• English

International Conference "Sensitive Areas – a Key Challenge for Environment and Transport in Europe"

Eisenstadt, Austria, 14-15 March 2001

Keynote speech by Ms. Danuta Hübner
UN Under-Secretary-General
and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe


Ladies and Gentlemen,

We feel, indeed, privileged, to be able to join the Austrian government in convening this conference. I would also like to stress how much we appreciate in the UN Economic Commission for Europe the efforts of the Austrian government to organize this International Conference to promote one of the main objectives within the Vienna Declaration and its Programme of Joint Action - the protection of sensitive areas. I would also like to thank the region of Burgenland for providing us the opportunity to visit the beautiful Lake Neusiedl Region, and the city of Eisenstadt for hosing us here andin the Esterhazy Castle. This is indeed a perfect setting for such a debate.

This international conference is yet another expression of the Austrian commitment to the intergovernmental cooperation on transport and environment, which we believe is crucial for the well-being of Europeans and the environment in our region.

We all know that, while transport has played a major role in fostering growth and integration in our region, today, the issue at stake is the development of a sustainable transport which serves economic growth and addresses environmental concerns. Both challenges are essential for the work of the ECE. We believe that for the development of sustainable transport, the development and continuous updating of international legally biding instruments in the transport and environment areas is a must.

Let me put this Conference into a broader framework of what is being done to develop sustainable transport. Let me also emphasise the work of one particular body within the ECE intergovernmental machinery. On the transport side, the Working Party on the Construction of Vehicles (WP.29) has developed a number of ECE Regulations, which set up specific emission limits for the various gaseous pollutants and noise as well as requirements on energy consumption. These Regulations are constantly updated to keep pace with the best available technology and respond to demands from society for increased environmental protection. As you know, WP.29 has recently become the World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations. We are going global with our high European standards. The ECE is also heavily involved in promoting the development of more environmentally sound transport modes such as rail, inland water and combined transport, and has developed a number of related legal instruments to this end.

On the environment side, I would like to make reference to the Convention on the Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution and its related eight Protocols. They establish requirements and limits for the overall emissions of gaseous pollutants produced by all kinds of sources and sectors, including transport. The Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone, once fully implemented, would substantially reduce transport-linked emissions of pollutants in Europe. Implementation is of utmost importance.

Another ECE convention which is also worth mentioning here is the ECE Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context prescribes measures and procedures to prevent, control or reduce any significant adverse effect on the environment, which may be caused by a proposed activity also in the field of transport. Furthermore, in order to integrate environment and health issues into overall policies, plans and programmes of the economic sectors including transport, the ECE is in the process of developing, within the framework of this Convention, a legally binding instrument on Strategic Environmental Assessment. The latest meeting of the parties to this Convention in Sofia took the relevant decisions.

The development of legal instruments has received a strong impetus from two policy-related processes. ECE member states have embarked on them in order to develop a broader and more integrated policy framework in transport and environment.

First, as you know, the ECE organized in 1997 the Vienna Regional Conference on Transport and Environment, where Ministers and high level officials of both sectors sat together for the first time in an international forum. Through the Declaration adopted at the Conference, ECE Governments commit themselves to "undertake to reduce the negative impact of transport on the environment and human health by promoting measures to reach volumes and patterns of transport which are compatible with sustainable development". To this end, the Declaration set up a comprehensive strategy, which includes: promotion of less polluting vehicles and fuels, promotion of transport efficiency, protection of sensitive areas, promotion of sustainable urban transport, safe transport of dangerous goods, prevention of water pollution, and improved land use planning. The Programme of Joint Action (POJA), also adopted at the Conference, outlines national and regional actions to be taken in each area of the Strategy. At the ECE, we have been given the responsibility of ensuring the overall monitoring and follow-up of both the Declaration and the Programme.

We see today that the Vienna process has provided decisive impulses to intersectoral cooperation both at the national and international levels. National focal points on transport and environment have been established in 44 ECE countries. At the international level, we have promoted and disseminated a number of regional activities, using mechanisms and tools for exchanging national and regional experiences and best practices. This is achieved through: the Joint Meeting on Transport and Environment, mentioned earlier; the recently established Ad Hoc Group of Experts on Transport and Environment reporting to the latter; the regular reports of 12 Lead Actors and national Focal Points prepared for the meetings of those bodies; and the ECE web page developed to facilitate access to the information on these developments.

