Sofia, Bulgaria, 26-27 February 2001
at the Second Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on
Environmental Impact Assessment
in a Transboundary Context
Distinguished Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased and honoured to address this gathering of the Parties to the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in a Transboundary Context. With this second meeting, you are marking the tenth anniversary of the Convention, which was adopted and signed in Espoo, Finland, on 25 February 1991. I wish to congratulate you on 10 years of fruitful cooperation. This anniversary will undoubtedly provide an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the past 10 years and to move the Convention forward. It is important to note in this connection that, since your previous meeting about two years ago, the number of Parties to the Convention has gone up to 33.
Your broad and high-level participation underscores the significance of this meeting and of the decisions that are before you. Let me also thank Ms. Evdokia Maneva, Bulgaria’s Minister for Environment and Water, for her statement and the excellent arrangements made to host this event.
You may be aware that the ECE’s activities in the field of the environment are based on three strategic pillars:
- first, participation in two major international cooperative processes: the regional promotion of Agenda 21 and the "Environment for Europe" ministerial conferences, the fifth of which will be held in Kiev, Ukraine, in May 2003;
- second, the review of environmental performance in central and eastern Europe. So far reviews have been carried out in 14 countries; and
- third, international legislation. To date five international environmental Conventions, including the EIA Convention, have been drawn up under the auspices of the ECE.
ECE attaches great importance to the EIA Convention as a legally binding instrument to tackle the problem of transboundary pollution in Europe. EIA is a cross-sectoral instrument that takes an integrated approach to protecting our environment. An approach that goes against the traditional, sectoral approach and that requires a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of an activity on the environment. What makes this instrument so valuable is that it does not only look at the impacts of an activity but also requires an environmental analysis of the alternatives. EIA was also one of the first instruments to allow the public to participate in decision-making procedures and to ensure that decision makers were aware of the environmental consequences of their decisions.
As I hinted earlier, these past 10 years have been eventful ones for the Convention. At the time of its adoption, it was the first multilateral treaty to specify the procedural rights and duties of Parties with regard to the transboundary impacts of proposed activities. In this context I consider that the time is ripe to analyse the experience that countries have gained in the implementation of the Convention and in particular to study the latest developments in EIA. Such a study might help to ensure that the Convention moves with the times and continues to be a "modern" legal instrument to protect our environment.
The EIA Convention was also one of the first treaties to contain provisions on public participation. Already in 1991 it provided for the public of the affected country to make comments or raise objections. In this sense it paved the way for another ECE Convention on the issue: the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. I am convinced that this new Convention will help further strengthen public participation in general and the relevant provisions of the EIA Convention in particular. Both Conventions will reinforce each other. For the environment and the inhabitants of the ECE region it is a win-win situation.
Finally, the EIA Convention has influenced and will continue to influence other international instruments. For example, the ECE Conventions on the Transboundary Effects on Industrial Accidents and on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes both make reference to EIA in a transboundary context, as do some other conventions, such as the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area. In this context I have noted with interest the item in your work plan on strengthening cooperation with other ECE conventions. Such cooperation is undoubtedly the way forward. The experience gained during the ten years of implementation of the EIA Convention can help the other conventions together and individually.
The EIA Convention, like any convention, needs to have a work plan which creates a framework for concrete action to underpin its application. It would be useful if the Parties could go beyond their mere legal obligations and take action to maximize the effectiveness of the Convention so that the best possible practical results are achieved. The work plan which you are about to adopt is therefore essential. It is indeed ambitious and I attach great importance to the start of the negotiations of a new protocol on strategic environmental assessment and the establishment of a system of compliance. It is also encouraging to see progress on such items as the review of the implementation of the Convention, guidelines on good practice, public participation, amendments to the Convention and the database. The work plan reflects the political will of ECE Governments to take an active and forward-looking approach to these issues and I hope that we are all ready to take on responsibilities to make this Convention even more effective.
I also hope that the negotiations of the protocol on strategic environmental assessment will proceed smoothly so that it is ready for adoption and signature at the Kiev Ministerial Conference. These negotiations are, I believe, one of the major new developments under the EIA Convention. Such a protocol would further underline the cross-sectoral approach of the Convention by integrating environmental and health considerations into strategic decision-making and thus contribute to sustainable development. By doing so, the protocol would fill an obvious gap in the present environmental framework. I therefore encourage strong cooperation between this Convention and the Aarhus Convention to ensure that the relevant principles and provisions of the latter are reflected in the new protocol as well.
I would also like to stress the importance of the proposal by the Government of Bulgaria to amend the Convention in order to clarify that civil society and, in particular, non-governmental organizations may participate in the procedures under the Convention, and to allow States outside the ECE region to become a Party to the Convention. The adoption of this proposal would ensure that the Convention keeps abreast with recent developments in international environmental law.
However, as you are well aware, progress often comes at a price. In particular the decisions that you are about to take on the setting-up of a compliance-review system and the start of negotiations of a protocol on strategic environmental assessment will put an additional strain on the already stretched resources of the Convention’s secretariat. I am consequently relieved to note that the Parties in their decision II/13 on the budget are promising to strengthen the secretariat with extra resources. With these extra-budgetary resources, the Economic Commission for Europe will be able to better carry out the additional tasks requested from it.
I am pleased to see that many representatives of non-governmental organizations are present at this meeting, and I want to make it clear to them that our intention is to further involve civil society in the work under the Convention. We invite you to participate actively in the negotiations of the new protocol on strategic environmental assessment. It is important that citizens feel that they a say in what is happening around them. This is particularly essential in the field of environment.
Finally, I believe that if we are to further strengthen the implementation of the Convention it is also important that non-Parties participate fully in the activities under the work plan. It is my hope that for non-Parties such participation will be the first step toward ratification, so that the number of Parties will continue to rise and cooperation on EIA continue to broaden.
I wish you success in your deliberation. Thank you.