The pan-European region extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific, to the Central Asian plains and the Mediterranean Sea to the Arctic Ocean, and comprises 54 countries. The region is boundlessly diverse culturally and environmentally, rich in natural resources, and highly varied, which presents significant challenges as well as important benefits. While the region is home to some of the wealthiest nations of the world, others continue to experience extreme poverty and environmental degradation. As a result, environmental policies across the region vary greatly.
The pan-European region can be divided into four sub-regions:
- Western and Central Europe (WCE), covering EU-27, the European Free Trade Association countries, and other WCE countries (mainly microstates like Andorra or San Marino);
- Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA);
- South Eastern Europe (SEE), including Western Balkans and Turkey;
- and Israel.
The region also presents some important priority issues to be addressed. More than 100 million people in the pan-European region still do not have access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation and some 18,000 children die every year of waterborne diseases. The quality of water supply and sanitation services has deteriorated continuously over the past years in South Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia. One-third of the pan-European population lives in countries where water resources are under substantial pressure. The Black Sea has a catchment area covering 2.0 million square km and is inhabited by 160 million people. Seventy percent of Europe’s river basins are transboundary. The Danube river basin, for example, irrigates 18 countries. In such a context, international and regional cooperation for effective ecosystems management is broadly acknowledged as an imperative.
The pan-European ministerial environmental process is known in the region as Environment for Europe. It is a unique partnership of the member states within the region comprising countries, covered by the Regional Office for Europe and the Regional Office for North America (RONA) with the engagement of UN organisations represented in the region, other intergovernmental organisations, regional environment centers, non-governmental organisations and other major groups. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) serves as secretariat to this process.