quality
Urban Environment
Coastal Zones
Waste Management
Management of Water Resources
Protection of nature and Bio-Diversity
Three areas of specific attention with respect to Risk Management
Industry-Related Risks
Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection
Civil Protection and Environmental Emergencies
Seven types of Policy Instruments
Improvement of environmental data
Scientific Research and Technological Development
Sectoral and Spatial Planning
The Economic Approach: getting the prices right
Public Information and Education
Professional Education and training
Financial Support Mechanisms

On the 10th January 1996, the Commission approved a progress report on implementation of the 5th Action Programme. The report identified progress made as well as the areas where the process of moving towards sustainability should be given much greater impetus.

As set out in the Fifth Programme the report examined progress in relation to a number of key elements and trends linked to and within each of the five target sectors: agriculture, energy, manufacturing industry, transport, and tourism as well as on international developments, widening range of instruments and on the development of structures for shared responsibility.

The report noted that progress had been made in integration of environmental considerations into other policy areas. Progress was most advanced in the manufacturing sector where legislation had existed for twenty years and where the economic advantages were quickly seen, and it was least apparent in agriculture and in tourism. In the field of transport, awareness of the problems was increasing, progress was being made on vehicle emissions, fuel quality and technology, but the overall growth in the vehicle fleet negated progress. In the energy sector, although the environment was seen as part of the problem and of the solution, and despite the existence of potentially effective instruments to bring about change, what was missing was an incentive to move to a more sustainable approach.

In relation to the specific themes of the Fifth Programme, there had been progress in a number of areas: reduction of ozone depleting substances, emissions of heavy metals and sulphur dioxide, improvements in approaches to nature protection, surface water quality, industry-related risks and waste. Particular attention now needed to be paid to developing improved approaches to climate change and acidification, urban issues, including air quality, noise and waste, together with a comprehensive strategy to ground water and surface water resources.

Based on the conclusions of the Progress Report, and on the updated State of the Environment Report published by the European Environment Agency in November 1995, the Commission adopted, on 24th January 1996, a draft Decision of the European Parliament and the Council on the Review of the Programme aimed at speeding the process of improving the environment of the Union and of moving towards sustainable economic and social development in the EU.

The draft Decision identified five priority areas in which Community action needed to be stepped up. These priority areas included: improved integration of the environment into other policies like agriculture, transport, energy, industry and tourism; use of a wider range of policy instruments like market-based instruments or horizontal instruments; increased implementation and enforcement measures by improved and simplified legislation; additional action in the field of communication and information to raise the public awareness; reinforcement of the Union's role in international action.  In July 1998, 30 months after the proposal was presented by the Commission,  the Parliament and the Council finally agreed in conciliation the text of the Co-Decision on the Review of the Fifth Environment Action Program "Towards Sustainability".  

The text of the Decision accompanied by the Commission Declarations was published in  Official Journal L 275 of 10th October 1998. The text is available in pdf format (~90K) in the following languages:

es da de el en fr it nl fi pt sv


The Co-Decision required the Commission to submit  a global assessment of the implementation of the Programme, to the European Parliament and the Council at the end of the Programme. This global assessment and the discussion with Member States, target groups etc. was a major building block for the sixth program, which was presented in   2001.