European ministers call for urgent action on environmental threats

Ministry of Energy, Development and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Serbia

Health and environment ministers at the fourth meeting of the European Environment and Health Ministerial Board, in Belgrade, Serbia

Urgent action is needed in Europe to tackle environmental health hazards: air pollution, asbestos, mercury, unsafe water and poor sanitation. This is the main conclusion of the fourth meeting of the European Environment and Health Ministerial Board, on 19 April 2013 in Belgrade, Serbia.

The Board agreed to accelerate Europe’s work to minimize the health impact of these risks, to follow up commitments made at the Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in 2010. In addition, it reviewed progress and challenges in the implementation of these commitments, as well as today’s main strategic directions and priorities in environment and health in the WHO European Region. The Board brings together health ministers from France, Malta, Serbia and Slovenia and environment ministers from Belgium, Israel, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.

Air quality

Noting the most recent estimates of air-pollution-related deaths and diseases and new evidence on the negative health effects of even very small concentrations of particulate matter, the Board was particularly concerned that most people in the Region live in areas with pollution levels exceeding WHO’s air quality guidelines, resulting in an average loss of 9 months’ life expectancy for each citizen. In the framework of the European Union (EU) 2013 Year of Air, the Ministerial Board called on WHO to revise its 2005 air quality guidelines and on the EU to adjust its air quality policy accordingly.


In line with the 2010 pledge to eliminate asbestos-related diseases in the European Region by 2015, the Board supported the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in the list of hazardous chemicals that require prior informed consent for cross-border shipments. This is based on the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, whose Parties will meet on from 28 April to 10 May 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Call to ratify international agreements

Further, the Board called on all Member States in the European Region to sign, ratify or accede to key international instruments that directly protect human health, particularly the Protocol on Water and Health, the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution and the recently negotiated Minamata Convention on Mercury.

Finally, the Ministerial Board elected Professor Slavica Djukic-Dejanovic, Minister of Health of Serbia, and Mr Amir Peretz, Minister of Environmental Protection of Israel, as its new co-chairs.