Action to tackle air pollution and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is mutually reinforcing. UNECE’s Air Convention is a unique instrument that helps 51 countries work together for cleaner air on a broad regional basis, reducing emissions of key air pollutants by 40% to 80% in Europe and by 30 to 40% in North America since 1990. Its amended Gothenburg Protocol is the only international legally-binding agreement to tackle short-lived climate pollutants including black carbon – some 680 times more heat trapping than CO2 – and targets key ground-level ozone precursors.
As the United Nations platform for transport by road, rail and inland waterway and custodian of 59 UN Conventions, UNECE provides a harmonized legal and regulatory framework to decarbonize mobility and transport. This includes facilitating the shift to more energy efficient and greener modes such as rail and inland waterways for long distance haulage and passenger journeys, and to further reduce their environmental footprint through measures such as regulatory provisions on pollution reduction for inland waterway transport.
UN vehicle regulations and Global Technical Regulations developed at UNECE enable harmonized measurement of fuel consumption and tailpipe CO2 emissions from cars and vans. These harmonized international standards also enable the widespread introduction of renewable and sustainable fuel sources for vehicles including electric, hybrid and hydrogen.
Doubling the current level of cycling would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent with indirect economic benefits of €1.1 billion per year in the region. The first Pan-European Master Plan for Cycling Promotion provides a blueprint to help countries achieve this by 2030.
Buildings account for 40% of CO2 emissions through the energy services they require and around one third of the global consumption of materials. Framework Guidelines for Energy Efficiency Standards in Buildings developed by UNECE provide a set of principles to improve sustainability in the conception/design, construction, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning/recycling of buildings and their components. The Guidelines provide the basis for the High-Performance Buildings Initiative that seeks to improve health and quality of life while advancing decarbonization of the global buildings supply chain. The #Housing2030 initiative launched by UNECE, UN-Habitat and Housing Europe, will further strengthen action, supporting decision making by providing examples of climate policy tools that can help in the implementation of climate neutral and affordable housing solutions.
Human-caused emissions of methane - with an instantaneous global warming potential 120 times higher than that of CO2 - are rising, and must be reduced by 40-45% by 2030 to limit global temperature rise to 1.5° C. Readily available measures – of which half are in the fossil fuels sector – can reduce 2030 methane emissions by 30% if fully implemented. UNECE guidance for methane management in the oil and gas sectors and for both operating and abandoned coal mines can support concrete action now.
As part of comprehensive policy dialogue and cooperation to accelerate the region’s sustainable energy transition, UNECE helps countries to develop national strategies on energy efficiency, renewable energy and low-carbon development. Recent examples include Albania, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russian Federation, Serbia, and Ukraine. With time running out and fossil fuels still accounting for over half of electricity generation in the region, a UNECE technology brief notes the potential role of nuclear power – which currently provides 20% of electricity generated in the region and 43% of low-carbon generation – to decarbonise the energy system and energy intensive industries, as part of a broader portfolio alongside deploying other sustainable low- or zero-carbon technologies.
Coal-based infrastructure is at the heart of industrial complexes that include mines, power stations, steel production, other affiliated industries, and urban areas. The substantial industrial and urban ecosystems that have developed around coal facilities represent an important socio-economic and hence political barrier to diversifying away from coal mining. UNECE raises awareness of the need for adequate consideration of these issues, calling on countries to support a just transition through industrial modernisation to address short-term political drivers, notably employment in coal mining regions, that impede real action on climate change and energy for sustainable development.