30 years since the Environment for Europe conference - the Czech contribution to Europe

30 years since the Environment for Europe conference - the Czech contribution to Europe

Thirty years ago, a ground-breaking pan-European conference of environment ministers took place at Dobříš Castle, which has been followed by other meetings of this unique partnership of UN Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) member states, UN agencies represented in the region, intergovernmental organisations, the private sector and NGOs, called the Environment for Europe Process. The conference itself was initiated by the then Czechoslovak Minister of the Environment, Josef Vavroušek, and thus became the impetus for many achievements in the field of environmental protection in Europe, including the adoption of a number of international agreements.

The conference received extraordinary attention. In addition to the environmental ministers of the European region, it was attended by representatives of the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, various UN bodies and international organisations (e.g. NATO) and attracted great interest abroad. It discussed human values and environmental ethics. It sought to strengthen cooperation in improving environmental conditions and promoting sustainable development in the region. In a totally unique international climate, this was a unique achievement of Czechoslovak diplomacy in the field of environmental protection.

As is well known, the turn of the 1990s was turbulent in many respects, and the environment was no exception. There was the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Czechoslovakia began to develop an environmental policy that was virtually non-existent under the communist regime. President Václav Havel said in his opening speech at the time that the conference was being held in a country "which not only suffers from major environmental problems itself, but is also one of the biggest polluters of the environment in Europe."

Since the beginning of the Process, eight Ministerial Conferences have been held, the last one in 2016 in Batumi, Georgia. The 9th Ministerial Conference on the Environment for Europe Process will be held in Nicosia, Cyprus, from 5 to 7 October 2022, during the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU. The Czech Republic as the EU Presidency will thus be able to commemorate its historic role. "The Environment for Europe process has made us famous in the field of international environmental protection. For decades it has helped to promote its objectives in Europe, in particular to raise the environmental standards of countries in Eastern Europe, South-Eastern Europe, but also the Caucasus and Central Asia. I consider it admirable that Czechoslovakia and, in particular, Minister Vavroušek were at the forefront of this initiative," says Environment Minister Richard Brabec.

The Environment for Europe process is under the auspices of UNECE, which currently has 56 members from EU countries, as well as Western and Eastern European countries outside the EU, South-Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, the Commonwealth of Independent States and North America. The process and its ministerial conferences provide a high-level platform for participants and is a regional pillar for sustainable development.

Among the achievements of the Process are the adoption of a number of legally binding instruments. These include the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in

Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention), the Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers to the Aarhus Convention, the Protocol on Heavy Metals and the Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, the Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment to the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context and the Framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians (Carpathian Convention).

The Environment for Europe process has thus become a useful platform for environmental protection in the UNECE region thanks to its achievements and years of continuity, and can continue to facilitate cooperation between states and non-state actors in this area in the future.

MoE Press Office
e-mail: tiskove@mzp.cz