UNITED NATIONS ECONOMIC COMMISSION FOR EUROPE (ECE)
 

Statement

by 

Mrs. Brigita Schmognerova
United Nations Under-Secretary-General

at the 

World Summit for Sustainable Development

Johannesburg, South Africa
29 August 2002





Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The assessment of progress made throughout the world since the Rio Conference urgently requires to speed up the implementation of Agenda 21. Ministers and heads of delegations of member States of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) on 25 September 2001 in Geneva reaffirmed their strong commitment to sustainable development, their support to the Rio process and intention to strengthen the implementation of the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21 and other commitments made by the international community at Rio and at the UN GA's Session in 1992.

I. Priority actions on global challenges.

In the ministerial statement to the WSSD, it was reaffirmed that ECE region has a major role to play and responsibilities on global efforts to achieve sustainable development by concrete actions. In view of goals of sustainable development global priorities of the UNECE region for the Summit include (a) poverty eradication; (b) sustainable management, use and conservation of natural resources; (c) making globalization work for sustainable development; (d) improving governance and democratic process at all levels; (e) financing sustainable development; and (f) education, science and technology for decision making for sustainable development.

(1) Poverty eradication and economic and social development is considered to be central to sustainable development. Therefore, the Summit should promote a better understanding of linkages between the environmental policies and policies for social development and economic development. (2) The Summit should urge countries to strengthen their commitments to multilateral environmental agreements (MEA) and other international and regional legal instruments. (3) The regional ministerial meeting made a commitment to make globalization work for sustainable development and work towards widely sharing the benefits of globalization. In this regard, the commitments were made or support articulated (a) to encourage environmentally and socially responsible FDI particularly in the least developed countries and (b) to encourage international financial institutions to continue to integrate environmental and social concerns into their work (c) to support the efforts of official export credit agencies to develop environmental guidelines and encourage sustainable developmental strategies (d) to integrate MEA and international trade agreements (e) to remove trade distortions and to improve market access conditions for the least developed countries.

In terms of improving governance, the importance of good governance for sustainable developments was fully recognized including access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters. To provide the implementation of Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration in the ECE region the Aarhus Convention come into force and governments in other regions may revise to consider acceding to it. According to the ministerial statement, the Summit should also discuss ways of improving the institutional framework for sustainable development and the corresponding role of the UN RC in the future implementation of Agenda 21.

II. Priority actions_ for ECE region

The regional Assessment Report in the UNECE region on progress made in the implementation of Agenda 21 highlighted the diversity and major challenges on the road to sustainable development the region.

In the more advanced countries in the region technological innovations have helped to reduce energy consumption, pollution per unit of production produced and consumed, however in the region total increases in production and consumption and growing road and air transport have resulted in increased environmental impacts. Air and water pollution and land degradation together with climate change are major environmental concerns in this part of the region.

In transition economies many of old and wasteful industries continue to operate, new investments in less polluting industries remain insufficient, energy industry is high. Economic recovery in this part of the region may bring a significant rise in air, water and soil pollution and in production of waste. Sixteen years after the Chernobyl disaster the problem of nuclear safety is still not solved.

This diversity in the region identifies a number of challenges for the ECE region: like to change unsustainable patterns of production and consumption (primarily importance is for the most advanced economies in the region), further promote renewable energy, further develop energy-efficient technologies, etc. Economies in transition should continue their efforts in restructuring their economies, in technological innovation, changing behaviour in energy consumption, in addressing the issues of waste management, air and water pollution and nuclear safety.

Addressing such challenges exceeds the capacity of individual states and needs to be addressed in global and regional context. Therefore, the role of the Economic Commission for Europe in promoting environmental developments in the region is important. It includes:

(a) Developing international law in response to environmental challenges ECE has so far developed five environmental conventions and nine protocols intended to combat air and water pollution, improve the use of water, prevent industrial accidents, assess cross-border environmental impacts of industrial projects and promote environmental democracy. The Commission intends to be more involved in promoting timely ratification processes and ensure expeditious implementation despite the diversity in commitments, funds and capacity in enforcement mechanisms.

(b) Providing policy recommendations for individual countries based on indepth assessment of the environmental performance. In this respect, Environmental Performance Review (EPR) is the most prominent instrument used. A clear division of labour exists between ECE and OECD in which the OECD reviews the advanced countries and ECE countries in transition.

(c) Continuing monitoring role in environmental assessment which in addition to EPR includes its work on the preparation of the Protocol to the
 Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in Transboundary Context which is expected to be adopted in Kiev in 2003 at the "Environment for Europe" Conference.

(d) Promoting integration of environmental aspects to economic and sectoral policies and cross-sectoral dialogue integrating environmental dimension. ECE provides a forum for policy discussion on reforms in the energy sector; for integrating environment, health and transport, human settlements and environment, etc.

(e) Promoting the regional environmental initiatives like the "Environment for Europe", "Transport, Environment and Health", etc.

III. Social dimension of sustainable development

Despite strong economic growth in the transition economies, disparities in the economic and social welfare in the region have increased and raised health and human degradation. Life expectancy particularly for men declined dramatically and the share of population living in poverty increased by a factor of ten. Unemployment and increasing income disparities increased social exclusion.

The objective of sustainable development in the region requires (i) that social dimension of sustainable development is fully integrated in the decision-making process; (ii) it is recognized that the different levels of economic and social developments in the region may require the application of different mechanisms to implement Agenda 21 and (iii) role of regional cooperation and integrating all three dimensions is enhanced.

The ministerial Statement in para 37 committed to strengthen or develop policies to increase social cohesion, reduce unemployment, help to tackle social inequality, etc. While social issues in the ECE are to some extent, addressed (like human settlements, social dimension in EPR, ageing and gender) no decision has been made in terms of including social dimension into the mandate of ECE.

In para. 141 of " Draft plan of implementation of the WSSD" it is assumed that implementation of Agenda 21 and outcomes of the Summit should be effectively pursued at the regional (and sub regional) levels through the regional commissions. According to para 143 the Regional Commissions should promote the integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development into their work in collaboration with other regional bodies.

However this requires a consensus among the member States on the need to effectively apply a strategic sustainable development approach to the ECE work which in the follow-up to the WSSD should be reached.