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Europe's mixed progress toward U.N. goals

Air pollution levels exceed recommended health limits in all but 10 mainly European countries, but most lowered carbon emissions and expanded forest cover.

GENEVA (AN) — Air pollution levels exceed recommended health limits in all but 10 mainly European countries, but most lowered carbon emissions and expanded forest cover in recent years, a U.N. regional commission reported on Tuesday.

The report from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, or UNECE, is the first to study its 56 member nations' progress toward the U.N.'s 17 anti-poverty Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. UNECE said it looked at nations through the lens of 49 key performance indicators.

Member nations are "fulfilling targets or making good progress" towards many of the goals, according to the 104-page report, but are falling short in tackling air pollution, protecting marine areas, providing development aid and putting in place effective strategies to lower risk from natural disasters. Along with Europe, UNECE's member nations cover parts of North America and Asia.

The report noted that its findings this year coincide with the beginning of a so-called "Decade of Action and Delivery for Sustainable Development," a high-level U.N. initiative calling on nations to raise ambitions, accelerate progress and, ultimately, bring real results.

"The findings show many areas where UNECE countries have achieved good progress as well as those where the region is not yet advancing at the speed or scale required and where decisive action is needed to accelerate progress," the report says.

UNECE was set up in 1947 by the U.N. Economic and Social Council as one of the world body's five regional commissions. The others are the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA); Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC); and Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

Only ten countries within UNECE — Canada, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United States — had levels of air pollution with fine particulate matter below the World Health Organization's recommended limit.

Aid and disaster risk lagging

Nearly all countries lowered CO2 emissions between 2011 and 2016, led by decreases in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine. The lowest carbon emissions per unit of GDP were in Switzerland, Sweden and Malta.

Forest cover has expanded in the past two decades by a net increase of 28.1 million hectares between 2000 and 2015, in contrast to a global decrease of forestland which fell to 30.7% in 2015, down from 31.1% in 2000.

Just 14 nations had reached the target of protecting at least 10% of marine areas, compared with 23 nations that had not yet accomplished that.

Among 25 nations with data available, only five — Britain, Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden — were meeting the target of providing 0.7% of gross national income to official development assistance.

The lowest levels of assistance, below 0.2%, were reported for the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and the United States.

Among 22 nations that had data available, just nine had full disaster risk reduction strategies in place. Nine others had no such strategies at the local level. Five nations had rates of disaster-related mortality and missing persons that exceeded the global baseline of 1.5 per 100,000 population.