Fifth Ministerial Conference "Environment for Europe"

Kyiv, Ukraine, 21-23 May 2003
Statement by Mrs. Brigita Schmögnerová, Executive Secretary of the
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to address you today. As most of you know, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe has the honour to be responsible for the Environmental Performance Review programme for countries with economies in transition. This programme was initiated by ministers at the second Ministerial Conference "Environment for Europe", which took place in Lucerne in April 1993. They decided that the Environmental Performance Review programme, introduced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for its member States, would be gradually extended to the whole region of Europe. The UNECE received the mandate to carry out this extended programme for these countries which are not members of the OECD.

The Environmental Performance Reviews analyse the integration of environment into all sectors of the economy. By focusing on a range of issues, from governance and public participation, to management of pollution and natural resources to social and economic sectors, the Reviews have given strong support to sustainable development. They have brought national attention to the need for capacity-building at both national and local levels, and for strengthening compliance and enforcement mechanisms, particularly in the context of the decentralization process underway in many transition countries.

Since 1994, UNECE has carried out Environmental Performance Reviews in 16 countries, and has undertaken second reviews in Bulgaria and Estonia. UNECE has also carried out reviews jointly with the OECD in the Russian Federation, Poland, Bulgaria and Belarus.

The main objectives of Environmental Performance Reviews are to assist countries with economies in transition to improve their management of the environment by establishing baseline conditions and making concrete recommendations for better policy implementation and performance; to integrate environmental policies into sectoral policies and to further integrate health aspects into environmental performance; and to harmonize environmental conditions and policies throughout the region. They also promote dialogue among UNECE member countries and contribute to sustainable development.

The programme has benefited from close cooperation with the OECD and other organizations in the UN system, including the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Bank and the World Health Organization.

Ten years have passed since UNECE received its mandate to undertake Environmental Performance Reviews. To mark the decade, assess progress and propose the Programme's future direction, we undertook an analysis contained in the report before you, entitled, "Environmental Policy in Transition: Lessons Learned from Ten Years of UNECE Environmental Performance Reviews". I would like to briefly present a few of the main findings presented in this report concerning progress in environmental management and the steps towards sustainable development made in these countries.

Air quality from stationary sources has improved. In the more advanced countries in transition, this has resulted from the introduction of technological innovations and more efficient management. In the less advanced countries, however, emissions reductions have largely resulted from the breakdown of the industrial sector, not from technological or managerial improvements. At the same time, air pollution from mobile sources has increased disproportionately in virtually all reviewed countries as a result of the rapid increase in transport volume.

Water quality is a major concern as well throughout the region, especially where it relates to the quality of drinking water. Wastewater is a significant polluter and the primary source of contamination of rivers, lakes and groundwater, including transboundary waters. There are serious problems with underground and surface water contamination by poorly stored hazardous chemicals and waste. Water shortages continue as a result of a poorly maintained infrastructure and water-pricing policies. Overall, water policies have suffered from a highly fragmented decision-making structure and, in some cases, short-sighted economic considerations that have failed to include long-term environmental and economic impacts.

Waste management has deteriorated and the poorly managed dumpsites pose a particularly severe environmental and health hazard. One of the most serious problems is the lack of separation and treatment facilities for medical waste. Industries of the past have left accumulated waste, tailings and contaminated sites that can threaten groundwater, surface water, soil and air with heavy metals and radioactive contamination.

The region has a remarkable wealth of biodiversity and landscapes which are being threatened from many fronts, including agriculture, mining, industrial pollution, transport, pipelines and urban growth, tourism and spatial planning. Many countries - in particular countries which hold extensive oil, mineral and forestry resources - need to improve their management of natural resources with a view towards economically and environmentally sustainable development.

Extraction and processing of mineral resources are major economic areas in countries in the region, which have serious impacts on soil quality, water quality, air quality, and biodiversity. Mine tailings, containing heavy metals and other toxic substances, pose a significant threat of accidents with catastrophic effect.

The absence of integrative policy-making and planning has also led to a number of significant problems in a range of sectors, such as

  • in tourism, where poor waste and water management, illegal building, weak infrastructure and vehicle congestion threaten future developments;
  • in agriculture, where irrational use of water, and lack of management of pesticide and fertilizer stocks has led to severe salinization and soil erosion, desertification and contamination of both surface and ground water;
  • in industry, where lack of environmental management, introduction of clean and efficient technologies and poor monitoring and reporting have led to continued pollution of air, water and soil; and
  • in the transport sector, where poor inspection and enforcement capabilities, low import tariffs on used cars, lack of investment in public transport and the failure to ban leaded fuel have led to the highest rate of growth of air emissions in almost all countries.

The good news is that there has been an increase in the number of integrative tools used in decision-making, including environmental impact assessment (EIA), strategic environmental assessment (SEA), voluntary agreements, and economic instruments targeted toward improving the environment. Other opportunities for integration include the privatisation process - which offers a chance for environmental clean-up of enterprises - and the national and local environmental action plans that afford the opportunity to look at environment and health issues from a cross-sectoral perspective.

At the same time, great strides have been made in almost all of the transition countries to establish the legislative and institutional framework necessary to meet these challenges. This has been the real success story of the past ten years. Countries have taken up a number of important initiatives to build capacity. They have developed legislation, strengthened and restructured institutions, introduced innovative policy tools and supported public participation. With the increasing institutional capacity of government and other stakeholders, the performance in policy implementation has improved across the region.

Overall, transition has put in motion a fundamental structural change in environmental policymaking and implementation in the countries in transition. What started as a movement to clean up polluted air, water and land in the region, turned into a process contributing to the reform of institutions, the economy and civil society. In countries where economic growth has resumed, the decoupling of pollution from economic development has begun.

The result is a wealth of experience and know-how related to the management of the environment in the context of transition. This information is captured in the Environmental Performance Reviews, and it represents an important contribution to the general knowledge about environmental management.

One decade has passed, and during these ten years, the EPR programme has generated continued demand from countries in transition for both initial and follow-up reviews. The usefulness of the Reviews has been articulated by national policy makers and civil society, particularly those engaged in environmental policy. The environmental review process has provided a framework for the systematic in-depth analysis of a number of sectoral and cross-sectoral issues that affect the environment.

I would like to invite the Ministers at the fifth Ministerial Conference "Environment for Europe" to welcome the report and to underline the importance of the Environmental Performance Review programme. We believe that the EPR programme contributes to countries in the region to improve their management of the environment, and to promote a continuous dialogue among UNECE member States. In this context, we would like to thank the donor countries for their commitment and their assistance to the EPR programme through the years. Funding is crucial to ensure continuity of the EPR programme which relies heavily on voluntary contributions of experts and funds from many donor countries within the region.

The first cycle of reviews is coming to an end, and attention should now be given to designing the most appropriate format for the second cycle of reviews. The second Environmental Performance Reviews could give more focus to implementation and financing. They could be more selective in their coverage, concentrating on issues of highest priority for the reviewed country. Finally, integration of environment into other sectors at all decision-making levels should underpin the analysis.

To conclude, the main objective of the programme maintains to assist Member States to improve their individual and collective performances in environmental management with the goal of achieving sustainable development.

Thank you very much for your attention.


Ref: ECE/ENV/03/P13