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Christian Friis Bach

Bach's Blog

The Executive Secretary's Blog

How do we assess our environmental performance?

We celebrate World Environmental Day on 5 June, but this year we also celebrate 20 years of Environmental Performance Reviews (EPRs) in our region. The first EPR was conducted in 1996 for Estonia. It is time to reflect on their achievements also in these months where we search for the best way to ensure progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

The EPRs are a peer review mechanism carried out by multi-disciplinary teams led by UNECE gathering experts from more than 40 countries and 12 international organizations. They have provided an irreplaceable opportunity for exchange of experience and best practices on environmental sustainability across numerous sectors such as agriculture, industry, energy, forestry, health, housing and transport.

The 44 assessments performed in 24 countries have resulted in many positive changes in the countries reviewed, including improved policy and legal frameworks, stronger institutions and increased financing to invest in activities to improve environmental sustainability.

To give just a few examples, in the Republic of Moldova the EPR recommendations allowed upgrading the status of the national environmental authority to that of the ministry. In Croatia, the EPR triggered changes to the system of transport-related taxes to encourage a transition to less polluting practices. In Georgia, the EPR helped increase the effectiveness of international environmental assistance with the introduction of regular donor coordination meetings, the creation of a database on donor-financed projects and the establishment of a project coordination unit. In Belarus, where the third EPR has just been launched, the recommendations helped to improve environmental monitoring and triggered the revision of air and water quality standards to make them compatible with international benchmarks.

EPRs also have attracted the attention of countries outside the European region. Morocco invited UNECE to conduct an EPR in 2012 in cooperation with the Economic Commission for Africa.  Following the recommendations, strategic environmental assessment is being introduced in Moroccan legislation so that sectoral policy documents are reviewed in the early stages for their environmental impacts.

EPRs have evolved throughout its two decades of existence. In recent years, the reviews have focused on such issues as green economy and climate change. They have looked more closely at practical implementation of environmental legislation and policies. They have also addressed the integration of environmental concerns into an increasing number of sectors. EPRs have been addressing the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), often alerting governments to systemic problems, such as the failure to integrate MDGs in national policies, deficiencies in MDG reporting, or a lack of financing for MDG-related activities.

Looking ahead, it will also be important that EPRs support individual governments in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and provide opportunities for peer learning and good practices for achieving the global Sustainable Development Goals.

When celebrating World Environment Day, we hope governments will use the EPRs to ensure that they reach the SDGs related to the environment by 2030. And we hope the methodology can also inspire our citizens. Take a minute to think about your actions to protect the environment and what could you do better. Discuss this with a colleague or your family and see what they think. In other words, carry out a self-EPR!


If you wonder why the animal accompanying my blog is a cow, it is because cows are fascinating animals; the cows of our host country, Switzerland, are famous for their quality; and because I am still a farmer, and miss the cows I had in Denmark. Now I got one back.