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:
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.
- 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.
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.
Active in the Carpathians
The Carpathian mountain range is rich in both wildlife and culture. It is Central and South Eastern Europe’s greatest reserve of untouched forest, serving as a refuge for brown bears, wolves, bison, lynx, eagles and some 200 unique plants found nowhere else in the world. It also provides some of the continent’s cleanest streams and supplies of drinking water.
The mountain range – the largest one in Europe besides the Alps - is shared by seven countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovak Republic and Ukraine) and constitutes a living environment for millions of people.
What are the main environmental concerns for the mountains?
Yet, the Carpathians are also subject to a variety of threats and adverse impacts from land abandonment, habitat conversion and fragmentation, deforestation, climate change, large scale migration on the one hand, and from industrialization, pollution and over-exploitation of natural resources on the other.
What have been the steps UNEP has taken to tackle the issues in the region?
In 2001, UNEP was requested by the Government of Ukraine to service a regional cooperation process aiming at the protection and sustainable development of this major transboundary mountain range. The first significant step took place with the formation of the Alpine-Carpathian Partnership, launched during the International Year of the Mountain (2002) and supported by the Presidency of the Alpine Convention, which was then held by Italy. At the Fifth Ministerial Conference "Environment for Europe" (Kyiv, May 2003), the seven Carpathian countries adopted and signed the Framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians.
The Carpathian Convention, which entered into force in August 2006, addresses the threats facing the region’s people and natural resources. It enshrines a common vision, integrates developmental and environmental goals, provides objectives for action and constitutes the strategic framework for transnational cooperation to address these transnational challenges.
The Convention is, at present, the only multi-level governance mechanism covering the whole Carpathian area that allows for cross-sector integration and broad stakeholder participation.
Hosted by UNEP Vienna, the Interim Secretariat of the Carpathian Convention (ISCC) opened on 15 July 2004. The ISCC acts as the main reference and service point for the Parties to the Carpathian Convention. It supports the work of the different thematic working groups, assists in negotiating and developing related protocols as well as relevant projects. It is responsible for the coordination of the Programme of Work of the Convention for the period 2009-2011, which was adopted at the Second Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Carpathian Convention (COP2), held in Bucharest, Romania, on 17-19 June 2008.
The Secretariat is now working on the finalisation of a draft Protocol on Sustainable Forest Management, a draft Protocol on Sustainable Tourism, as well as the entry into force of the Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan, and Reference to the ISCC and the Carpathian Convention in the EU Strategy for the Danube Region and Action Plan adopted by the EC in December 2010.
Promoting Biodiversity Conservation (PEBLDS)
UNEP actively promotes the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in the Pan-European region by, inter alia, servicing the Pan-European Biological and Landscape Diversity Strategy (PEBLDS) and providing expert and technical assistance to countries of Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia.
To monitor and reduce the degradation and loss of biodiversity resources in Europe, several national and international organizations developed the PEBLDS in 1994. UNEP and the Council of Europe have shared the joint Secretariat of the PEBLDS since 1995.
The principal aim of the Strategy is to ensure the sustainability of the European natural environment with special emphasis on concerted European action under all existing initiatives, particularly the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). PEBLDS presents an innovative and proactive approach to stop and reverse the degradation of biological and landscape diversity values in Europe. The Strategy reinforces the implementation of existing measures and identifies additional actions that need to be taken. It also provides a framework to promote a consistent approach and common objectives for national and regional action to implement the CBD.
As Coordinator of PEBLDS, UNEP is responsible for servicing the Strategy by organizing and facilitating meetings and preparing related documents. Recent activities include the organization of the Investing in Biodiversity and Maximizing the Benefits of the Green Economy Expert Workshop in Gabala, Azerbaijan, from 5 to 6 July 2010, and the Pan-European High Level Conference on Biodiversity, on the theme on the theme Biological Diversity and the Achievement of the Millennium Development Goals held in Gabala, Azerbaijan, on 7 July 2010. The Conference prepared a pan-European input to the high level event on biodiversity held on 22 September 2010 on the eve of the opening of the 65th Session of the General. During this high level event, During this high-level event, the world’s 192 heads of state were called to renew and strengthen their commitment to achieve the three objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
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:
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 organising six national workshops, in Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine.
- The growth rate of agricultural productivity is declining on a global scale. In a range of countries productivity is actually falling;
- 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.
- The consequences of use of chemicals in agriculture are becoming increasingly evident, and agriculture is now a major cause of biodiversity loss.
- 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.
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 analyse 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.
Fighting Poverty Through Improved Environment
The Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is a joint global UN-led programme that supports country-level efforts to mainstream poverty-environment linkages into national development plans and processes, from policymaking to budgeting, implementation and monitoring.
With both financial and technical support, UNDP and UNEP assist decision-makers and a wide range of other stakeholders to manage the environment in a way that improves livelihoods and leads to sustainable growth. The Initiative works with key government partners to raise awareness, influence policy making and strengthen the mainstreaming of poverty-environment into budget processes, sector programmes and sub-national planning. The overall aim is to bring about lasting institutional change and to catalyse key actors to increase investments in pro-poor environmental and natural resource management.
The Regional Support Programmes offer guidance on strategic planning and information about poverty-environmental mainstreaming issues in the region; define a set of priority services, including trainings and knowledge management services for countries in the region; allocate funds for country programmes and provide advisory services, and support for the regional communities.
- was formally launched in 2005 and significantly scaled-up in 2007 at the UNEP Governing Council meeting
- works in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean
- operates through a global Facility, four regional teams and the UN country teams
The Poverty and Environment Initiative in Europe:
The initiative was formally launched in December 2008 with an inception workshop in Bratislava, Slovak Republic. During the workshop participants discussed poverty-environment linkages and opportunities for mainstreaming and explored in detail the PEI concept, methodology and implementation modalities and its application potential in the European and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) regions.
Based in Geneva, Switzerland, and Bratislava, Slovak Republic, the regional PEI team manages the PEI Europe & CIS Programme; provides support to governments and UNDP country offices to facilitate PEI implementation; and promotes the sharing of knowledge and lessons learnt from the different countries in the programme.
A PEI country programme was launched in Tajikistan in May 2010, and a PEI national programme was officially signed in February 2011 in Kyrgyzstan. In addition, the regional team also provides technical support to Armenia.
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