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Natural Capital & Renewable Energy

Preserving natural capital ensures a sustainable foundation for a circular economy. At the same time, a circular economy contributes to maintaining natural capital by reducing the environmental burden resulting from the use of material resources.

  • UNECE promotes the conservation of natural capital in multiple ways: its multilateral environmental conventions are legal instruments for international cooperation that reduce air pollution, diminish pressures on water resources and address other sources of environmental threats. It is actively engaged in sustainable forest management and contributes to various initiatives on forest restoration, including the Bonn challenge (an issue which will become more prominent during the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021–2030). UNECE also works to improve effective land use and land administration and promotes sustainable land use policies.
  • Despite progress over the last decades, much remains to be done to enhance environmental protection and the preservation of natural capital in the region. The Air Convention has brought many advances – including one extra year to life expectancy in Europe – but the median annual economic costs of deaths by air pollution in the pan-European region still exceed 7 per cent of GDP.
waste water
  • In 18 out of 43 UNECE countries for which data is available, less than 80 per cent of domestic wastewater flows are safely treated. By 2030, low to medium water stress and scarcity are expected to affect half of the water basins in the region, triggering increased consideration of water reuse as an alternative source. The UNECE-WHO/Europe Protocol on Water and Health supports countries in considering and developing legislation on wastewater reuse through policy and scientific advice.
  • There are multiple linkages between the different components of natural capital, for example between air and water quality and the health of ecosystems. One of the clear successes of the UNECE Air Convention has been to dramatically improve the state of European forests. Regular monitoring of the effects of air pollution on forests under the Convention serves to assess ongoing impacts. Better resource management in a particular area can have positive effects on reducing the demand for other resources. For example, savings in the use of water would also lead to energy savings stemming from water abstraction and distribution.
wind turbines
  • Those linkages are also very clear regarding the exploitation of renewable energy resources, where a significant untapped potential remains in the UNECE region. The share of renewable energy in the total energy supply is increasing continually, amid growing policy momentum and heightened private sector interest in the opportunities created by decarbonization. However, there are still large differences across countries.
  • Exploiting the potential for development of renewable energy system requires paying attention to broader questions of natural resource management, and bringing together all actors. The water-food-energy-ecosystem nexus assessments carried out under the Water Convention, including in a transboundary context, propose integrated solutions for natural resource management. Linkages are also explored in UNECE’s multi-stakeholder “Hard Talks”, which seek to identify barriers and policy responses to renewable energy deployment .
  • UN vehicle regulations developed at UNECE support the widespread introduction of renewable and sustainable fuel technologies including electric, hybrid and hydrogen.
  • UNECE helps countries to develop national strategies on energy efficiencyrenewable energy and low-carbon development. Recent examples include Albania, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russian Federation, Serbia, and Ukraine.
  • UNECE supports the sustainable use of forests for wood energy, which is the region’s primary renewable energy source representing 50% of renewable energy use.
  • Internationally harmonized UNFC specifications for the assessment and reporting of renewable energy resources including geothermal, bioenergy, wind and solar will further help to scale up their use and channel increased investments.
  • Large scale deployment of Carbon Capture Use and Storage (CCUS) technology in the UNECE region would allow countries to decarbonise the energy sector and hard-to abate industrial sectors in the medium term to bridge the gap until next generation low-, zero-, or negative- carbon energy technologies become available. As highlighted by UNECE’s CCUS technology brief, captured CO2 can be used in a range of mineralization, chemical and biological processes, with applications in the industrial, steel, cement and chemicals sectors. In a future hydrogen economy, carbon from CO2 could be used to make many of the chemicals and plastics currently made using fossil fuels. UNECE-led regional cooperation on this critical issue can help countries scale up CCUS implementation.