NICOSIA - Europe should show "far greater ambition" on climate change because its overall greenhouse gas emissions are still rising, and so countries must embrace recycling, tighten air quality and spend more on the environment, a U.N. report said on Wednesday.

Cuts in emissions mostly in western European countries have been offset by rises elsewhere in the region, a United Nations assessment of strategies among 54 European nations found.

Air quality still falls short of international guidelines, and taxes collected in the name of environmental protection were not being used for their stated purpose, the report presented to European environment ministers meeting in Cyprus said.

"The findings of this assessment .. must be a wake-up call for the region," said Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, known as the UNECE.

"Despite progress in certain areas, governments in the pan-European region must show far greater ambition in tackling climate change," the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) statement said.

The UNECE report compiled with UNEP said financial incentives could be offered to boost recyling, where rates differed significantly among countries and were 'particularly low' in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

It found that while all countries in the pan-European region had undertaken commitments to cut emissions of the gases causing global warming, reductions mostly achieved in western Europe were offset by increases elsewhere.

The use of renewables increased in 29 countries between 2013 and 2017, though overall, fossil fuels still accounted for about 78% of total energy consumption, it said.

The report said more effort was needed in dealing with air pollution. Forty-one countries recorded a 13% reduction in premature deaths due to exposure to fine particulate matter, but concentrations still exceeded WHO guidelines.

(Reporting By Michele Kambas, Editing by William Maclean)