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Review of environmental policies highlights strong country-led action in UNECE region and importance of coordinated international efforts

What is common between the green sovereign bond launched in 2017 by France’s State Treasury, the National Road Map for the Circular Economy of Finland for the period 2016–2025, and the Swiss regulation on compulsory recovery and reuse of phosphorus from wastewater streams and separated organic fractions?

In fact, they have not one but two things in common. Firstly, all three were the first of their kind around the world. Secondly, the progress on the implementation of these three actions – and of 239 more – was reported to the 24th session of the UNECE Committee on Environmental Policy held last week in Geneva.

Two and a half years ago, in Batumi, Georgia, ministers from 44 countries renewed existing and made new commitments on a number of environmental issues in the UNECE region under the Environment for Europe process. Last week, delegates reviewed progress in the implementation of those commitments through the mid-term review of the Batumi outcomes. The review revealed a large range of activities by member States and stakeholders contributing to the implementation of the decisions taken in Batumi.

Reports on the implementation of the two Batumi initiatives – the Batumi Action for Cleaner Air (BACA) and the Batumi Initiative on Green Economy (BIG-E) – show that significant action has been taken across almost all of the 124 BIG-E and 108 BACA commitments, with 90 per cent of reported commitments ongoing or fully implemented.

Several countries and organizations (OECD and WHO) shared their experiences and highlighted good practices in the implementation of the two Batumi Initiatives at the “Batumi Talk Show” organized jointly by UNECE, UNEP and the Green Growth Knowledge Platform. Key examples included:

  • Croatia has made progress on all five of its BIG-E commitments, and is in the process of developing its Second Action Plan.  
  • Finland is considered to have some of the most stringent environmental regulations and protections, but also has one of the most competitive economic markets. It has also completed its Circular Economy Roadmap 2016-2025.
  • France’s Treasury launched the first state initiated green bond in the world, initially at €9.7 billion which has now increased to €14.8 billion.
  • Georgia, where BIG-E and BACA were launched, has a national green growth strategy drafted which will be finalized in 2019, and has launched an innovative initiative to integrate the environment and SDGs into children’s media.
  • Germany has moved forward on all four of its commitments, including launching the International Sustainable Chemistry Collaborative Centre in May 2017.
  • Kazakhstan in 2018 created the International Green Technologies and Investment Center which will continue to expand and develop over this year.
  • BACA has become a global initiative, and is no longer limited to UNECE countries.

The BIG-E and BACA initiatives remain open for stakeholders to join.

Delegates also discussed progress made through the implementation of the UNECE multilateral environmental agreements in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and progress made in establishing a Shared Environmental Information System across the pan-European region. Given the scale and complexity of sustainability challenges faced today, such cooperation helps to leverage countries’ efforts, strengthening national, regional and global approaches to key environmental issues.

They also adopted the recommendations of the third Environmental Performance Reviews (EPRs) of Kazakhstan and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and welcomed the start of the third EPR of Uzbekistan. The Committee welcomed the positive experience gained in integrating the relevant Sustainable Development Goals and targets in the EPRs conducted since 2017 and the carrying out activities to assist reviewed countries in the implementation of recommendations emerging from their reviews.

The Committee was also briefed on emerging issues of regional and global importance for the environment, such the environmental consequences of the booming garment industry (to which UNECE is responding through ongoing work to enhance traceability) and the sustainability challenges and opportunities of major developments including the Belt and Road Initiative.