Second, policy process was triggered in 1999, when the Third Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in London adopted a Charter on Transport, Environment and Health, in which participating member countries confirmed their commitment to making transport sustainable for health and the environment. The ECE is responsible for the follow up and monitoring of the implementation of the Charter’s Plan of Action, as it has been requested to provide, jointly with WHO, a report which reviews the relevant international response to date in priority areas for the transport sustainable for environment and health and contains recommendations for further action in these fields. Three major types of recommendations are outlined in the report: the development of a new legal instrument focusing on integration of environment and health concerns into transport policies and decision making; the further development of existing international instruments; and the fostering of the work already undertaken by the various international organizations involved in these areas. The forthcoming high-level meeting of Ministers of Transport, Environment and Health or their representatives, to be held jointly by the ECE and WHO in Geneva in May 2001 will decide upon the further steps to be taken.

On the specific subject of this Conference, I wish to commend Austria for having taken the lead, jointly with Italy and Slovenia, to implement the activities under the Programme of Joint Action related to the protection of sensitive areas. In chapter IV of the Vienna Declaration which is devoted to this question, the governments committed themselves to paying particular attention to those areas where the ecosystems are particularly sensitive, where the geographic conditions and the topography may intensify pollution and noise or where unique natural resources or unique cultural heritages exist. The governments agreed first of all to adapt and develop, at the international level, further environmental quality criteria and standards for sensitive areas to achieve specific targets for air, soil and water quality, as well as for noise and land use. Secondly, they agreed to develop and to introduce additional and stricter measures, at the appropriate national and international level, in these areas including improved rail, combined or public transport. Finally, they also agreed to support the cooperation of authorities and organizations for developing guidelines, measures and pilot projects in these areas. I am confident that this Conference will trigger convergent views on all those issues and will let us move ahead to the more operational activities.

It is indeed encouraging that Austria is so actively assuming its role as a Lead Actor, along the directions provided by the Conference. In particular, let me mention the base study on criteria and indicators for ecologically sensitive areas, to be applied especially in the context of transport policy making, which was published in summer 2000. We particularly appreciate the focus of the study on the value added of the sensitive areas for sustainable development from the economic, ecological and social viewpoint. I am fully convinced that the background information provided by the criteria catalogue will contribute to the successful outcome of this meeting.

Let me also mention a pilot study on transport in sensitive areas focusing on the sensitive Lake Neusiedl area, which aims at creating a model for solving transport problems in the region as well as on a more general scale. This pilot study could be promoted as a best practice to be shared within the framework of ECE meetings related to transport and environment.

A recent survey among ECE Member States, prepared for the first meeting of the Group of Experts in Transport and Environment shows that the question of sensitive areas is rated as a first priority among the areas covered by the Programme of Joint Action. I would therefore like to propose that this issue be considered as one of the major areas for the assessment of progress made and further action to take on the occasion of the Mid Term Review of the Vienna Programme of Action which will take place in 2002. In order to prepare this event, we shall build upon the above Austrian study on sensitive areas as well as upon recommendations which will emerge from the meeting of experts that is to take place back to back with our Conference.

Let me also declare that the UN/ECE Secretariat is committed to continue and strengthen its contribution through the work of both its Environment and Transport Divisions, and to work in close collaboration with its relevant partners at the international level.

Meetings like this one are essential for the effective implementation of the Programme of Joint Action. I would like therefore to thank all participants for their willingness to support the Vienna process which is based on working together, on integrated action of all stakeholders.

The recommendations which will be the outcome of the Eisenstadt meeting will be brought to all the relevant intergovernmental bodies of the ECE dealing with transport and environment, namely the Committee on Environmental Policy, the Inland Transport Committee, the Joint Meeting on Transport and Environment and its group of experts.

I wish you success in your deliberations and I thank you very much for your attention.