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UNECEs response to the climate challenge

UNECE is a driving force in combating climate change in the pan-European region and beyond.  The region has a crucial role in contributing to the local and regional success of UNFCCC, as was noted by UNECE member States at the "Sixth Ministerial Conference "Environment for Europe" (Belgrade, 10–12 October 2007)".

UNECE has spearheaded the region’s efforts to achieve the targets of United Nations Millennium Development Goals, especially MDG 7, which aims to integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and to reverse the losses of environmental resources. 

Since 1992, when the international community negotiated the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, the region has led the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Fifty-four of the 56 member States of UNECE are Parties to the Convention. The Kyoto Protocol, which entered into force in 2005, to which two-thirds of UNECE member States are contracting Parties, commits advanced countries to the binding emissions reductions targets it established for the period 2008–2012. Negotiations are currently ongoing for the international climate regime post-2012.

In addition to the international agreements, many initiatives have been adopted across the region, such as the Emission Trading System in the European Union and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in North America.

Climate change is a cross-cutting topic in UNECE’s work. At its 63rd Session in 2009, the Economic Commission for Europe discussed the ongoing work of UNECE in climate change mitigation and adaptation, and more recently the 64th Session was dedicated to promote the cooperation and integration of transport, trade and energy networks across the region to achieve sustainable development. 

UNECE’s Regional Coordination Mechanism recently created a thematic working group on climate change to design a regional action plan for climate change adaptation and mitigation. 

Areas of work

UNECE's climate change mitigation and adaptation work targets many areas that can achieve large greenhouse gas reductions. Its activities also address many of the major projected climatic impacts that will be felt across the region, such as water shortages.

Environmental Policy

UNECE encourages the ratification and implementation of its multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), which contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, including:  

  • The Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution has contributed to a significant decrease in air pollution levels over the past three decades in the region and is now extending its work to new issues such as black carbon. Discussions in the Convention’s bodies have drawn attention to the strong links between air pollutants and GHG emissions and have highlighted specific instances where integration of strategies is needed.
  • The Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes is an important legal framework for the development of water adaptation strategies, in particular in the transboundary context. It has developed a Guidance on Water and Adaptation to Climate Change.
  • The Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context sets out the obligation to assess the environmental impact of certain activities, as well as to notify and consult each other on all major projects under consideration that are likely to have a significant environmental impact across boundaries. The Convention’s Protocol on Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA), which ensures that Parties integrate consideration of the environment into their plans and programmes at a very early planning stage, can be used to introduce climate change considerations into development planning.
  • The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention), is the only legally binding instrument so far to implement principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Environmental information can help to raise awareness about climate change issues and to strengthen synergies between mitigation and adaptation needs. Public participation in this process ensures that social values and trade-offs are represented in political decisions on climate-related issues. Its Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers provides for the collection and dissemination of information on emissions of GHGs and other toxic or hazardous substances from industrial facilities.

The Environmental Performance Reviews conducted by UNECE, in line with the peer review mechanism methodology also used by the OECD, contribute to the assessment of individual countries’ efforts to bring down pollution levels and better manage their natural resources. 

Sustainable Energy

The sustainable energy projects of UNECE help to facilitate the transition to a more sustainable and secure energy future by improving energy efficiency and conservation. They promote the introduction of renewable energy sources and, while cleaner energy sources are being developed and made commercially available, the use of natural gas.

The Energy Efficiency 21 programme promotes regional cooperation to enhance countries’ energy efficiency and reduce GHGs.

The Global Energy Efficiency project aims to create a systematic exchange of information on capacity-building, policy reform and project financing in energy sector across all five UN regional commissions. 


Transport is a significant and growing contributor to global climate change. According to the OECD, it is responsible for 13 per cent of all anthropogenic emissions of GHGs and for almost one quarter of the world’s total CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.  

For over 50 years, UNECE's World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29) the World Forum has been developing worldwide norms aiming at increasing vehicles' environmental performance and safety.  Its   regulations have resulted in substantial abatements of the emissions of various gaseous pollutants (e.g. carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, NOx) and particulate matter.  

The World Forum is considering strategies for the automotive sector up to 2040 which could encompass:

  • improved energy efficiency and the use of sustainable biofuels as a short-term objective (2015); 
  • the development and introduction into the market of plug-in hybrid vehicles as a mid-term objective (2015–2025); 
  • the development and introduction into the market of electric vehicles as a long-term objective (2025–2040). 

This strategy would shift the automotive sector from the use of fossil energy to the use of electric energy and hydrogen. To be effective, this strategy needs to rely on the sustainable production of electricity and hydrogen, a crucial policy issue identified for future discussions on global warming and the reduction of CO2 emissions.

In 2011, UNECE initiated a new project to study the impact of inland transport on climate change. In the framework of the United Nations Development Account (UNDA), this project aims at developing a monitoring and assessment tool for CO2 emissions in inland transport to facilitate climate change mitigation

The Transport Health and Environment Pan-European Programme (THE PEP), a joint initiative of UNECE and the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe, helps to achieve more sustainable transport patterns and a better integration of environmental and health concerns in transport policy. In particular, THE PEP promotes sustainable urban transport, including alternative modes of transport, in the region.

Sustainable forestry

Forests store more than 80 per cent of terrestrial aboveground carbon and more than 70 per cent of soil organic carbon. They are also the source of wood energy that can substitute fossil energy, thereby reducing GHG emissions.  Wood can also be a substitute for non-renewable construction materials such as plastics, steel or concrete. 

The UNECE Timber Committee has an active role in monitoring trends in the sector and in promoting sustainable forest management.  

Energy-efficient housing

Due to both its high GHG emissions and its large potential for low-cost energy-efficiency measures, the housing sector plays a critical role in climate change mitigation. IPCC estimates that the global potential to reduce emissions at roughly 29 per cent for the residential and commercial sectors. 

UNECE's programme geared to achieving maximal energy efficiency in the region’s housing, allows countries to share experience and good practice in reducing energy consumption in the residential sector, both vis-à-vis existing housing stock and new residential housing construction.

Other activities

UNECE pursues many other cross-sectoral programmes that strengthen both mitigation and adaptation. Some of its activities include: 

© United Nations Economic Commissions for Europe – 2013