Ministers will meet in Astana, Kazakhstan, today to discuss water issues and greening the economy at the seventh 'Environment for Europe' Ministerial Conference, running from 21 - 23 September 2011. To support the Conference, the European Environment Agency (EEA) is launching an innovative Assessment of Assessments report, which recommends ways that environmental information and policy making can be more closely aligned.
The Ministerial Conference will bring together delegates from 53 countries across the pan-European region as well as delegates from the United States, Canada and Israel. The conference focuses on the challenges in protecting water and related ecosystems, and on how to move towards a green economy. It is organised by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in cooperation with the Government of Kazakhstan.
To support the Conference, the EEA was asked to produce a report entitled 'Europe's Environment - An Assessment of Assessments'. This report provides a comprehensive overview of available sources of environmental information across the region which directly relate to the focus of the Conference. In writing this report, experts looked at more than 1000 reports, more than half of which were reviewed in detail. This report, which was produced with the support of the UNECE Steering Group on Environmental Assessments, is complemented by a series of regional reports that focus on specific pan-European sub-regions.
Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the EEA, said: "The Assessment of Assessments report shows that we need to further strengthen the link between policy and information. This works both ways - policy-makers need to make better use of the wealth of environmental information currently available; at the same time environmental assessments should be targeted to be as policy-relevant as possible.
"To sustain social and economic development across the pan-European region, we will need to green our economies - this means equitably managing constrained resources without compromising essential ecosystem functions. Our ability as a society to successfully meet this challenge depends on having access to relevant, credible and legitimate environmental information and assessments from across the region."
Europe's environment - an Assessment of Assessments
The Assessment of Assessments focuses on the themes of water and water-related ecosystems, and greening the economy. It concludes by making a number of recommendations on how to enhance the knowledge base that underpins decision-making processes, improve assessment tools, and ensure greater information exchange across the pan-European region and at a global level.
The report also documents the benefits of a 'Regular reporting Process' of environmental assessment, based on the Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS) which was a collaborative initiative of the European Commission, the EEA, and EEA member and cooperating countries. Such an approach would streamline and improve existing information systems and processes while making information available to policy makers and public across the region. Based on the findings of the Assessment of Assessments, it is expected that Ministers at Astana will decide to establish a regular process of environmental assessment and to develop SEIS across the region.
Water - key findings
Sustainable management of water and water-related ecosystems is extremely important across the pan-European region. Drought has increased in recent years across Southern Europe and Central Asia, while flooding is causing increasing deaths and economic damage. Clean water is also a problem, as an estimated 120 million people across the region live without access to safe drinking water or sanitation.
There is a huge range of information on the state of water, produced by countries across the region. Authors of the report analysed more than 300 water-related reports from 48 countries, published over the last five years. However, information is often lacking or irrelevant to policy. Many assessments are currently too restricted to environmental status and trends and need to focus more on measures and management, especially regarding water scarcity, extreme events and water ecosystems.
Green economy - key findings
The 'green economy' is still an emerging concept. At its core is the idea of revitalising economies as they emerge from the recent economic crisis while significantly reducing environmental risks and addressing ecological scarcities. Globally, greening the economy is at the heart of renewed efforts to integrate environmental and social considerations with mainstream economic decision-making, up to and beyond the Rio 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.
Information on the green economy is generally fragmented and still somewhat limited. While several assessments exist that look at environmental impacts of different economic sectors, there remains a notable lack of reports that coherently assess progress towards a green economy across these sectors.
SOURCE European Environment Agency and United Nations