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Three North African countries discuss benefits of Espoo Convention

Algeria and Morocco are currently looking into revising their national legislation on environmental impact assessment (EIA) and strategic environmental assessment (SEA) to reduce the environmental impact of economic activities both nationally and across borders, while ensuring sustainable economic growth and industrial development. Both countries are therefore interested in assessing how they could benefit from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo Convention) and its Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment. Mauritania is also challenged by a lack of sufficient resources and established protocols to address the environmental impacts of development projects, and is eager to learn from the established procedures under the Convention and its Protocol.

This was the framework for discussions by some 45 participants from nine countries at a subregional workshop on the Espoo Convention and its Protocol held on 14 and 15 April in Rabat.

On the Moroccan side, participation was high, including representatives of the Comité national des études d’impact sur l’environnement and representatives of ministries, public authorities and planning offices (bureaux d’étude). For them, the workshop was a good occasion to familiarize themselves with the Convention and the Protocol, learn about their practical application in different contexts and address specific questions.

One session was dedicated to the role and strategies of development banks in applying the Convention and the Protocol. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank and the World Bank require EIA before they agree to support major lending project or grants and they illustrated their experiences with their respective processes.

Participants from the the pan-European region, many of them Parties to the Espoo Convention and/or its Protocol on SEA (e.g., France, Germany, Montenegro, Poland, Slovenia and Spain) presented their national systems and modalities of application of the two instruments. They also drew on a wealth of experience in transboundary negotiations. In particular, in implementing the Convention, they highlighted the usefulness of having in place bilateral agreements applying the Convention’s provisions, while taking into account the requirements of the relevant national systems.

The Protocol is open for accession by all United Nations Member States. The Convention is in the process of becoming a similarly global process: in August 2014 an amendment to the Convention entered into force to allow non-UNECE member States to join. Accession will be fully possible once the amendment has been ratified by all countries that were Parties at the time the amendment was adopted.

UNECE organized the event — which was hosted by the Government of Morocco — in conjunction with the Ministry delegate in charge of Environment, the German Agency for International Cooperation and the United Nations Development Programme.

All meeting documents and presentations are available here: http://www.unece.org/index.php?id=38697#/