United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Environment Outlook-1 - The Web version

Chapter 3: Policy Responses and Directions

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Europe and CIS Countries

Regional Information Sharing

The region has a clear policy towards promoting access to and sharing of environmental information. At the Sofia Ministerial Conference, the ministers adopted the UN-ECE Guidelines on Access to Environmental Information and Public Participation in Environmental Decision-Making and recommended that it should be developed into a convention (UN-ECE, 1995). EU members have already been instructed to implement Directive 90/313 on the freedom of access to environmental information, giving any person anywhere in the world the right of access to any information on the environment held by public authorities (Stichting Natuur en Milieu & FIELD, 1994).

International organizations have established programmes to make environmental information more generally accessible through environmental information networks in support of such policies. These include the European Information and Observation Network of the European Environment Agency (EEA), UNEP's ENRIN programme, OECD, and UN-ECE. All these activities extend into countries with economies in transition. UNEP has set a priority in strengthening the information networks in the countries with economies in transition, and EEA's CORINE inventories are being expanded to the PHARE countries.

The EEA, established in 1993, implements a co- ordinated approach to environmental information, monitoring, and assessment. In addition to incorporating many of the integrated and sectoral monitoring and assessment programmes, the activities of the agency are expected to improve the co-ordination of European and global data systems, thereby strengthening the European partnership towards the solution of global problems (EEA, 1995).

UNEP is working with and through a number of internationally supported, regionally based programmes to build or increase capacities for handling environmental data and information. These include the GEF-funded Black Sea and Danube River Basin Programme Co-ordination Units in, respectively, Istanbul and Vienna.

NGOs and NGO networks play a vital role in disseminating information to a wide range of users. Regional participatory networks, involving national and international governmental organizations as well as NGOs, are also gaining strength. One rather advanced example is the BALLERINA network of the Baltic Sea countries, making use of modern telecommunications technologies.

Box 3.15.

Some Guiding Principles Emerging from the European GEO Consultation

  • A manageable and reliable method for tracking environmental change and policy impacts is required. A well-chosen set of indicators would be an ideal tool.

  • There is always a trade-off between environmental needs and expectations and the economic reality of what can be afforded. It is therefore essential to set priorities, using agreed criteria. When it comes to alternative actions, it makes sense to pick ones that will address several problems at the same time.

  • Once environmental problems are recognized, it takes time to get them on to political and policy agendas, especially where environment ministries are the weak cousins in Governments. However, experience has shown that early action benefits not only the environment but also the economy; policies put in place today save money tomorrow.

  • Environmental problems are closely interlinked and are an integral part of economic and social systems. Water and coastal zone management are clear examples of socio-economic situations that must be considered together with technical management aspects. Every effort should be made to tackle environmental problems in an integrated way, even though this is conceptually complex and most attempts to date have been crude.

  • International cooperation is essential for tackling transboundary environmental issues because these cannot be solved by individual countries. Legal and institutional frameworks must first be in place and multilateral agreements have an important role to play. Progress in the European region is variable:
    • Legal frameworks are generally in place for air quality and hazardous waste disposal, but inadequate for the protection of coastal areas.

    • Institutional frameworks need to be better developed for some river basins.

    • Mechanisms to regulate land use on an international level exist for the European Union; countries w;ith economies in transition still need to establish the necessary institutional and legal frameworks.

    • The protection of biodiversity is governed by an unusually large number of international agreements; specific bilateral and multilateral policies are still required to tackle issues like biosafety, green corridors, and protected areas across international borders.

    • An international framework on sound forestry practices is needed; existing international agreements such as the Framework Convention on Climate Change could be used as an additional protective mechanism.

    • A full assessment of the impacts of the Chernobyl accident is still needed and would assist the many countries in the region still dealing with the aftermath of the event.
  • Another set of issues, including many urban and land degradation problems, require national or subnational policy development and action; international collaboration is not necessary in these situations.

  • Most successful policies in the region have been driven by sectoral issues. However, with emphasis on end-of-pipe remedial measures, policies have not always been effectively focused. More emphasis is needed on the "input" side of equations and achieving a comprehensive "cradle-to-grave" approach.

  • Many problems can now be anticipated far in advance. Whereas many environmental problems of western Europe are linked to life-styles, eastern European countries still have the opportunity to choose their own consumption and production patterns, to evolve a different route towards sustainable development and avoid the mistakes made by the West.

  • Current pan-European processes are still weak on linking issues to policy. Driving forces must be the action links between the two.

UNEP. 1996. Report of the Regional Consultations held for the first Global Environment Outlook. UNEP. Nairobi.

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