The UN has called for governments in the pan-European region to show far greater ambition in tackling climate change, protecting ecosystems, managing and tackling waste and pollution, stresses a new UN assessment presented to European ministers.
The 7th pan-European environmental assessment was presented at the UN’s 9th Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference, covering 54 countries across the European Union, European Free Trade Association members, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
“The findings of this assessment almost halfway through Agenda 2030, must be a wake-up call for the region,” said United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova. “The historic drought the region faced this summer announced what we should expect in years to come and shows that there is no more time to lose. As highlighted in the report, the UN has developed multiple tools and approaches to cut pollution, step-up environmental protection, reduce resource use and foster the shift to a circular economy.
“Their implementation must be significantly accelerated. This will require urgent and bold political commitment and behavioural changes from all of us before it is too late”.
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Inger Andersen added: “We know what we need to do, and we must act together. As citizens feel the pinch and are facing higher energy bills than ever before, as they see record temperatures and their water reservoirs shrink, and the continent is confronted with other profound challenges, countries must show that there is a plan.
“The Science is unequivocal. The only way forward is to secure a clean and green future. This assessment can be a guide for lowering emissions, a healthier environment for people and for nature, and better waste management and cleaner air.”
The latest joint report by the UNECE and UNEP, announces progress on air quality and protected areas, but calls for urgent action to address gas emissions, waste, pollution, and biodiversity loss.
It also calls for an urgent action on “the triple planetary crisis” affecting climate, nature, and pollution, the effects of which are affecting more than ever before the lives and well-being of people in the pan-European region. As well as greater efforts to tackle air pollution which “remains the biggest health risk in the region.”
The report also states that while all countries in the pan-European region are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, net emissions are still increasing.
The report expands further to say: “The reductions, achieved mainly in the western part of Europe (2014-2019), are offset by the increase in emissions in the rest of the region. Renewable energy use increased in 29 countries in 2013-2017, but the region still relies heavily on fossil fuels – accounting for around 78% of total final energy consumption.”
As a solution to this it suggests governments should remove or reform “harmful” subsidies and incentives, in regions that continue to implement fossil fuels, and instead develop incentives to deepen decarbonisation and invest in renewable energy.
The report argues cooperation is key to addressing water challenges since pollution and discharges of urban and industrial wastewater remain a public health concern. “River basins, lakes and aquifers are subject to multiple pressures and climate change poses additional challenges to freshwater quantity and quality, such as floods, droughts, water-borne diseases and biodiversity changes in aquatic ecosystems.”
Along with enhanced measures to conserve water, countries should improve water use efficiency and use natural solutions for water retention basins, artificial ponds used to manage stormwater run-off, The potential of unconventional water sources such as recycled water should also be explored.
Although marine protected areas have increased by 66 per cent and terrestrial protected areas by 22 per cent in the last five years, the overall loss of biodiversity has continued. Governments should remove or reform subsidies and incentives for products and activities that lead to biodiversity loss and to develop incentives to mainstream biodiversity conservation into all sectors and policies.
The importance of the circular economy is highlighted, even where there is a strong political commitment to a circular economy, as in the European Union and other Western European countries, “the amount of waste produced continues to increase”.
“In the last half century mineral extraction has tripled globally, with the extraction and processing of natural resources accounting for more than 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress and around 50% of climate change impacts,” said the report.
The data showed recycling rates varying significantly between countries, particularly in Eastern Europe and Central Asia where they were low. Adding that municipal waste recycling rates above 45% exist only in a few EU countries and Switzerland. “Collection and recycling of e-waste is extremely poor in all sub-regions,” it says.
In response, governments are urged to step up waste prevention in production, consumption, repair, renovation and reconstruction, including through financial incentives such as tax breaks. “A pan-European e-waste management partnership would allow the recovery of valuable resources,” it adds.
The report also urges governments to encourage the development of green finance and consider environmental protection spending in the broader context of environmental and public finance, while sustainability should be at the heart of infrastructure development.
Andersen concluded that this assessment can be a guide to reducing emissions, a healthier environment for people and nature, and better waste management and cleaner air.
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