The United Nations has issued an urgent call for a greater commitment from Europe in tackling global crises caused by climate change, pollution and deterioration of the environment.
A highly critical assessment of progress over the past three decades was presented on Wednesday in Nicosia by the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) at the ninth international Environment for Europe ministerial conference.
UNEP deputy director Sonja Leighton-Kone said: “Humanity has been putting off and putting off challenges, now the crisis is with us.”
This assessment “must be a wake-up call for the region”, stated 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 time to lose.” She urged governments to adopt the UN’s “multiple tools and approaches to cut pollution, step up environmental protection and reduce resource use”.
The assessment urges action on air pollution, which is described as the greatest health risk in the 54-country pan-European region that includes the Middle East and Central Asia. While all regional countries have committed to reducing greenhouse gases, emissions are rising, the conference was told. Reductions have been achieved in western Europe but elsewhere this is not the case, especially in countries where fossil fuel consumption is subsidised.
The region’s rivers, lakes and aquifers must be rescued from pollution from agricultural run-off and industrial waste which pose health risks, warns the assessment. While there has been an increase in forested areas, governments must reduce loss by eliminating subsidies and incentives causing damaging and destructive activities and products.
European Union conservation policies apply only in a minority of countries but the picture is mixed in countries outside the bloc. Recycling fails to contain the growing amount of waste throughout the region, while extraction of minerals and processing of natural resources “cause 90 per cent of biodiversity loss and water stress and about 50 per cent of climate change impacts”.
The Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea are “highly overfished” and threatened by pollution from fertilisers, plastic and chemicals. Only 65 per cent of the region’s population is covered by disaster relief programmes, which have been undertaken by 15 countries, while 23 countries with a quarter of the region’s population “do not report” on such measures, according to the assessment.
It calls for “green financing” to reduce environmental damage, sustainable infrastructure development, education of the public and co-ordinated policies over the diverse region. Governments are called upon to help achieve the global goal of protecting 30 per cent of the planet’s land and marine areas by 2030.
Representatives from 60 countries and 100 non-governmental organisations — including Ireland’s Global Education and the National Youth Council — are attending the three-day conference. Its objective, Cyprus education minister Prodromos Prodromou stated, “is to send a message to co-operate effectively to save our planet”.
The launch of the Environment for Europe process took place in 1991 in the former Czechoslovakia, where the basic guidelines for a pan-European co-operation strategy were laid down.