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UNEP Executive Director's Speech at the Belgrade Environment for Europe Conference

Statement by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director to Belgrade Environment for Europe Conference – opening session

Thank Marek Belka for his kind words.

UNEP is very proud of the supporting role it plays in the Environment for Europe process and stands fully behind UNECE in its role of Secretary, jointly supporting member states in this process.

Marek referred to strengthened partnerships; we have a good example among us. In fact UNECE and UNEP have a long standing cooperation, but we have recently decided to strengthen it even further, determined to lift it now to another level in the spirit of the reform of the UN, within the current governance and legislative framework.

Our teams are currently working on a series of new joint initiatives and I am very pleased to see that the prospect of very concrete joint proposals, for the direct benefit of the member states of the pan-European region.

But of course our partnerships for environment in Europe extend well beyond the UN system.

We cherish our partnerships with the intergovernmental organizations in the region, first and foremost the European Commission and especially the Environment Agency, the European Council, OSCE, all of which are collaborating with UNEP on common programmes ranging from biodiversity to environment and security; but also in the future, local governments and authorities which are often at the forefront of actions in favour of sustainable development; Non Governmental organizations.

We are currently reviewing with IUCN ways and means to cooperate in the implementation of countdown 2010 in the region for example- and of course the private sector- to which I'll come back later.

UNEP wishes to support your efforts and those of your ministries to change in a rapidly evolving world, in reaching out to all the sectors which can contribute to policies and actions in favour of environmentally sustainable development.

We meet to review environment in the pan European region at critical juncture for environment policies globally. Science tells us ? for sure ? that we are currently consuming our natural resources at a rate that exceeds the world's capacity to renew them.

In the words of the Stern review published this year:" Because climate change is a global problem, the response must be international and built on mutually reinforcing approaches at national regional and global levels." At this conference, while ministers in charge of national policies and programmes debate the future of the environment in Europe with regional intergovernmental bodies such as the EU and UNECE, we at UNEP aspire, along with other UN entities, to bring a global perspective to these debates.

The challenges facing the natural and nature-based assets of this planet will be underscored in UNEP's Global Environment Outlook-4 to be launched on 25 October. We are moving towards a potentially disastrous outcome ? perhaps for our children ? perhaps for our grand-children, if we do not take corrective action immediately.

While this of course can vary considerably from one country to another, Europe in general is no exception to that rule: the region consumes several times the natural resources it generates every year. The forthcoming launch of the EEA report later this week, recalls that western and central Europe´s footprint is 2.5 times the average global capacity per person. In eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, 10 countries exceed their capacities and 2 of them by over 100%. And yet Europe is in a position to set a positive example.

The Pan-European region is a source of natural wealth, natural social and cultural diversity, technology, finance and innovation that bears the potential not only to reverse this negative trend in the region, but also impact positively the rest of the world. We already have concrete examples of how European leaders are showing the way forward ? Norway is launching the first carbon neutral economy in Europe.

The European Union has agreed to what we hope is only a first step in higher reduction of carbon emissions. The Russian Federation won the bid for the Winter Olympics largely on an environmental platform.

Azerbaijan is currently seeking long term investment opportunities in Germany a country which has developed considerable capacity in the in the renewable energy sector.

Ladies and gentlemen, I leave this meeting to attend the National Environment Assembly in Iceland. Iceland is an example of how a country, resource challenged in many ways , has transformed its economy by looking at its assets in a different an innovative way.

Iceland has no coal, oil or gas and so, as a result of a rocketing fossil fuel price 30 years ago, chose a different path which today might also be called energy security.

Iceland now has abundant supplies of electricity -indigenous electricity that is renewable and non-polluting. That energy is geothermal.

It shows how development can choose a different path if we pause and reflect for a moment. It is a path more countries could explore and follow given global assessments of geothermal's potential including Russia, Serbia and I am sure many others in this region.

