The United Nations has scolded Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia for failing to tackle climate change, pollution, and environmental degradation in a critical assessment of efforts over the past 30 years. The assessment was presented at the three-day 9th International Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference which met
The United Nations has scolded Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia for failing to tackle climate change, pollution, and environmental degradation in a critical assessment of efforts over the past 30 years. The assessment was presented at the three-day 9th International Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference which met in Nicosia, Cyprus, from October 5th-7th.
If governments take the assessment seriously this gathering could mark a new more productive phase in the reformist “Environment for Europe” process launched in 1991 in the former Czechoslovakia where the basic guidelines for a pan-European cooperation strategy were laid down.
The assessment, prepared by the UN’s Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and Environment Programme (UNEP), describes modest but uneven progress in the pan-European region and reveals the shortcomings of the 60 member countries. In addition to Europe, these include Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Morocco, Bahrain, and Kuwait from this region as well as Central Asian countries.
The gathering was attended by 71 ministers, high officials, and hundreds of participants from private and public sectors, academia, and youth groups.
UNEP deputy director Sonja Leighton-Kone summed up the situation, “Humanity has been putting off and putting off challenges, now the crisis is with US.” And, UNECE executive secretary Olga Algeyarova said the assessment “must be a wake-up call for the region” and argued “there is no time to lose.” She called on governments to adopt the UN’s “multiple tools and approaches to cut pollution, step-up environmental protection and reduce resource use.”
The aim of the effort is to attain the development goals of the 2030 UN agenda. However, the “pan-European” grouping is too large, too diverse in every way, and too focused on dealing with economic, political, security and current climate problems to seriously pursue longer term goals.
This is true especially since these goals are meant to be largely or, at least, partly realised in just eight years time.
Some of the salient points of the assessment are as follows:
Although air pollution is the greatest health risk in the pan-European region, emissions continue to rise despite country commitments to reducing greenhouse gasses. Western European countries have achieved significant reductions but not developing countries where fossil fuel consumption is subsidised. Overall, fossil fuels account for 78 per cent of energy consumption and the share of sun, wind and water renewables does not keep up with rising consumption.
The region’s rivers, lakes and aquifers must be preserved. They risk increasing pollution from agricultural sprays and fertilizers, urban wastewater, and industrial waste, all of which pose human health risks. While there has been an increase in forested regions, governments must reduce loss by eliminating subsidies and incentives which promote damaging and destructive activities in forested areas. European Union conservation policies apply inside the bloc but the picture is mixed in countries elsewhere.
Land continues to be appropriated at a slower rate for urban and infrastructure development but soil erosion and degradation continues, undermining efforts to sequester carbon dioxide, regulate water use, promote biodiversity and increase soil productivity.
Recycling fails to contain mountains of waste throughout the region. Mining and processing of minerals and other natural resources “cause 90 per cent of biodiversity loss and water stress and about 50 per cent of climate change impacts.”
The Mediterranean and Black seas are “highly overfished” and threatened by pollution from fertilisers, plastic, oil and chemicals. As mass tourism, particularly around the Mediterranean, is not being effectively managed, it is having negative impacts on the air, water, land, and biodiversity by raising localised consumption, particularly during holiday seasons.
Only 65 per cent of the region’s population is covered by disaster relief programmes. These have been undertaken by 15 countries but 23 countries, with a quarter of the region’s population, “do not report.” Presumably because they have nothing to report.
The authors of the assessment called for “green financing” to reduce environmental damage and promote sustainable infrastructure development, education of the public, and coordinate regional policies.
The Ministerial Conference closed with a declaration reaffirming the commitments of attending states to adopt a range of policies which contribute to planetary health.
One sector highlighted at the conference should be of particular interest to the host country Cyprus, Oman, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and Jordan as well as other mass tourism destinations. This is because the arrival of millions of tourists in peak seasons can be disruptive in countries with fragile environments and strained resources.
Tourism consumes water, fuel for vehicles, electricity, and food, and requires hotel, restaurant, beach front, and historic and ancient sites staff. Tourists waste increasingly scarce resources and leave detritus wherever they go. Plastics are a major concern as they are indestructible and, ultimately, particles from broken down plastics are dangerous to the health of humans, animals and sea creatures.
Tourism is a major source of revenue in many countries, particularly those poor in natural resources and without income from industries. Countries have to be encouraged to promote tourism which can be managed to minimise negative impact on the environment. Facilities must be upgraded to cater for discerning visitors whose presence is welcomed.