SOS-ZEROPOL2030 report: feasibility of reaching EU pollutant targets for four priority pollutants currently 'challenging'

Our new report ‘The EU Zero Pollution Ambition’ provides an extensive overview of the policy documents and legislation that make up the environmental pollution framework in Europe.

In 2021 the European Commission adopted the EU Action Plan: Towards Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil to reduce pollution to “levels no longer considered harmful to health and natural ecosystems, that respect the boundaries with which our planet can cope, thereby creating a toxic-free environment” (European Commission, 2021). This SOS-ZEROPOL2030 report ‘The EU Zero Pollution Ambition’ creates an understanding of the efforts made by Member States to assess the current environmental status of European waters and provides stepping stones to successful environmental governance and feasible environmental targets.


Key findings

The report is the first outcome of Work Package 2 of the Horizon Europe funded SOS-ZEROPOL2030 project, that focuses on the priority pollutants selected in the SOS-ZEROPOL2030 project, being: nutrient input, Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs), microplastics and underwater noise. The report identifies associated policy targets and objectives for 2030-2050 describing the proposed (desired) environmental status for EU waters. The report finds that reaching the 2030 Zero Pollution targets for these identified pollutants are in the best case ‘challenging’ but others are ranked as ‘unfeasible’, due to different reasons such as a lack of data, lack of baseline or due to sources not having been mapped.

Some other key findings of the report include the large differences observed in the timing of ´key´ policy milestones for the four priority pollutants. While underwater noise and nutrients are mentioned in policy documents in the 1980s, PFASs and microplastics did not occur until 2007 and 2021, respectively. The level at which the pollutants are addressed differs as well. While PFASs have been primarily addressed on the EU level, microplastics are largely regulated at the global level. Nutrient issues, however, are not addressed so much on the global level, while underwater noise is addressed to a higher degree at the regional seas level compared to the other pollutants.


Best practices

The report found that nutrients and PFASs (inland surface waters) can be considered as best framework practices for the other focal pollutants and environments, although meeting the environmental targets will be challenging. For microplastics and PFASs, the European Commission assumes that REACH restriction, focusing on intentionally added microplastics in products, will be the first step to address emission levels to the environment.

Based on these insights and results, stepping stones to improve and advance EU policy of marine pollution have been identified, which focus on accelerating the progress towards the environmental and management objectives. The identified stepping stones are divided into the following groups: clear scope and targets, knowledge as scientific advice for policy, stakeholder inclusive policy design and implementation, policy evaluation and policy learning, and global cooperation and sharing of best practices.

The report recognizes that addressing marine pollution is complex and challenging, as marine pollution stems from multiple human activities and enters the marine environment from various and diverse sources, while also being a transboundary problem as pollution travels over territorial boundaries over vast distances. Taking an integrated approach can help, but for this, governance requires an adequate framework breaking down the complexity of marine pollution and thereby helping to identify entry points for addressing challenges and establishing targeted policy approaches.



The Source to Seas – Zero Pollution 2030 (SOS-ZEROPOL2030) project has the overall aim to develop a holistic, stakeholder-led, zero-pollution framework. The project has an interdisciplinary character, bringing together 10 European institutions and organisations, with significant expertise in fundamental and applied natural sciences and associated governance related to marine pollution, and in social sciences related to stakeholder engagement and human behaviour. The framework will support the EU to operationalise its ambitious policy framework governing the environmental protection of European (Regional) Seas, with focus on the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the North Sea and the zero environmental pollution agenda.


SOS- ZEROPOL2030 is funded by the European Union through its Horizon Europe programme under their ‘Clean Environment and Zero Pollution’ call and will run from September 2022 until September 2026.

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Funded by the European Union`s Horizon Europe programme under grant agreement No.101060213