The UNECE region includes some of the richest economies and some of the poorest nations in the world; those with long and strong democratic traditions and others in transition form centrally planned regimes to more open market-economy-based societies; those with environments almost completely altered by humans and those with still large proportions of their territory under natural and semi-natural conditions; those with more innovative economies and those with traditional production economies; those in advance in implementing policy reforms towards a more sustainable development and those clearly lagging behind. These differences are a big challenge for the region.
In 2002, the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit for Sustainable Development stated that the “implementation of Agenda 21 and the outcomes of the Summit should be effectively pursued at the regional and sub regional levels, through the regional commissions and other regional and sub regional institutions and bodies". The Summit also called on the Regional Commissions to promote the integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development into their work in a balanced way and to facilitate and promote such integration into the work of regional, sub regional and other bodies “for example by facilitating and strengthening the exchange of experiences, including national experience, best practices, case studies and partnership experience related to the implementation of Agenda 21”.
In this connection, the United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development (UNCSD), at its session in May 2003, also invited the Regional Commissions to consider organizing regional implementation meetings in collaboration with other regional and sub regional organizations.
The fifth Ministerial Conference "Environment for Europe", which took place in Kiev in 2003, requested the UNECE, in cooperation with other relevant organizations and institutions to assist in “assessing progress in the implementation of environmental commitments of this region emanating from the Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development and the Plan of Implementation as well as the UNECE Regional Preparatory Meeting for WSSD.” The Declaration went on to state that the results of this work “should feed into regional implementation meetings organized in preparation for the UNCSD meetings as recommended by UNCSD at its 11th session”.
More recently, in the mission statement adopted as a part of the work plan on ECE reform in 2006, member States agreed that the UNECE should remain a multilateral platform that facilitates greater economic integration and cooperation among its fifty-six members and promotes sustainable development and economic prosperity. It should also contribute to enhancing the effectiveness of the UN through the regional implementation of outcomes of global UN Conferences and Summits.
At the sixth Ministerial Conference Environment for Europe, which took place in Belgrade in October 2007, the ministers of the UNECE stated in the ministerial declaration "... We also reconfirm our commitment to promote sustainable development, which is increasingly affected by globalization. In this regard, we will intensify our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and to put in effect the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). In doing so, we recognize the need to address environmental issues in an integrated manner and we will cooperate with other regions by providing leadership and sharing lessons learned and experience gained. Our regional contribution to the review cycle of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) is an example of these efforts."
Given the above, the “mainstreaming” of sustainable development in all ECE activities has been actively pursued within ECE. One indicator of achievement for Executive Direction and Management is the extent to which sustainable development is incorporated into the relevant ECEs areas of work.
ECE already has a significant number of ongoing activities related to sustainable development. Among the recurrent ones:
- The development of standards and recommendations in transport that aim at reducing the negative impact of transport on the environment e.g. in the areas of vehicle construction, transport of dangerous goods, combined transport
- The development and implementation of the five ECE environmental conventions and related protocols
- The environmental performance reviews
- Activities relating to the "Environment for Europe" Process
- Working with cities and local authorities to improve urban environmental performance and promote the integration of land use and local transport policies.
- Promotion of the use of energy efficient technology, market formation and investment activities on energy efficiency and renewable energies
- Promotion of clean coal technology and the role of coal in sustainable development
- Promotion of sustainable forest management
In addition to the above continuing recurrent activities, a number of new sustainable development issues are being taken up. These include, for example, statistical indicators for assessing progress towards sustainable development; analytical studies covering progress made in achieving sustainable development in the region; and trade and environment
The Johannesburg plan of implementation and the CSD-11 resolution highlight the specific role of the Regional Commissions in the monitoring and implementation of WSSD, and request them to cooperate with the other regional and sub regional organizations for this purpose. This is a long-standing practice of ECE and a number of organizations, groupings and initiatives have been involved in the two most recently held high-level meetings convened by the ECE: the Second Regional Implementation Forum on Sustainable Development (Geneva, January 2005) and the First Regional Implementation Forum on Sustainable Development (Geneva, January 2004).
At the substantive level, the Regional Implementation Meetings will focus, during the two- year implementation cycles, on thematic clusters of issues as identified in the multi-year programme of work decided by the CSD, namely, in 2008-2009: agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification, and Africa.