Guest post: Lessons from 25 years of connected expertise for environmental governance | SDG Knowledge Center
By Olga Algayerova and Elisabete Quintas da Silva
The United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), launched on World Environment Day 2021, launched an unprecedented effort to heal the earth. Protecting and reviving ecosystems is vital to improving livelihoods, tackling climate change and halting the collapse of biodiversity. But finding a balance between that and economic success is a challenge for governments.
Finding this balance is in the very DNA of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Achieving them requires a holistic, coordinated and intersectoral policy approach. To support countries, the Environmental Performance Reviews (EPR) conducted by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) offer a powerful tool to ensure the right wind for the sail of environmental governance.
Retrospective: evolution of EPRs
In 2021, countries celebrate 25 years of EPE to EEC, following the establishment of the Environmental Performance Assessment Program by the UNECE Environmental Policy Committee in 1996. The mandate of the EPRs was given by the ministers responsible for the environment at the second Ministerial Conference of Environment for Europe in 1993, held in Lucerne, Switzerland.
Following an Estonian pilot EPR carried out from 1994 to 1996, the Committee decided to: continue the EPRs under its auspices; to review the performance of non-OECD countries in the UNECE region in meeting their national environmental policy goals and relevant international commitments; and help monitor national progress in the implementation of Agenda 21, one of the main outcomes of the 1992 Rio de Janeiro United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. The experience gained from the pilot FIEs in Belarus, Bulgaria and Poland, carried out from 1994 to 1997 by the OECD in cooperation with the UNECE, also helped shape the Program.
In 1997, the Committee established the UNECE Ad Hoc Expert Group on Environmental Performance, initially composed of representatives from 11 countries (Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Netherlands, Switzerland , Ukraine and United States). To date, the EPR Expert Group, whose mandate has been revised and renewed on several occasions, remains a key element of this intergovernmental mechanism. Through the Expert Group, countries mobilize their collective expertise to help each other resolve pressing environmental challenges. The Group is currently composed of experts from Estonia, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Montenegro, Romania and Switzerland, operates under the leadership of Estonia and provides expert reviews in close cooperation with the countries under review and the EEC.
Take stock of the impacts
Over the past quarter of a century, the REP Program has made it possible to examine, at the request of governments, the environmental performance of certain 25 countries. More than half of these countries have had their environmental performance reviewed three times, tracking trends over time and striving for continuous improvement. Other organizations participated in the reviews, including the OECD, UNDP, UNEP, WHO, UNOCHA, UNICEF, European Environment Agency, European Commission and European Bank of investment, bringing their knowledge and experience and providing support on the ground.
Since 2017, our PITs have helped six countries in the region analyze their performance against the SDGs, with each PIT addressing between 40 and 65 SDG targets.
In the most recent notice published, UNECE provides 99 recommendations for Uzbekistan that can help design its green recovery policies in the aftermath of COVID-19, in order to improve the environmental situation and the well-being of the population, while greening the sectors of energy, agriculture, transport, housing, industry and health.
Amid the past 12 difficult months, progress in the region includes the Committee’s adoption of the recommendations from Romania’s 3rd EPR, and preparation for the review of Azerbaijan.
Fundamentally, the success of EPRs relies on the emphasis on closely following up reviews with implementation. The reviewed countries are assisted through national and regional workshops (e.g. on energy and environment, transport and environment, and the SDGs), United Nations Development Account projects for developing priority policies and supporting the preparation of roadmaps to put EPR recommendations into practice. Country engagement speaks for itself: Kazakhstan re-established a dedicated environment ministry as an immediate response to one of the key recommendations of its 3rd EPR.
The efficiency and effectiveness of the ECE methodology has attracted the attention of countries outside the UNECE region, which has prompted requests to share the know-how developed in UNECE with its sister UN regional commissions. . EPR for Morocco – for which the a second review is currently underway – and Mongolia in 2018, in cooperation with ESCWA and ESCAP, paved the way for enhanced interregional efforts that we are ready to further support.
Listen to new calls
This year, we are continuing the third cycle of EPRs, focusing on environmental governance and financing in the context of the green economy, country cooperation with the international community and mainstreaming of the environment into priority sectors.
The provision by countries of voluntary financial contributions and expertise demonstrates their recognition of the value of the unique EPR program, which was welcomed and supported by ministers at their Environment for Europe conferences. This appreciation is also reflected in the strong demand from countries wishing to be reviewed: Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine have already expressed their willingness to participate in their next EPRs, and we hope to be able to fully respond to their call.
The good news is that countries will continue to benefit from concrete recommendations from FIEs. beyond 2022, following the adoption of the fourth cycle of EPR by the Environmental Policy Committee in November 2020 and its expected approval by ministers at the Ninth Environment Ministerial Conference for Europe, to be held in Nicosia, Cyprus, in 2022. This updated form is also used for illustrate how the review process continues to respond to changing country needs, for example by strengthening the in-depth assessment of climate change impacts on priority sectors, mainstreaming climate adaptation and mitigation greenhouse gases (GHGs). At the request of governments, the REP program will improve the assessment of the green economy to meet the circular economy, which is increasingly high on the political agenda in the region.
Together, let’s build on this legacy of joint action for environmental governance as we step up our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
This guest article is written by Olga Algayerova, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and Elisabete Quintas da Silva, Head of Department, Operational Program for Sustainable and Efficient Use of Resources, Government of Portugal, and Chair of the UNECE Environmental Policy Committee.