Pollution cuts life expectancy, threatens child development in Europe


Environmental policy across the pan-European region is hampered by gaps in information and implementation, according to a new European Environment Agency (EEA) report.

The report, ‘Europe's environment — The fourth assessment’, was presented in Belgrade, Serbia, at the opening session of the sixth ministerial conference of the ‘Environment for Europe’ process held under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

The latest in a series of assessments of the pan-European environment published by the EEA over the past 15 years, the report assesses environmental progress in 53 countries — an area with a total population of more than 870 million people. The region includes: Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA), South East Europe (SEE), as well as Western and Central Europe (WCE).

Most of the environmental pressures in the region stem from economic activities such as agriculture, tourism, transport and energy, the report says. Current patterns of consumption and production also place an increasing demand on natural resources, putting our environment at further risk. Associated impacts are wide-ranging: water, air and soil quality differ greatly across the pan-European region. More than 100 million people do not have access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

In many countries in Eastern Europe, Caucasus, Central Asia and South East Europe the quality of water supply and sanitation has deteriorated over the past 15 years with the rural population being most affected, the report says. Despite some success with air pollution, current levels — mainly nitrogen oxide, fine particles and ground-level ozone — are estimated to shorten average life expectancy in Western and Central European countries by almost a year and to threaten the healthy development of children.

In Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia, the situation is assumed to be similarly bleak: here most air polluting emissions have increased by 10 % since 2000 as a result of economic recovery, increases in volume of transport and persisting poor effectiveness of air pollution policies. The report, which includes a comprehensive assessment of the marine environment across the pan-European region, expresses particular concern regarding over-fishing, eutrophication and mounting pressures on coastal environments.

Major accidental oils spills have decreased in European seas. However, oil discharges from day to day activities are still significant. For biodiversity, the target of halting biodiversity loss by 2010 will not be met without considerable additional efforts. More than 700 European species are under threat from extinction, including a number of iconic species such as the Iberian lynx and the snow leopard, as a result of habitat destruction, degradation and disturbance. Impacts of climate change on society and natural resources are already visible worldwide.

They are projected to become even more pronounced — even if global emissions of greenhouse gases are reduced drastically. The report stresses the urgency of adaptation to the potential risks of future climate change impacts. “Ministers have designated the Belgrade conference to be a ‘conference of delivery’. Our report shows that there has been progress. We have reduced some air pollution and have improved wastewater treatment. However, in an era of change, major concerns remain, such as climate, biodiversity and environment-related health threats.

To respond to these complex environmental issues, we need continued cooperation across the pan-European region as well as targeted financial and technical support,” Professor McGlade said. Improved implementation of existing policies and the setting of clear, realistic targets is a key recommendation of the report. However, a shared environmental information system is also urgently required to deal with a prevailing lack of reliable, accessible and comparable environmental information across the region.

“We need to further strengthen the will to act on environmental issues across the pan-European region. This requires a better understanding of the problems we face, their nature and distribution across societies and generations. Analysis, assessment, communication and education will help overcome this ‘information gap’ and will better equip those who need to act,” said Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the EEA. Full report. (Press release: sciencedaily)

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