Towards Greener Economies

The industrialised states of Western Europe are nowadays keen to develop in a sustainable manner, combining economic growth with social justice and improved environment. Within this context, there is need for a transition to a new, efficient and climate-neutral ‘Green Economy’.

UNEP has defined a green economy as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. A green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.

In the green economy scenario, growth in income and employment is driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. To make this happen, significant policy reforms and regulations modifications need to be introduced. Since natural capital is a crucial economic asset and source of public benefits, especially for poor people whose livelihoods depend on nature. 

The UNEP-led Green Economy Initiative, launched in late 2008, consists of several components aiming at providing the analysis and policy support for investing in green sectors and in greening environmentally unfriendly sectors. 

Within UNEP, the Green Economy Initiative includes three sets of activities:
  • Producing a Green Economy Report and related research materials, which analysed the macroeconomic, sustainability, and poverty reduction implications of green investment in a range of sectors from renewable energy to sustainable agriculture and providing guidance on policies that can catalyse increased investment in these sectors. The Report stressed that by investing just 2% of the Global GDP governments can kick-start a transition to a Green Economy.
  • Providing advisory services on ways to move towards a green economy in specific countries.
  • Engaging a wide range of research, non-governmental organisations, business and UN partners in implementing the Green Economy Initiative.
Beyond UNEP, the Green Economy Initiative is one of the nine UN-wide Joint Crisis Initiatives (JCI) launched by the UN System's Chief Executives Board in early 2009. In this context, the Initiative includes a wide range of research activities and capacity building events from more than 20 UN agencies including the Bretton Woods Institutions, as well as an Issue Management Group (IMG) on Green Economy, launched in Washington, DC, in March 2010.

The Regional Office for Europe provides active support for the Green Economy Initiative, organising workshops, briefings, and conferences to improve governments’ knowledge on the concept of green economy and how the transition to it can be implemented.


Preserving Caspian Ecosystems

The Caspian Sea, surrounded by the five coastal countries of Azerbaijan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation and Turkmenistan, is the largest land-locked body of water on earth. Situated in a natural depression, below mean sea level, it receives water from the Volga, Ural and the Kura rivers and numerous other freshwater inputs, but has no outlet to the world's oceans. The Volga River, the largest in Europe, is the source of 80% of the Caspian's freshwater inflow. The isolation of the Caspian basin together with its climatic and salinity gradients have created a unique ecological system with an impressive number of species endemic to the Caspian waters. Among the most famous are the Caspian sturgeon and the very rare fresh water seal.

What are the main environmental concerns in the region?

Booming exploitation of oil and gas resources, growing networks of pipelines and transport routes, industrial pollution from inflowing rivers and ground water, sea-level fluctuations, climate change and coastal desertification, and in particular the loss of biodiversity due to overexploitation of fish stocks and the introduction of invasive alien species – these are just some of the many environmental challenges that the Caspian Sea is facing. Since most of the problems are transboundary in nature, these challenges require cooperation between all Caspian states.

The Caspian region is also home to around 15 million people, who, to a large extent depend on the natural riches of the Caspian Sea. Therefore, protecting the Caspian environment is not only a matter of protection for the environment's own sake, but is also a prerequisite for reducing health risks for the coastal population and for fostering sustainable economic development.

How is UNEP helping address these challenges?

The Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea, also known as the Tehran Convention, aims at protecting the Caspian Sea from pollution and at safeguarding its biological resources for present and future generations. Adopted and signed in 2003, it entered into force in August 2006. The Convention is the first regional legally binding agreement signed and ratified by all the five Caspian littoral states.

The Tehran Convention addresses all specific threats to the Caspian environment and notably calls the Caspian states to cooperate to prevent pollution and protect the marine environment as well as to support the countries and their population in securing a sustainable future. UNEP provides interim secretariat services to the Tehran Convention and assists Parties to the Convention with negotiating and developing related protocols.

Between January and December 2010, eleven meetings were organised by the interim secretariat. Related achievements include the finalisation of two protocols to the Convention, which have passed national approval procedures and are ready for adoption and signature (1. Regional Preparedness, Response and Cooperation in Combating Oil Pollution Incidents; 2. Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context). Two additional protocols are nearly finalised:

1. Conservation of Biological Diversity and
2. Against Land-Based Sources of Pollution.

A Unified Reporting Format and the Caspian Regional Public Participation Strategy were also finalised and will be adopted at the Third Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to take place in 2011.


Sustainable Farming - Organic Agriculture

For many countries of the world, agriculture is the most important economic sector, with its potential to impact many aspects of sustainability: food security, public and human health, poverty, employment, trade, climate change, the use of natural resources (especially land and water), and biodiversity. However, this sector is facing several challenges that might lead to grave economic, social and environmental consequences:
  1. The growth rate of agricultural productivity is declining on a global scale. In a range of countries productivity is actually falling;
  2. The agricultural sector, and agricultural production depends on subsidies, particularly in developed economies. In 2008, agricultural subsidies in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries amounted to US$265 billion.
  3. The consequences of use of chemicals in agriculture are becoming increasingly evident, and agriculture is now a major cause of biodiversity loss.
  4. About 13-15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, mainly due to its heavy reliance on nitrogen fertilizers. Nitrous oxide has global warming potential that is 310 times greater than CO2.
Organic Agriculture offers an environmentally friendly and sustainable production system, which offers a broad range of economic, social, environmental, and cultural benefits at the national level and through international trade. UNEP is pushing for organic agriculture to be developed with its international and national partners by organizing six national workshops, in Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine.

This organic agriculture project aims at launching a sub regional initiative, with the first core action being the development of a Green Economy Scoping Study for the EECCA sub-region. Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine were the three leading pilot countries in which national level projects will be launched. These national studies collect and analyze data to provide an overview of the sector and present the potential economic returns, income generation, job creation, and poverty reduction benefits that can be achieved by investing in sustainable forms of agriculture. Each study develops a package of policy reforms, investments, and capacity building measures for fostering a transition to a green economy. The national studies, in turn, feed into the sub-regional synthesis report. The synthesis draws off the strong and convincing evidence offered by the national studies to support a plan for transitioning to a green economy.

Delivering as One

UNEP works closely with other UN agencies like UNECE, UNESCO and UNDP. The United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) is a programme document concluded between a government and the UN Country Teams, describing the collective actions and strategies of the UN with the aim to aid national development. The UNDAF includes outcomes, activities and UN agency responsibilities that are agreed by government. The UNDAF shows where the United Nations can contribute most effectively to the achievement of national development priorities. These framework programmes usually run for three years, with regular reviews.

Since 2009, UNEP has been an active member of the UN Country Teams within UNDAF in Albania, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Serbia and Turkey. This list was expanded in 2010 with Ukraine and Montenegro.

Here are some concrete examples of UNDAF work in the pan-European region:
The UNEP Green Economy Initiative in Azerbaijan involves UNECE, UNESCO and UNDP. UNEP assisted the Academy of Science to establish an inter-ministerial working group which works on the development of Azerbaijan’s vision of the Green Economy and a Scoping Study allowing identification of sectors of the national economy particularly favorable for green investments.

At the request of the Government of Belarus, UNEP is assessing the possibility of establishing a biofuel production in Belarus using the Chernobyl-affected lands for growing biomass.

UNEP is actively pursuing the establishment of energy partnership with the UNDP Regional Office in Bratislava to address the energy crisis in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan