United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
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Chapter 3: Policy Responses and Directions

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Europe and CIS Countries

Regional Initiatives

The first European environment programme of the European Union, the Environmental Action Programme (EAP), was adopted in November 1973 as a follow-up to the 1972 Stockholm Conference. Its main principles were incorporated into the 1987 amendments to the 1957 Treaty of Rome (the 1987 Single European Act). The EAP was updated and extended in 1977, 1983, 1987, and 1992, and implementation of the Fifth EAP for the EU is still ongoing. It emphasizes a dual and co-ordinated approach in which high environmental standards set through regulations for almost all pollutant emissions, discharges, and wastes are combined with positive incentives for industry. The latter aim to further improve performance through development of new processes, products, and techniques. The Maastricht Treaty, adopted in 1994, spells out a comprehensive agenda for sustainable, non-inflationary growth in ways that demonstrate respect for the environment. More than 200 instruments, regulations, and directives have been called into play to improve environmental quality throughout Europe and to counter transnational and global ills.

After the changeover from centrally planned economies, and in order to create a framework for expanded co-operation, steps were taken to pave the way for the "Environment for Europe" process. The first pan-European Conference of Environmental Ministers took place at Dobríš Castle, then in Czechoslovakia, in 1991, attended by 36 ministers. The Dobríš Conference requested the preparation of the pan-European Dobríš Assessment and the development of an environmental programme for the whole of Europe. Further conferences in this process took place in Lucerne, Switzerland, in 1993 and in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1995. The next conference will take place in Aarhus, Denmark, in 1998.

At the Lucerne Conference, environmental ministers from 50 countries endorsed the short-term Environmental Action Programme for Central and Eastern Europe (EAP/CEE). The programme-developed by an international task force composed of the European Commission, the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the EU-provides a methodology for integrating environmental concerns into the economic transition in the CEE region. There are three major programme components: setting priorities, strengthening institutional capacity, and developing cost-effective financing for environmental action. International mechanisms for environmental cost-sharing and the effective co-ordination of assistance under this programme have yet to be developed.

The EAP/CEE places considerable emphasis on the human health consequences of environmental degradation. In particular, drinking-water contamination and lead and particulate pollution are key short-term concerns. Opportunities for implementing low-cost measures to address these concerns have been identified. Based on an assessment of a number of "hot spots" in the CEE countries, the EAP/CEE recommended specific "win-win" investments that would benefit both the economy and the environment. For example, phasing out subsidies on energy, raw materials, and water can encourage conservation, thereby reducing waste and pollution.

Since the Lucerne Conference, national environmental policy documents have been prepared in 13 CEE countries, some of which are national environmental action plans that adopt the EAP/ CEE methodology. Institution- strengthening is considered the weakest component in most countries. The environmental priorities identified are drinking-water supply, air pollution control, and wastewater treatment (REC, 1995b). Regional Environment Centres (RECs) are now assisting with the implementation of the EAP/CEE. The REC in Hungary, for instance, is working with 15 CEE countries. Since its establishment in 1990, it has awarded more than 2,000 grants to environmental NGOs in CEE to increase public participation in environmental issues. Since the Sofia Conference, the REC network is being expanded to the CIS.

The Sofia Conference issued the Sofia Declaration, reaffirming Governments' commitment to co-operate in the field of environmental protection in Europe (UN-ECE, 1995). It acknowledged that, although progress is being made in a number of areas, many serious problems remain, and it stressed the urgent need for further integration of environmental considerations into all sectoral policies. The Conference endorsed the Environmental Programme for Europe (EPE), based on the Dobríš Assessment. The EPE is linked to Agenda 21 and regional environmental treaties and conventions, and describes the actions required to address, at the European level, the following major sets of issues:

  • general issues (including information, public participation, and capacity building);

  • cleaner production and efficient use of energy and materials;

  • sustainable consumption and production patterns;

  • sustainable management of natural resources;

  • biological and landscape diversity; and

  • sustainable agriculture, forestry, and fisheries.

Thus the EPE encompasses all the environmental issues of concern to Europe in a long-term perspective, constituting the first set of general objectives in the environment field adopted at the pan-European level.

A number of East-West initiatives are under way to assist countries undergoing economic transition with their environmental agendas. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN- ECE) is active in fostering East-West dialogue and co-operation on environmental matters. It has developed a number of regional environmental conventions in the fields of transboundary water, industrial accidents, and air pollution as well as being active in the preparation of ministerial conferences. The EU has a range of co-operative programmes, including PHARE and TACIS. PHARE (initially Poland, Hungary-EU Assistance for the Reforms of the Economies) now assists 11 CEE countries in the development of regulatory frameworks for the environment, pollution monitoring and assessment, and installation of corrective action and abatement strategies for priority pollution concerns.

The TACIS (Technical Assistance for the CIS Countries) programme helps CIS countries to move away from centrally planned to market economies and to strengthen their democratic societies. Environment ranks among the priority sectors of this programme (EC, 1994).

Box 3.13.

Selected Regional and Subregional Environmental Agreements: Europe and the CIS Countriesa


European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road
European Agreement on the Restriction of the Use of Certain Detergents in Washing and Cleaning Products (as amended), Strasbourg
Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, Geneva, and its protocols
Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, Berne
Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context, Espoo
Agreement on the Conservation of Bats in Europe, London
Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents, Helsinki
Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, Helsinki
Convention on Civil Liability for Damage Resulting from Activities Dangerous to the Environment, Lugano


Convention Concerning Fishing in the Waters of the Danube, Bucharest
Convention Concerning Fishing in the Black Sea (as amended), Varna
Agreement Concerning the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine Against Pollution (as amended), Berne
Convention on Fishing and Conservation of the Living Resources in the Baltic Sea and Belts, Gdánsk
Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area, Helsinki, and its 1992 revision
Convention on the Protection of the Environment Between Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, Stockholm
Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea Against Pollution, Barcelona, and its protocols
Conventions on the Protection of the Rhine Against Chemical Pollution and Against Pollution by Chlorides, Bonn
Benelux Convention on Nature Conservation and Landscape Protection, Brussels
Agreement on the Conservation of Seals in the Wadden Sea, Bonn
Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North seas, New York
Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic
Convention on the Protection of the Black Sea Against Pollution, Bucharest, and its protocols
Convention on Cooperation for the Protection and Sustainable Use of the Danube River, Sofia

Note: a. Some agreements have not yet entered into force.

