Focus On Circular Economy For Overcoming Climate Crisis; UN

The world is at a pivotal moment in the fight to protect our planet, and the momentum is about to reach new heights. Leaders, industry giants, and experts from around the globe gathered for the Climate Ambition Summit on September 20. The stakes couldn't be higher, as nearly all environmental indicators are off-course or worsening. The consequences of climate change, from extreme weather displacing millions to escalating global temperatures and devastating wildfires, demand urgent action.

The world, faced with a triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution and waste, needs to focus on “circular economy” and sustainable infrastructure for getting on track, according to a new United Nations report.

Presented to the Organization’s highest pan-European environmental policy body on October 5, covering 54 countries, the report called for greater action to tackle the triple environmental crisis roiling the planet.

The Joint report by UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said “despite progress in certain areas, governments in the pan-European region must show far greater ambition in tackling climate change, protecting ecosystems and managing and tackling waste and pollution.”

In the Foreword, Executive Director of UNEPInger Andersen and Executive Secretary of UNECE Olga Algayerova said that the world is faced with a triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution and waste that is being compounded in our region by the invasion of Ukraine. “A step change in our economies and behaviours is needed if we are to get on track for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The assessment shows that success is possible with the right instruments and the political will. To take the example of emissions to the air, releases of nitrogen and sulphur oxides have dropped in much of the region and the consumption of hydro fluorocarbons has almost ceased,” they said.


Despite some progress, the report notes that air pollution remains the greatest health risk n the pan-European region.

Although 41 European countries recorded a 13 per cent reduction in premature deaths from long-term fine particulate exposure, concentration levels continue to exceed the 2005 World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines.

The report has recommended the governments to update ambient air quality standards to align them with World Health Organization(WHO) guidelines. “The Governments should contribute to the adequate replenishment of the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol in order to accelerate the phasing out of hydro chlorofluorocarbons globally,”  the UN bodies recommended.


Though all countries in the pan-European region have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, net emissions are still rising, the report mentioned. “Reductions, mostly achieved in the western part of Europe (2014–2019), are offset by the increase in emissions in the rest of the region,” it said.

The reports called on governments to establish the conditions for medium- and long-term sustainable mobilization of funds for climate action, by both accelerating the use of available regional and global funds and mechanisms and creating national financial instruments.


The report said that action is lagging behind in the pan-European region though decarbonization is becoming a strong narrative.  “Governments in the pan-European region should eliminate or reform harmful subsidies and incentives and develop effective positive incentives to deepen decarbonization, by shifting promotion of investments towards renewable energy,” the report recommended.


In the report, the UN agencies stated that  climate change was delivering additional challenges with impacts on human health through various water-related phenomena such as floods, droughts, water-borne diseases and biodiversity changes in aquatic ecosystems. Moreover, they noted that   diffuse pollution and urban and industrial waste water discharges remain significant in many locations and persistent organic contaminants are of greater public health.

The report recommended  economic sustainability in water resources management and innovative financing mechanisms. Natural and human-made infrastructure development may use several financing tools (e.g. fair water pricing, ecological payments, cost recovery and incentives) but a clear legal framework is vital for success, the report added.


The report warned that the status of ecosystems remains a cause for concern with no evidence of a clear positive overall trend in the region. Protected areas in the pan-European region have almost tripled over the past 30 years and an overall increase in forest area in the UNECE region of 33.5 million has been observed. Governments should ensure that trends in forest areas remain positive and take additional measures to safeguard the remaining primary and intact forests and their ecological functionality.

While marine protected areas have grown in area by 66% and terrestrial ones by 22% over the past five years, overall biodiversity loss continues to occur. Governments should eliminate or reform subsidies and incentives for products and activities that lead to biodiversity loss and develop incentives to mainstream biodiversity conservation across sectors and policies


The UN agencies said that recycling rates differ significantly among countries and are particularly low in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Municipal waste recycling rates above 45% exist only in a few EU countries and Switzerland. E-waste collection and recycling are highly deficient across all subregions, it added.

The agencies urge governments to step up waste prevention in production and consumption and repair, refurbishment, and re-manufacturing, including through financial incentives such as tax relief. A pan-European e-waste management partnership would enable the recovery of valuable resources.

“Over the past half-century, the extraction of minerals has tripled globally, with the extraction and processing of natural resources accounting for over 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress and about 50% of climate change impacts. Governments in the region should adopt a circular – or resource efficient – economy approach and strengthen management of raw materials, including for example through the application of the UN Framework Classification for Resources and the UN Resource Management System,” it said.


bout 65% of the region’s population is covered by local disaster risk reduction strategies. Only 15 countries in the region reported that all their local authorities are implementing such strategies under SDG target 13.1; while 23 countries – which jointly represent a quarter of the region’s population ­– do not report on that target.


 As a share of GDP, public spending on environmental protection (with a maximum of around 0.8%) is much lower than environmental tax revenues, implying that revenues from environmental taxes are not earmarked for reducing environmental damage. Governments should therefore favour the development of green finance and consider spending on environmental protection in the wider context of environmental and public finance.


Most countries in the region have yet to develop mechanisms to incorporate sustainability considerations (such as climate risk) and externality accounting (e.g., the cost of pollution, ecosystem services, or biodiversity protection) into the cost-benefit analysis of large infrastructure projects.


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