Cyprus meeting focuses on ‘green financing’
The United Nations has chastised 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 last years. The assessment was presented at the 9th International Ministerial Conference on the Environment for Europe held
The United Nations has chastised 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 last years. The assessment was presented at the 9th International Ministerial Conference on the Environment for Europe held in Nicosia, Cyprus, from 5-7 October.
If governments take the assessment seriously, this gathering could mark a new and more productive phase in the reformist “Environment for Europe” process launched in 1991 in the former Czechoslovakia where the basic orientations of a pan-European cooperation have been defined.
The assessment, prepared by the Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), describes modest but uneven progress in the pan-European region and reveals shortcomings in the 60 member countries . Besides Europe, these include Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Morocco, Bahrain and Kuwait from this region as well as countries in Central Asia.
The gathering brought together 71 ministers, senior officials and hundreds of participants from the private and public sectors, universities and youth groups.
UNEP Deputy Director Sonja Leighton-Kone summed up the situation: “Humanity has postponed and postponed the challenges, now the crisis is with the United States.” And UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algeyarova said the assessment “must be a wake-up call for the region” and said “there is no time to lose”. She called on governments to embrace the “multiple tools and approaches of the UN to reduce pollution, strengthen environmental protection and reduce resource use”.
The aim of the effort is to achieve the development goals of the United Nations 2030 agenda. However, the “pan-European” group is too large, too diverse in every way, and too focused on addressing current economic, political, security, and climate issues to seriously pursue longer-term goals.
This is all the more true since these objectives are supposed to be largely or at least partially achieved in just eight years.
Some of the highlights of the assessment are:
Although air pollution is the biggest health risk in the pan-European region, emissions continue to rise despite countries’ pledges to reduce greenhouse gases. Western European countries have achieved significant reductions, but not developing countries where fossil fuel consumption is subsidized. Overall, fossil fuels account for 78% of energy consumption, and the share of solar, wind and hydro renewables is not keeping up with the increase in consumption.
The region’s rivers, lakes and aquifers must be preserved. They risk increasing pollution from agricultural sprays and fertilizers, urban sewage and industrial waste, all of which pose risks to human health. Although there has been an increase in forest areas, governments must reduce losses by eliminating subsidies and incentives that encourage damaging and destructive activities in forest areas. European Union conservation policies apply inside the bloc, but the picture is mixed in other countries.
Land continues to be appropriated at a slower rate for urban development and infrastructure, but soil erosion and degradation continue, undermining efforts to sequester carbon dioxide, regulate water use water, promote biodiversity and increase soil productivity.
Recycling fails to contain mountains of waste throughout the region. Extraction and processing of minerals and other natural resources “cause 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress and around 50% of climate change impacts”.
The Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea are “heavily overexploited” and threatened by pollution from fertilizers, plastics, oil and chemicals. As mass tourism, particularly around the Mediterranean, is not managed effectively, it has negative impacts on air, water, land and biodiversity by increasing localized consumption, especially during periods of holidays.
Only 65% of the region’s population is covered by disaster relief programs. These have been undertaken by 15 countries, but 23 countries, with a quarter of the region’s population, “do not report”. Probably because they have nothing to report.
The authors of the assessment called for “green financing” to reduce environmental damage and promote sustainable infrastructure development, public education and regional policy coordination.
The Ministerial Conference closed with a declaration reaffirming the commitments of participating States to adopt a range of policies that contribute to planetary health.
One sector highlighted at the conference is expected to be of particular interest to the host country, Cyprus, Oman, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan, as well as other mass tourism destinations. Indeed, the arrival of millions of tourists in high season can be disruptive in countries with fragile environments and limited resources.
Tourism consumes water, fuel for vehicles, electricity and food, and requires staff in hotels, restaurants, the waterfront and historical and ancient sites. Tourists are wasting increasingly scarce resources and leaving trash everywhere they go. Plastics are a major concern as they are indestructible and ultimately the decomposing plastic particles are hazardous to the health of humans, animals and sea creatures.
Tourism is a major source of income in many countries, especially those poor in natural resources and without income from industries. Countries should be encouraged to promote tourism that can be managed in such a way as to minimize the negative impact on the environment. The facilities must be modernized to accommodate demanding visitors whose presence is welcome.