Air pollution, climate change, unhealthy lifestyles and disconnection between people and the environment are increasingly affecting human health in the pan-European region, according to the latest report by the UN environment agency and the UN economic commission in Europe.
The report calls for greater cooperation and a more integrated approach to tackle the transboundary challenges in the pan-European region, which comprises the 53 countries spanning Europe, the Caucuses and Central Asia, and Israel.
Of these challenges, air pollution is the greatest threat with more than 95 per cent of the EU urban population exposed to levels above World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, according to latest Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) assessment released today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
Over 500,000 premature deaths in the region were attributed to outdoor air quality and 100,000 to indoor air quality in 2012, according to the assessment.
According to UNEP and UNECE, an urgent shift from incremental to transformational change will help to reverse some of these indicators.
“The GEO-6 assessment for the pan-European region highlights how the transition to an inclusive green economy in the region must be built on resilient ecosystems, sound management of chemicals and clean production systems, and on healthy consumption choices,” Jan Dusik, Head of UNEP’s Regional Office for Europe, said in a press release.
The report also finds that environmental challenges in the region have become more systemic and complex, while resilience to these will be affected by megatrends largely outside the region’s control.
“This report provides fresh information on the region’s emerging environmental issues and it will help governments shape their future policy,” said UNECE Executive Secretary Christian Friis Bach.
Other challenges discussed in the assessment include climate change, considered one of the largest threats to human and ecosystem health, and to achieving sustainable development in the pan-European region.
“It is also an accelerator for most other environmental risks, with impacts affecting health through floods, heat waves, droughts, reduced agricultural productivity, exacerbated air pollution and allergies and vector, food and water-borne diseases,” according to the press release.
Biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation is continuing in the region and is mainly caused by increased land-use change, particularly agricultural intensification, urbanization and habitat fragmentation. On-going biodiversity decline and loss is said to be particularly high in Eastern and Western Europe, with lower rates in Central Europe, the Russian Federation and Central Asian countries.
The UN further noted that greater investments are needed in environmental accounting systems to ensure external costs are addressed.