• English

High-level Meeting on Transport, Environment and Health

Geneva, 4 May 2001

Opening Statement by Ms. Danuta Hübner,
United Nations Under-Secretary-General,
Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe


Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is indeed very encouraging to see such an eminent participation in this highly important meeting, jointly convened by the UN/ECE and WHO/Euro secretariats as a follow-up to the London Charter, to decide upon concrete steps to be taken for making transport sustainable for environment and health. Indeed, it is a landmark in our progress in bringing together transport, environment and health authorities.

In our region there is a growing concern on the long-term sustainability of transport developments. It has already been fully recognized and clearly expressed at many international fora during the past decade.

Indeed, during the past decades ECE Member countries have experienced an economic growth which has led to unprecedented levels of prosperity and social welfare but also to serious environmental and health problems. The transport sector has substantially contributed to both effects. Transport volumes in Europe have been growing steadily over the past 30 years and the modal split is increasingly being dominated by road transport at the expense of more environmentally friendly modes such as rail, inland waterways, cycling and walking. Data show that in the EU, passenger and freight transport have more than doubled over the past 25 years and private car ownership is approaching the figure of one car for every two inhabitants, accounting for more than 80% of the traffic volumes. These trends have been found even more alarming in a number of central and east European countries. Public and rail transport are quickly loosing ground and predictions show that if current policies continue, by 2010 passenger car use will have doubled compared to 1994 levels; by 2030 it will have increased a further 150%. Road freight transport is expected to increase even more rapidly.

The need to bring together and fully involve the relevant stakeholders in the transport, environment and health sectors for finding solutions to the common concerns has also been recognized at the pan-European level and the integrated approach to transport related problems has already been initiated by the UN/ECE Regional Conference on Transport and the Environment in Vienna 1997 and was further expanded by the London Conference on Environment and Health organised by WHO in 1999, which added the health dimension to the work on transport and environment. I am convinced that if our cooperative efforts are reinforced we will be more efficient in addressing the main problems which the Ministers of the region have identified in the Vienna Declaration and the London Charter and which have been well highlighted by the work of the OECD, ECMT and the European Commission.

The recommendations for further action prepared jointly by the UN/ECE and WHO secretariats for the consideration of this meeting have been prepared in the spirit of the Vienna and London documents; they reflect the high priority given by the two organizations to the achievement of sustainable transport goals as well as the deep conviction of the necessity to join forces and to work actively together towards that end. The constructive contributions received from a large number of Member States and organizations for preparing the background documents for this meeting and the large number of the high level representatives gathered here today clearly indicate that not only these priorities are widely shared throughout the region but also that there is a strong willingness to find solutions which would really make a difference. I am particularly pleased to see that all of the three sectors as well as all parts of the region are well represented.

This joint work on recommendations has brought a proposal to develop a legal framework for the integration of transport, environment and health as the most adequate way for achieving the desired level of cross-sectoral integration, and for securing the highest possible level of political commitment which we believe to be prerequisites for the achievement of sustainable transport goals at the pan European level. This would certainly fill a gap in the international response to date, namely the lack of an overarching integration strategy which would provide for a strong international legal basis for the further work and for the development of the necessary institutional mechanisms. The current policy responses within the region have not proven to be sufficient for ensuring close enough cooperation between the relevant transport, environment and health authorities, that would be reflected in the decision making processes, monitoring and impact assessment. Strengthened cross-sectoral efforts are particularly necessary in urban areas where the burden of the health and environment impact of the transport activities is the greatest.

This process could also give new impetus for consolidating and implementing the cross-sectoral efforts already initiated. It might well help to mobilize and redirect the necessary internal and international resources for these activities, which is especially important for the economies in transition. We need an instrument flexible enough to respond to different and evolving priority issues to be tackled within the region, as well as to allow for progressive specification of commitments among those parties ready and able to move ahead. The UN/ECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution with its eight protocols is only one example which illustrates the adequacy of the framework approach for addressing complex and long-term issues progressively. When preparing a new instrument it will also be useful to draw on the extensive experience gained in the transport sector with its numerous agreements and conventions which have been concluded within the UN/ECE.

This meeting, on the basis of this proposal, may wish to discuss further rationale for such a proposal and also its coverage in order to ensure that it produce a value added to the existing instruments and address the most crucial issues in this area.

It is also highly important to further enhance the implementation of the international legal commitments that have already been taken, as well as to amend and to complement the existing instruments, as needed, and as recommended in the Synthesis report. The third recommendation calls for increased cooperation among the relevant international organizations in order to take full advantage of the synergies offered by their work in the fields of transport, environment and health as well as to fill in some of the more specific gaps identified in the report.

Finally, we have proposed in a working room paper of 25 April circulated to you, to rationalize the existing international institutional mechanisms established under the Vienna and London follow-up processes and to prioritise the related work. An important objective of the streamlining of the two processes is to ensure the cost-effective use of the limited resources available both at the national and international levels. Such cooperative arrangements would enhance the efficiency of the work undertaken by the UN/ECE and WHO/Euro secretariats, servicing the London and Vienna processes and would allow the concentration of resources on the key priorities

Through our joint work so far we have proved that we can achieve transport sustainable for environment and health but we also know that the longer we postpone more effective action for achieving transport sustainable for environment and health, the more costly and difficult will this be for us to get there. The longer we wait, the more our societies will have to bear the costs of continued environmental damage and suffer the consequences of negative health impacts.

I wish you full success in your deliberations and in decisions, and stress the continuing commitment by UN/ECE Secretariat to contribute to this work.

I will now give the floor to my colleague, Mr. Donzon, the Regional Director of the WHO/Euro.

Thank you very much.