• English

Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health

Parma, Italy, 10–12 March 2010

Statement by Mr. Ján Kubiš
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to address this ministerial conference on behalf of UNECA as a key partner in the Environment and Health Process. The process is unique in that it links environment and health sectors as equal partners. It is only natural. They are the driving forces behind efforts to secure human health and, in a wider sense, behind sustainable development.

I would like to express my deep appreciation to the Government of Italy for the strong political leadership it has provided throughout the process leading to this Conference and to the City of Parma for its hospitality. My special thanks goes to our partner organization, the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe–WHO/Europe for so capably organizing this event.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Environment and health issues, such as air and water quality, food security and chemical safety, are of vital importance. Therefore, it is no surprise that over the past twenty years WHO/Europe and UNECE have recognized the importance of protecting the environment in the region, and hence of mitigating environmental factors and conditions that affect human health.

In this context, UNECE and WHO/Europe have, over the years, joined forces. There have been many success stories, and many challenges as well. Among successes are two unique instruments: the Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Programme, also known as THE PEP, and the joint Protocol on Water and Health to the 1992 UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes. The former is known for its result-oriented focus on priorities and action taken under the auspices of UNECE and WHO/Europe. The latter is a legally binding treaty that helps countries integrate environmental and health strategies.

Adopted in London at the Third Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in 1999, the Protocol on Water and Health entered into force in 2005. The Protocol has put into motion mechanisms at the national level, providing structured cooperation between the environment and health sectors to achieve two common goals: reducing water-related diseases and ensuring the sustainability of water resources. Perhaps now, that we have 2 new leaders – myself as UNECE Executive Secretary assigned 1 year ago and Ms. Z. Jakab, a month ago – there is good time to look into how this cooperation works with the aim to improve it to make it a true shared partnership.

The Water Protocol is not the only ECE legal instrument that links environment and health. For example, the UNECE Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment shows that environmental and public health considerations are important in preparing programmes, policies and legislation. In addition, UNECE and WHO have worked together on the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution to to explore the effects of air pollution on health. And UNECE has many other Conventions and Protocols, like ESPOO or Aarhus Conventions, also relevant for the process, providing i.a. for active participation of the civil society, public.

Also emerging areas offer promising potential for further collaboration. A possible UNECE Framework Convention on Affordable, Healthy and Green Housing, that will be discussed and hopefully decided upon at the next ministerial segment of the UNECE Committee on Housing and Land Management session in September 2010 could provide for such cooperation.

Another area, which has been the basis for joint work in the past, are the environmental performance reviews, or EPRs, conducted in the countries in transition of the ECE region. The UNECE EPR expert group will soon begin discussing the contents of the third round of reviews, and a chapter on environment and health may be among the issues to be addressed in the third round. Indeed, the UNECE Committee on Environmental Policy may make this proposal to Ministers during the seventh “Environment for Europe” Ministerial Conference to be held in Astana in 2011. Let me also mention the programme on education for sustainable development, in which WHO has contributed actively to the development of a region-wide strategy–it may even be interested in supporting its implementation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Although many agree that more needs to be done to integrate environmental concerns into the economy, transport, health and other sectors by implementing a wide range of policy, legal, institutional and financial measures and incentives, experience in cross-sectoral cooperation has shown us how difficult it is to achieve results.

Challenges emerge for a variety of reasons, such as the different professional cultures in individual sectors or the compartmentalized approaches in both the national administrations and international organizations. Cooperation between the different levels of government within the environment and health sectors also needs to be strengthened.

Perhaps the responses, initiatives and activities undertaken by national governments and stakeholders in the UNECE member States to work towards a greener economy is another means of enhancing cross-sectoral cooperation to stimulate the economy in the current context of the global economic crisis. In fact, discussions on green economy have started globally and also at UNECE, i.a. within the “Environment for Europe” process. Here I would like to mention that many areas of our UNECE work have already been contributing to greening of the economy, e.g. in the areas of environment, health, transport or housing and land management. Green Economy is a theme of the next Ministerial Conference in Astana in 2011 that I just mentioned.

There is a growing awareness of the importance of reducing carbon dioxide and other emissions and developing alternative energy sources, showing that both governments and their partners in most countries are actively promoting the green agenda. The scope of such initiatives includes areas such as renewable energy production, energy efficiency, sustainable transport, water supply and waste management, which all have an impact on health and environment. These areas are in the mandate of the UNECE and are strongly present in our work, in our legal instruments. They also require close cross-sectoral cooperation with other partners.

That is why this Ministerial Conference, here in Parma, is of a key importance. It will hopefully add impetus to the process and lead to improved, real, revitalized partnership cooperation as mentioned by Ms. Jakab.

To conclude, I would like to assure you that UNECE will continue contributing to the work Environment and Health process in the environment and other areas, and will work closely in particular as a member of the new institutional framework of the EHP with you - the member states, with WHO, UNEP, UNDP, EC as well as the public and other partners to implement your decisions.

Thank you.