In addition to the broad-brush processes, a large number of policies and programmes are specifically targetted. Many focus on sectoral areas:

  • The 1993 Helsinki Ministerial Conference on forests gave a common political commitment that the increasing demands on European forests for multiple goods and services should be met in a manner consistent with their sustainable management and conservation and appropriate enhancement of their biodiversity.

  • At the Sofia Ministerial Conference, the environment ministers of 55 countries endorsed the Pan-European Biological and Landscape Diversity Strategy. This proactive strategy aims to stop and reverse the degradation of biological and landscape diversity values in Europe. It addresses all biological and landscape initiatives under a common European approach and promotes the integration of biological and landscape diversity considerations into policies for social and economic sectors. The strategy also reinforces existing measures and identifies a number of additional actions to be taken over the next two decades. It also promotes a consistent approach and common objectives for national and regional action to implement the Convention on Biological Diversity.

  • In the field of environmental health, the World Health Organization's European Office (WHO/EURO) convened a Ministerial Conference on Health and the Environment in 1994 that resulted in a Declaration and the development of National Environment Health Action Plans. Under this process, a Committee on Environment and Health was set up under the auspices of WHO to foster a co-ordinated European approach in this area.

Box 3.14.

Regional Agreements for Air Quality: Some Impacts of the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution

Within the framework of the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP), Parties to the 1985 Helsinki Protocol undertook to reduce sulphur emissions by the end of 1993 to at least 30 per cent below 1980 levels. Under the 1988 Sofia Protocol, Parties were obliged to stabilize nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions at 1987 levels (1978 levels for the United States) by the end of 1994.

A major review carried out in 1994 showed that countries have used a range of national policy measures to try and achieve these targets:

  • Regulatory Provisions-standards for fuel and ambient air quality; emission and deposition standards; licensing of potentially polluting activities; etc.

  • Economic Instruments-emissions and product charges and taxes; user charges; emissions trading; subsidies and other forms of financial assistance; etc.

  • Measures Related to Emission Control Technologies-legislative requirements to use "best available technologies"; wide availability of unleaded fuel; etc.

  • Monitoring and Assessment of Air Pollution Effects-monitoring of air quality and environmental effects; research into effects and assessment of critical loads and levels.
What Has Been Achieved?

By 1993, all 21 Parties had reached the sulphur reduction targets of the Helsinki Protocol. Together, they had reduced 1980 sulphur emissions by 48 per cent.

By 1993, 18 of the 25 Parties had reached the NOx emissions target of the Sofia Protocol; 4 Parties had emissions 4-41 per cent above the 1987 levels; and 3 Parties had not submitted data. Total NOx emissions by the 25 Parties were down 4 per cent on 1987 levels. Increases in urban traffic make it very difficult for countries to meet targets.

What Has Happened to Air Quality?

In general, concentrations of sulphur dioxide (SO2) have improved but NO2 concentrations and related health problems in urban areas have not been significantly reduced.

  • Belgium reports major reductions in urban SO2 concentrations and, since 1985, stabilization of SO2 levels in ambient air. There has been no significant reduction in NO2 levels and short-term health guidelines are not met.

  • Bulgaria reports that 40 per cent of the population live in areas where sulphur and nitrogen emissions still lead to harmful effects.

  • Finland reports significant reductions in sulphur depositions from domestic sources.

  • Germany reports that mean annual SO2 concentrations have decreased considerably in conurbations. In rural areas, SO2 concentrations have nearly halved whereas NO2 concentrations have remained stable.

  • The Netherlands reports that acidifying depositions decreased by about 60 per cent between the early 1980s and early 1990s.

  • Norway reports that sulphur concentrations in air and precipitation decreased by 30-40 per cent since 1979, but critical loads are still exceeded in more than 30 per cent of the country. Nitrate concentrations in the lakes of southern Norway almost doubled between 1974 and 1986, and the high levels have since been maintained.

UN-ECE. 1995. Strategies and Policies for Air Pollution Abatement: 1994 Major Review Prepared under the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution. ECE/EBAIR/44.UN- ECE. New York and Geneva.

Other initiatives are specifically designed to tackle environmental problems affecting a defined geographical area. Many of the seas, including the Aral, Baltic, Black, and Mediterranean, and some major river basins, including the Danube and Rhine, have such programmes or action plans. The "Green Lungs of Europe" is another collaborative effort involving seven countries (Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, and the Ukraine). It is designed to create sustainable development zones through integrated ecosystem and economic management.

There are a range of regional and subregional agreements that relate specifically to the environment (See ) and form a common basis for policy setting. Some agreements focus on sectoral issues; others, on geographical areas; and a few focus on both. Where commitments have been implemented by countries and sufficient time has elapsed for the agreement to have had an impact, results have demonstrated the beneficial role of multilateral policy options approaches. (See Box 3.14.)

In addition to Government-level initiatives, numerous international organizations and institutions provide vital support for the environmental movement and for NGOs in the region, as well as providing funds for nature protection, environmental education, and research.

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