UNUnited Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Press Release

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Counting down to the Fifth Ministerial Conference
(Kiev, Ukraine, 21-23 May 2003)

Geneva, 12 May 2003 - Environment Ministers throughout the UNECE region are gearing up for the fifth "Environment for Europe" Conference scheduled to take place in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, later this month. On their agenda will be pan-European environmental cooperation and taking stock of the progress made since their previous meeting in the Danish city of Aarhus five years ago.

New international environmental law

On the occasion of the "Environment for Europe" Conference, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe is submitting three new protocols for adoption by the Ministers:

  • The Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers to the Aarhus Convention. The new Protocol will require polluting companies to provide information on their releases of polluting substances, such as greenhouse gases, dioxins and heavy metals, to a national register that is accessible and searchable through the Internet.
  • The Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment to the Espoo Convention. This Protocol will require environmental and public health considerations to be systematically taken into account when plans and programmes, for instance in agriculture, industry of transport, are drawn up.
  • The Protocol on Civil Liability and Compensation for Damage Caused by the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents on Transboundary Waters to the Helsinki Conventions. This Protocol will ensure that if an industrial accident pollutes international rivers or lakes, its victims, such as fishermen or drinking water plants downstream, will receive compensation.

Busy agenda

Besides adopting the above-mentioned protocols and a framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians negotiated with UNEP support, the Environment Ministers are expected to hold policy debates on:

· The state of Europe's environment
· Compliance with multilateral environmental agreements
· Energy efficiency and pricing
· Biological and landscape diversity
· Education for sustainable development
· Environmental partnerships and
· The future of the "Environment for Europe" process itself

The initiative to draw up a UNECE strategy for education for sustainable development is the first practical regional contribution to the decade of education for sustainable development proclaimed by the UN General Assembly. The Ministers will be invited to endorse work on this subject.

One of the three partnerships that will be presented at Kiev is a strategy that has been developed to improve environmental conditions and put the Johannesburg Summit's Plan of Implementation into practice in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Linked to this strategy is the EU Partnership on Water for Sustainable Development, which focuses on three issues in those same countries: drinking-water supply and sanitation; integrated water resources management; and transboundary water cooperation. Tackling these issues is important to address the poor quality of water and decide how best to share the limited available water resources both among countries and among sectors, such as agriculture or industry, within countries without wreaking havoc on the environment.

Environment, water and security in Central Asia will also figure prominently on the Ministers' agenda. The initiative of the five Central Asian States aims to ensure sound water use and safeguard the remaining water ecosystems in a region where the disappearing Aral Sea is evidence of the scale of the crisis.

On the second day of their Conference, the Ministers will hold a special session with environmental NGOs.

From Dobris to Kiev

The Conference in Kiev will be the fifth in a series of regional conferences where Environment Ministers and other policy makers discuss ways of strengthening cooperation to protect and improve our environment. The "Environment for Europe" process is aimed at harmonizing environmental conditions and policies in all the member States of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). The ultimate goal is to raise standards everywhere.

The "Environment for Europe" ministerial process was initiated in 1991 by the late Josef Vavrousek, Environment Minister of what was then Czechoslovakia. He invited his counterparts to Dobris Castle, where they held their first "Environment for Europe" Conference. Their second Conference took place in Lucerne, Switzerland, in 1993, the third in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1995, and the fourth in Aarhus, Denmark, in 1998.

During these Conferences the Environment Ministers have launched new initiatives, discussed the state of the environment, adopted international environmental law and agreed on specific strategies to improve our environment and our health. Increasingly, these Conferences have also provided an opportunity for environmental policy makers to meet business leaders and NGOs.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe has become much more involved in the "Environment for Europe" process: it hosts the working group that prepares these Conferences and it also draws up important policy documents and international agreements for adoption by the Ministers. Other international organizations and institutions also play a role in the process. Many will be represented in Kiev (European Commission, European Environment Agency (EEA), Council of Europe, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Bank, etc.)

For more information, please contact:

Kaj Bärlund, Director
UNECE Environment and Human Settlements Division
Palais des Nations, office 334
CH - 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Phone: +41 (0) 22 917 23 70
Fax: +41 (0) 22 907 01 07
E-mail: [email protected]
URL : http://www.unece.org/env

Mary Pat Silveira
UNECE Environment and Human Settlements Division
Palais des Nations, office 338
CH - 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Phone: +41 (0) 22 917 24 48
Fax: +41 (0) 22 907 01 07
E-mail: [email protected]
URL : http://www.unece.org/env


Ref: ECE/ENV/03/P05