Locally also, ecosystems services are gradually acknowledged as economic and social resources, that require care, investment and at the same time generate resources; Evian on the slopes of the Alps offers such an example.

Modern environmentalism is not only about preservation, it is also about nurturing wealth, natural and otherwise, sustainable employment, innovation, entrepreneurship. Marek pointed out this conference is also about economic competitiveness of the future - of the NEAR future.

It is about pursuing a goal of long term global impact on the environment, along with a new approach to a green, forward-looking economy in the Pan European region. An approach that underpins economic and social sustainability, stability, and eventually lasting peace and prosperity. This however cannot be achieved through the forces of market alone.

It requires vision and determination on the part of governments and decision makers in the private sector. It also requires the appropriate legislation domestically and globally. This is why I have addressed the International Parliamentary Union yesterday, and we shall continue to cooperate to improve domestic environmental legislation.

At this time many eyes are turning with concern to a potential financial crisis of global proportions, the credit and finance system is suffering a confidence deficit that states need to shore up

On the other hand some countries, particularly those in transition, may perceive that they need to privilege economic growth at the expense of immediate environmental considerations until enough wealth can be generated to "spend" on natural resources preservation.

This year, however, the new findings of the UNEP/WMO joint IPCC and Sir Nicholas Stern's report, provide new perspectives on this apparent dilemma: environment is an engine for future well being and prosperity, not an impediment to growth.

In the region, there are concrete sectors such as sustainable construction in which the return on investment both environmentally and economically is shown to be extremely fast.

In this part of Europe there are tremendous opportunities for governments to influence the sustainability of economic growth-Green Procurement. A report, jointly by UNEP and the European Environment Agency published here this week, notes that public procurement in South East Europe and Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia is an estimated five to 15 per cent of GDP or between 50 billion and 150 billion EUR.

In a globalized world, we need intelligent decisions by governments- not an abdication by governments- to steer economic activity for wider social, environmental and economic benefits. The report says that given the public sector's contribution to the economy "significant benefits could be achieved through Green Procurement, .including emissions and waste reductions, an increase in energy efficiency, development of eco-industries and contributions to job creation".

UNEP stands ready to assist governments here on furthering green procurement as a win-win strategy.

Later this year in Bali we shall be reviewing the prospects for financing and climate change; we shall meet again next year in Monaco at the UNEP GMEF/GC to see how UNEP itself in partnership with others, can move this agenda forward, and I hope you, as ministers the pan European region, given the region's diversity and wealth of experiences can contribute to moving this agenda forward.

I wish many European countries could join national pledges to run a carbon neutral economy. UNEP will spare no effort to support member states who declare their intention to do so, and help them make this decision a reality.

We must however guard against simplistic approaches and generalizations in this part of the world, especially in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia.

The previous era had its significant shortcomings ? it also had its strengths; we must take stock of both as we ensure that our approaches are deeply rooted in local reality, to adapt to the environmental and other changes that societies are facing throughout the continent.

As we listen to this Conference's debates we shall be especially careful to follow the lead of member countries in this regard.

While the need for the EfE process to continue is I believe obvious to all of us we need to ensure that it is tailored to the needs to the various sub regions and individual countries.

I think we all agree it must constantly improve and adapt not only to the new environmental challenges in the region, but also renewed scientific knowledge, as well as rapidly evolving institutional frameworks, especially given the expansion if the EU membership since we last met in Kiev in 2003.

I look forward to the Conference's debates and conclusions; UNEP stands ready as always to cooperate with all of you and with UNECE to ensure the success of the follow-up to the Conference in a fast-changing and challenging environmental context.

Thank you.




Further Resources

The Sixth Ministerial Conference "Environment for Europe"
Belgrade, 10-12 October 2007

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change

Global Environment Outlook - 4
Download the brochures:
- GEO-4 Assessment
- GEO Data Portal
- GEO Outputs
-GEO Process

UNEP Resources on Climate Change


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