European states must work more closely on environment

Massive discrepancies in the performance of different European countries and a lack of information sharing are hampering progress in achieving a healthy environment across the continent.

This was the conclusion of a meeting of the region’s environment ministers in Belgrade, Serbia.

The European Environment Agency reported on environmental quality across the continent and into central Asia, saying that while progress had been made in some areas, gaps in information and implementation were hampering the delivery of policy.

The report assesses environmental progress in 53 countries — an area with a total population of more than 870 million people.

While environmental legislation is moving in the right direction, said the report, there are often problems in implementation.

States also need to get better at sharing environmental information with their neighbours so that they can learn from best practice – and tackle issues which do not respect national boarders.

“We need to further strengthen the will to act on environmental issues across the pan-European region,” said Prof Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the EEA.

“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.”

As might be expected, 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, the Caucasus, Central Asia and South Eastern 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, the 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.

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.

“We have reduced some air pollution and have improved wastewater treatment,” said Prof McGlade.

“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.”

Sam Bond

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