The current structure of the process follows the provisions of the Reform Plan of the "Environment for Europe" process, adopted in 2009 (En/En, Fr/Fr, Ru/Ru). The UNECE Committee on Environmental Policy is the convening body for the preparatory process.
Partner organizations play an important role in the preparatory process and in the Conference. Depending on the identified themes for a Conference, relevant organizations join the process. Among partner organizations for the Seventh Ministerial Conference "Environment for Europe", Astana, 21-23 September 2011, are: the European Environment Agency (EEA), the European Commission, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), the World Health Organization (WHO), the OECD Task Force for the Implementation of the Environmental Action Programme for Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia countries (EAP Task Force), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (Forest Europe), the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention), Regional Environmental Centres (REC-CEE, CAREC, REC-Caucasus, REC-Moldova, and REC-Russia), the Executive Committee of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS), and the European ECO-Forum.
To maintain the open nature of the preparatory process and the engagement of all stakeholders, representatives of major groups are invited to participate in meetings of the Committee in preparation of the Conference, as appropriate, in accordance with the existing UN rules and procedures.
The Astana Ministerial Conference is being prepared in accordance with the provisions of the Reform Plan. The preceding six Conferences were prepared by an ad hoc preparatory Working Group of Senior Officials, its Executive Committee in close cooperation with partner organizations in the "Environment for Europe" process.
The Working Group of Senior Officials (WGSO) was an intergovernmental group created for the express purpose of preparing the Ministerial Conferences "Environment for Europe" and for coordinating the follow-up response. Each Working Group of Senior Officials was established by the UNECE Committee on Environmental Policy upon the recommendations of the Ministerial Conferences.
The Working Group of Senior Officials was open to participation of all member States of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. In addition, the Chairpersons of the following were invited as observers:
The Chair of the WGSO had traditionally been chosen from the host country of the next Conference.
The UNECE served as secretariat to the WGSO.
On the recommendation of the Ministers at the Second Ministerial Conference, in Lucerne, Switzerland, the first WGSO was established in 1993, and, on the recommendation of the Ministers at the Third Ministerial Conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, the second was established in 1996. The third WGSO was established in 1999, on the recommendation of the Ministers at the Fourth Ministerial Conference, in Aarhus, Denmark. The fourth WGSO was established in 2004 on the recommendation of the Ministers at their Fifth Ministerial Conference, in Kiev, Ukraine, to prepare the Belgrade Ministerial Conference.
Terms of reference of the Ad Hoc Preparatory Working Group of Senior Officials called for the establishment of an Executive Committee which would serve as the Bureau of the Working Group. The Executive Committee was composed of representatives of eight UNECE member States, including one from South-Eastern Europe; two from Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, one from North America and four from other UNECE member States.
The Working Group also invited participation in the Executive Committee from: the Chair of the UNECE Committee on Environmental Policy, one of the co-Chairs of the OECD Task Force for the Implementation of the Environmental Action Programme (EAP Task Force), the Chair of the Project Preparation Committee (PPC), and the Chair of the Council for the Pan-European Biological and Landscape Diversity Strategy; a representative of the Presidency of the European Union, a senior representative of the European Commission, a senior representative of EcoForum and one senior representative from the regional environmental centres.
The Executive Committee was chaired by the host country and the secretariat services were provided by UNECE. The Executive Committee could invite other organizations to participate in the preparations pending a decision on the theme of an upcoming Conference.
To prepare Ministerial Conference the Working Group worked in close cooperation with:
The WGSO also cooperated with:
The United Nations Development Programme
The United Nations Environment Programme
The World Health Organization's Regional Office for Europe
The World Bank
The European Commission
The Council of Europe
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
and other international organizations and institutions, including governing bodies of environmental conventions and the regional environmental centres, international non-governmental and private-sector organizations.