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New international treaty to better integrate environmental and health concerns into political decision-making

Published: 06 July 2010


A new international treaty is set to ensure that environmental considerations inform and are integrated into governments’ strategic decision-making, in support of environmentally sound and sustainable development.

The Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment to the UNECE Espoo Convention, signed by 35 governments and the European Community back in May 2003 in Kiev, Ukraine, is set to enter into force on 11 July 2010. This follows Estonia’s ratification, which was deposited with the United Nations Secretary-General on 12 April. In becoming a Party to the Protocol Estonia joined 11 other European Union Member States, as well as the European Union as an organization, plus Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and Norway. Slovenia has since ratified the Protocol too.

Ján Kubiš, UNECE Executive Secretary, described this new international law as “making environmental protection an integral part of the development process”.

Strategic environmental assessment is a systematic and anticipatory process, undertaken to analyze the environmental effects of proposed government plans, programmes and other strategies, and to integrate the findings into decision-making. It involves the public and environmental and health authorities, giving them a say in government planning: the responsible authority has to arrange for informing the public and consulting the public concerned, and the decision-maker has to take due account of comments received from the public and from the environmental and health authorities. Such assessments are most commonly carried out for land-use planning at various levels of government, but are also applied to other sectoral plans, such as for energy, water, waste, transport, agriculture and industry.

Montenegro, for example, has already used the Protocol to improve both domestic planning in general and, in particular, its hydropower development planning which is likely to affect neighbouring Albania. The Protocol requires the assessment of plans and programmes irrespective of whether they are likely to affect other countries.

The Protocol also encourages the application of this powerful tool to higher levels of decision-making as well, requiring governments to endeavour to assess also their policies and legislation. It will also provide a legal basis for the health sector to have a role in development planning, requiring for the first time that health authorities are always consulted on development planning.

The entry into force of the Protocol will be a concrete step towards achieving Millennium Development Goal 7, to “ensure environmental sustainability”, and its first target: “Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources”.

The Protocol, though negotiated by UNECE member States and signed by European Ministers of Environment, will be open to all United Nations Member States, upon approval by the Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol, which will meet first in June 2011. That body will also define how the compliance mechanism under the Espoo Convention, operated by its Implementation Committee, will be extended to review States’ compliance with the Protocol.

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Note to editors

The UNECE Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo Convention) was adopted in the Finnish city of Espoo in 1991 and entered into force in 1997. The Espoo Convention sets out the obligations of its Parties to assess the environmental impact of certain activities at an early stage of planning. It also lays down the general obligation of States to notify and consult each other on all major projects under consideration that are likely to have a significant adverse environmental impact across boundaries. The Convention has 44 Parties.

The Convention is applied dozens of times each year but notable cases have included the Nord Stream gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea, the Bystroe Canal Project (the Danube-Black Sea Deep-Water Navigation Channel in the Ukrainian Sector of the Danube Delta), the planned renovation of a large coal-fired power plant in the Czech Republic, and numerous nuclear-energy projects across Europe, including power plants in Belarus, Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, Netherlands, Romania and Slovak Republic.

The Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment was adopted and signed at an extraordinary meeting of the Parties to the Espoo Convention on 21 May 2003. To date, the Protocol has been ratified by 17 countries: Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. The European Union is also a Party to the Protocol. The Protocol will enter into force on 11 July 2010, ninety days after the sixteenth deposit of an instrument of ratification by a State.

The Executive Secretary of UNECE provides secretariat functions for both the Espoo Convention and its new Protocol. Though legally a supplement to the Espoo Convention, the Protocol also reflects principles of the Aarhus Convention: the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters.

The full text of the Protocol is available in the three official languages of UNECE (English, French and Russian) as well as two other official languages of the United Nations (Arabic and Spanish) at:

This web page also contains unofficial translations in nine other European languages: Armenian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese and Swedish.

Ref: ECE/ENV/10/P22


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