Air pollution, climate change, unhealthy lifestyles and a disconnect between people and nature are having a major impact on human health across Europe, according to a recent UN report.
The Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) assessment found that air pollution is now the greatest health risk in the pan-European region (which comprises the 53 countries in Europe, the Caucuses and Central Asia, and Israel), with more than 95 per cent of the urban population exposed to levels above World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
Over 500,000 premature deaths in the region were attributable to outdoor air quality and 100,000 to indoor air quality in 2012, according to a UN statement.
According to the report, an urgent shift from incremental to transformational change must occur 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,” said Jan Dusik, head of the UN Environment Programme’s Regional Office for Europe.
The report also named climate change as 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 statement.
Increased land-use change, especially agricultural intensification and urbanisation, is leading to continued biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation in the region. Eastern and Western Europe is particularly affected by this where around 275 hectares of agricultural land is lost each day to soil sealing and land take.
The report warns 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.
It calls for greater cooperation and a more integrated approach to tackle the transboundary challenges facing the pan-European region. The report was produced by UNEP and the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), with support from the European Environment Agency (EEA).