Poor air quality and climate change are the two greatest threats to human health in the pan-European region - says new UN report

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Batumi, Georgia 8 June 2016 - Poor air quality, climate change, unhealthy lifestyles and the disconnection between people and the environment are increasingly affecting human health in the region, finds the latest Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) assessment for the pan-European region, prepared by the UN Environment Programme and the UN Economic Commission for Europe with support from the European Environment Agency (EEA).

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Batumi, Georgia 8 June 2016 - Poor air quality, climate change, unhealthy lifestyles and the disconnection between people and the environment are increasingly affecting human health in the region, finds the latest Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) assessment for the pan-European region, prepared by the UN Environment Programme and the UN Economic Commission for Europe with support from the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Air pollution is now the greatest health risk in the region, with more than 95% of the EU urban population exposed to levels above World Health Organisation guidelines, for example. Over 500,000 premature deaths in the region were attributable to outdoor air quality and 100,000 to indoor air quality in 2012.

Climate change is 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. Impacts of climate change affect health through floods, heat waves, droughts, reduced agricultural productivity, exacerbated air pollution and allergies and vector, food and water-borne diseases.

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 particularly high in Eastern and Western Europe, with lower rates in Central Europe, the Russian Federation and Central Asian countries. Biodiversity underpins all ecosystem services, guaranteeing supply of environmental goods and services, such as nutrients and food, clean air and freshwater.

Competing interests for land resources are widespread across the region. Every day the countries of the EU28 alone lose 275 hectares of agricultural land to soil sealing and land take. Land quality impacts human health in various ways, through direct benefits from food and nutrition, living and recreational space for optimal lifestyles, physical exercise and even mental health.

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, finds the report, launched at the eighth Environment for Europe (EfE) Ministerial conference today.

"The GEO-6 assessment for the pan-European region - the first of its kind - highlights how the transition to an inclusive green economy in the region must build on resilient ecosystems, sound management of chemicals and clean production systems, and on healthy consumption choices," said Jan Dusik, Head of UNEP's Regional Office for Europe. "Greater cooperation and a more integrated approach are needed to tackle these transboundary challenges, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals," he underlined.

"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. "UNECE multilateral environmental agreements and other instruments are effective tools to assist member States tackle many of these issues from air quality to water management to access to information, justice and public participation.

Greater investments are needed in environmental accounting systems to ensure external costs are addressed. There is a need to pay close attention to early signals from science and society and invest in foresight processes to identify possible future risks, opportunities and conflicts.

The Shared Environmental Information System and the GEO assessment provide the knowledge base for policy-makers to act on.

Note to editors:

GEO is a consultative process resulting in reports on the state, trends and outlook for the environment (http://www.unep.org/geo/). The EfE conference where the GEO-6 assessment for the pan-European region was launched today is being attended by dozens of ministers and high-level representatives (http://efebatumi.com/en/).

For more information contact: Isabelle Valentiny, Head of Communications, UNEP Regional Office for Europe on Tel. +41 79 251 82 36 or isabelle.valentiny@unep.org Jean Rodriguez, Chief, Information Unit, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe on Tel. +41 22 917 27 27 or jean.rodriguez@unece.org