Copenhagen, 2 November 2011—Industrial pollution and other environmental challenges could undermine development progress in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, according to the 2011 Human Development Report, released today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The Report —Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All—argues that the urgent global challenges of sustainability and equity must be addressed together—and identifies mutually reinforcing policies on the national and global level that would spur progress towards these interlinked goals.
Throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, human development levels continue to rise, with greater equality than other areas of the developing world, the 2011 Report shows, but internal income gaps are widening in many countries, and environmental deterioration could also potentially further undermine hard-won progress in the region.
• European Union members in the region all rank in the very high human development category in the Human Development Index (HDI)—the Report’s composite measure of income, health and education—including Slovenia (#21), the Czech Republic (#27), Estonia (#34), Slovakia (#35), Hungary (#38), Poland (#39), Lithuania (#40) and Latvia (#43), along with EU candidate Croatia (#46). Romania (#50) and Bulgaria (#55), the newest EU members, rank in the index’s second quadrille of high human development nations.
The Report also shows how the world’s most disadvantaged people disproportionately lack political power and suffer the most from environmental degradation, including in their immediate personal environment.
This is particularly relevant in a region still heavily reliant on fossil fuels and coping with the harsh environmental legacy of the Soviet era. There is an especially urgent need for a transition to more sustainable energy and renewable resource use, the Report argues. Armenia, Romania and Bulgaria, for example, lead the world in deaths from outdoor air pollution, according to Report calculations based on recent UN data.
“Long-term exposure to outdoor air pollution causes respiratory disorders, immune system damage and carbon monoxide poisoning, among other deleterious effects,” the Report's authors write, citing industrial pollution in parts of the region as a serious health risk.
If change is to occur, the Report contends, governments must be more transparent, with strong independent watchdogs—news media, civil society and the courts—helping to encourage greater public involvement in environmental policymaking.
“Stronger accountability and democratic processes, in part through support for an active civil society and media, can also improve outcomes,” says UNDP Administrator Helen Clark in the Report’s foreword.
Urban air pollution and rising carbon emissions also are noted in the Report—and in accompanying surveys of public opinion—as some of the area’s leading threats to sustainable progress.
Water pollution poses another serious health threat, and with better treatment and industrial safeguards, deaths could be avoided. The Report’s findings show that Tajikistan’s annual death rate from unsafe drinking water (751 per million people) is the region’s highest, placing it between South Asia (443) and sub-Saharan Africa (1,286 deaths per million), which has the world’s leading contamination problems. Several other former Soviet nations also report high death rates from polluted water, including Turkmenistan (532 per million), Uzbekistan (335), and Kyrgyzstan (259).
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan lead the region in deaths from indoor air pollution (516 and 418 per million a year, respectively) reflecting a correspondingly high number of people without access to safe cooking and heating fuels.
Tajikistan (#127) and Kyrgyzstan (#126) have the region’s lowest rankings in the Human Development Index.
Energy poses another challenge to sustainable growth. The Report shows fossil fuels account for 88 percent of primary energy supply, and the regional average renewable energy use is the world’s lowest. Even in Poland and the Czech Republic, which are bound by the European Union’s 2020 targets to diversify energy sources and slash greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels, coal remains the leading fuel for electrical power with strong political and public support.
The Report urges nations to reconsider fossil fuel subsidies, estimated at US$312 billion worldwide in 2009, to promote conservation and investment in renewable energy. The publication also calls for a groundbreaking “Universal Energy Access Initiative” and backs a world tax on foreign exchange trading to help finance development aid, estimating a levy of just 0.005 percent could raise $40 billion yearly.
In Europe and Central Asia—home to big energy exporters like Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan—domestic subsidies can be costly. Uzbekistan, for example, spends over 10 times more on fossil fuel consumption subsidies than on health (32 percent of GDP, compared with 2.5 percent), the Report notes.
The Report shows that there is a great room for improvement in conservation of the region’s natural resources and a great potential for a more sustainable future.
“UNDP is actively supporting countries of the region in the Rio+20 process, for which the report will be a useful input,” said Kori Udovicki, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
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