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Meetings of Parties to UNECE treaties stress role of environmental assessment to boost sustainable energy transition and SDGs

Espoo MOP

Gathering in Geneva for the Meetings of the Parties to the UNECE Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo Convention) and the Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), Ministers and high-level government officials emphasized the crucial importance of these instruments for the sustainable energy transition, as well as for the shift to a more resource-efficient circular economy and the mobilization of trillions of dollars of green financing to realize these changes. 

Some 50 European countries, international organizations and NGOs affirmed the importance of thorough environmental assessment of energy transition plans and projects both within and across national borders, using these two UNECE treaties to ensure these much-needed investments for the climate do not come at the cost of the environment and human health.  

With the Meetings starting on the last day of COP28, the Parties acknowledged the role of both treaties as tools for climate action. On 14 December, during the high-level segment, a panel discussion on the contribution of the Convention and the Protocol to the energy transition, circular economy and green financing addressed these interlinked topics, sharing related good practice and exploring ways to increase the application of the treaties in these areas.  

Parties and stakeholders further highlighted the important role of strategic environmental assessment and environmental impact assessment in a transboundary context in helping countries to accelerate the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals - particularly SDG 7 on energy and SDG 13 on climate action - in the run-up to the UN Summit of the Future in 2024, and to tackle the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental pollution.  

An important outcome of the Meeting was that the Parties adopted 12 country specific compliance decisions under the treaties. These included decisions regarding non-compliance by Belgium and Bulgaria for not having applied the Convention to the lifetime extension of their respective nuclear power plants. Other important decisions were, for example, requesting Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus to complete their legislative reforms to fulfil their obligations under the Convention;  reiterating the ask to Belarus and Lithuania to conclude their expert-level exchange with regard to the Belarusian nuclear power plant; and welcoming the  recent major successful steps by Ukraine to bring the Bystroe Canal Project, after almost 20 years under review, in compliance with the Convention. The work on the review of compliance was led  by the Implementation Committee in the run-up to the meeting.  

The Convention is anticipated to become global in 2024-2026, offering to countries outside the UNECE region a well-established legal framework for preventing and reducing adverse transboundary environmental impacts from proposed activities. The Parties welcomed the subregional initiatives to promote the effective application of the Convention and the Protocol driven by UNECE with funding from Italy already engaging countries outside the UNECE region, particularly for the protection of the Mediterranean Sea and its coastal zones, in cooperation with the Barcelona Convention.  Plans for cooperating with five other regional sea conventions and bodies will remain high on the agenda in the next three years. 

This year marked the twentieth anniversary of the Protocol’s adoption in 2003, as a global instrument. Along with the Convention, it is gaining ground as a key sustainability tool, acquiring additional applications and Parties. As one example, SEA is being actively applied to maritime spatial planning where many strategic interests, environmental goals and multi-sector issues intersect. These involve, for instance, exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons, pipelines, offshore wind energy and other renewable energy infrastructure. Additionally, the Protocol and the Convention are expected to play an important role in greening Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction and its preparation. Benefits and additional applications of the two treaties raise further interest in their procedures both in the UNECE region and worldwide. 

The more effective and systematic application of the two treaties in several countries has been supported through the extensive legislative assistance and capacity-building activities delivered by UNECE in support of countries in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia in 2013–2023 with funding from the European Union, Germany and Switzerland. Thanks to funding from the European Union through the EU4Environment programme in 2019-2023, environmental assessment laws and secondary legislation were further aligned and/or developed in Azerbaijan and the Republic of Moldova; a bilateral agreement on the implementation of the Convention was prepared for Ukraine and Romania, entering into force in July2023; more than 800 representatives of central and local authorities, experts and representatives of civil society in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus were trained on SEA and transboundary EIA procedures and several sector-specific environmental assessment guidelines were prepared; one pilot SEA project was implemented; a video on transboundary EIA and the Convention was developed in English and translated into Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, Romanian, Russian and Ukrainian.  The implementation of the EU4Environment programme by UNECE will end in April 2024.   

Due to time constraints, decisions on the Geneva Declaration and one compliance decision will be taken at an intermediate/extraordinary session to be organized in 2024 in consultation with the Bureau.   

Meeting documents are available at: 

Note to editors: 

The Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo, 1991) is the only international instrument under the umbrella of the United Nations that offers a legal framework to ensure international cooperation in assessing and managing environmental impacts of planned activities, in particular in a transboundary context. In force since 1997, it has 45 Parties, including the European Union. The Convention has been applied over 1,000 times to date and is applied more and more often. This growth reflects the increase in the number of Parties, but also indicates that States find transboundary environmental assessment a valuable procedure for informing and consulting the authorities and the public of neighbouring countries. 

The following countries are Parties to the Espoo Convention: Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, North Macedonia, Ukraine and United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The European Union is also a regional integration organization member. 

The 2001 amendment to the Convention, once ratified by all Parties that were Parties to the Convention in 2001, will allow accession by any Member State of the United Nations and thus turn the Convention to a global instrument on EIA. 

In 2003, the Convention was supplemented by the Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment. Since its entry into force in 2011, the Protocol concretely helps to lay the groundwork for sustainable development: it ensures that Parties integrate environmental, including health, considerations and public concerns into their plans and programmes, and to the extent possible also into policies and legislation, at the earliest stages. To date, the Protocol counts 33 Parties, including the European Union. 

The following countries are Parties to the Convention’s Protocol: Albania, Armenia, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Ukraine. The European Union is a regional integration organization member. 

The Protocol was negotiated to provide for the possibility of non-UNECE States to become Parties, and is a fully global instrument. 

UNECE provided the setting for the negotiation of the Convention and its Protocol and now provides the secretariat for the two treaties. 

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