in Europe

2016 Year in Review


Before gathering our energies for next year, let’s have a look back at highlights from 2016. Here, we invite you on a white journey through 12 initiatives UN Environment ran this year in our beautiful region.

Let the Journey begin

“2016 comes to an end. This has been a busy year with many promising seeds planted in our region: a first inventory on industrial soil pollution undertaken in Serbia, new air quality monitoring stations opened in Bosnia, a first and firm pan-European commitment to the Global Goals, or the entering into force of the first Caspian Sea Protocol, to name but a few. All these successes prove the unprecedented commitment of Europeans to the environmental cause and hold great potential to be scaled-up and replicated in other cities and countries.

This is my wish for 2017: that we embrace smart and sustainable projects and ideas in as many government offices, municipalities, board meetings and households. The environmental cause must speak to European citizens, it has to be understandable, inspire us to act collectively and help redesign ways of living for all.

We can only reverse negative trends for peoples' lives and our environment if we pull together. More than half of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030 have an environmental focus. Policy responses to clean our soils, seas, our energy, our food, cities or mobility can now serve towards these goals and the environment, and improve the quality of peoples’ lives. ”

Jan Dusík,
Director, Europe Office, UN Environment

Tackling air quality for health, the environment and economy

In 2016, UN Environment Europe opened new air quality monitoring stations in Bosnia and Herzegovina – home to some of Europe’s most polluted cities.

The two new stations opened are located in the cities of Gorazde – where the safe threshold for solid particles has been exceeded 19 times since 8 December 2015 - and Prijedor. Two stations were renovated in 2016 in Ivan Sedlo and Banja Luka.

As a result, accurate data is available in real-time to monitor climate changes and announce pollution alerts to the general public, as well as to measure the impact of policies to clean the air.

White flags which turn dark when detecting air pollution were also erected at schools across Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo, showing a very visual impact of air pollution. According to the European Environment Agency, 44,000 years of life are lost prematurely each year in the country due to poor air quality.

For the second year in a row, UN Environment furthermore partnered with the Sarajevo Film Festival – one of the biggest on the continent – to dedicate an entire day to the environment through a film screening, photo exhibition and live demonstration of instruments used to gauge air quality.

Sarajevo and Banja Luka are meanwhile among two of the pilot cities being supported by UN Environment Europe as they move towards slashing emissions and reducing harmful air particles under the Global District Energy in Cities initiative.

Heating and cooling can account for up to half of local energy consumption in cities. Banja Luka could for example save up to 20,000 tons of CO₂ each year and €4.5 million in heating costs when its district heating system is overhauled to use cleaner energy.

UN Environment worked with partners this year to assess the existing energy flow and identify leaks using an unmanned aerial drone and thermal camera, allowing the city to draw up an action plan for improvements.

We also began providing technical advice to help retrofit or scale-up more efficient systems in Belgrade, where natural gas currently provides 86% of power used in the city’s district heating. The Serbian capital wants to shift to cogeneration with renewables.

The Initiative is financed by the Global Environment Fund and the Danish International Development Agency DANIDA. Over the next three years, the programme will support 25 cities worldwide through technical assessments, capacity building and training, and aims to inspire many more.

Handing Serbia the keys to industrial soil remediation

In 2016, UN Environment Europe began the first ever nationwide efforts to diagnose soil pollution caused by industry in Serbia. The move will allow the country to recover sites currently marred by heavy metals or potential carcinogens.

The project follows years of successful work our organisation carried out to remediate soil contamination caused by conflict in the Balkans.

Serbia’s industrial legacy has been a major economic driver for the country, but has also been a major cause of soil contamination through deposits of dangerous metals such as cobalt and chromium.

In September, Serbian officials were therefore joined by experts from UN Environment and the Italian Environment Ministry to take soil samples at the ‘Zorka’ and ‘Viskoza’ former chemicals plants near the town of Sabac and city of Loznica respectively.

UN Environment has been guiding Serb officials as they collect soil samples, set limits on the safe concentration of chemicals in soil, identify sites to be cleaned-up and reclaimed and consider the technologies needed to do so.

As a result, the country has been able to begin mapping contaminated sites and will identify priority ones to be remediated and converted into schools, hospitals, supermarkets or other uses.

The first expert visits were broadcast on Euronews - the media with the largest audience in the pan-European region – which screened a 360 degree video on location, allowing viewers to visit the site as if they were on the ground.

A follow-up session has since been organised linking officials from Serbia with experts from various Italian agencies, including the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development, to provide training on techniques for assessing contaminated sites.

“We are highly grateful for UN Environment’s support with the demanding task of investigating contaminated sites,” said the Serbian State Secretary for the Environment, Ms Stana Bozovic.

The project is supported by the Italian Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea, which contributed funding for capacity building, and by the Global Environment Facility, which is covering broader costs.

Work is scheduled to continue until 2018 and will help Serbia collect data from a list of 359 potentially-contaminated sites before beginning a pilot remediation. It furthermore marks a new partnership between UN Environment and Euronews, with the aim of bringing our fieldwork into people’s homes.

Reducing exposure to lead

This year, UN Environment’s Europe Office made a real impact in reducing the health implications of lead in the pan-European Region.

The heavy metal can cause learning difficulties, antisocial behaviour, reduced fertility and a heightened risk of renal and cardiovascular disease – making its elimination extremely important. Every year, 600,000 children are subjected to intellectual disabilities due to lead poisoning, the World Health Organization states.

According to the latest scientific studies, lead in paint across Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia is frequently recorded to be over the recommended limit of 90 ppm – presenting a serious health threat for the European population.

To change this, in May UN Environment Europe introduced a regulatory toolkit - developed by the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint - to 17 countries in a workshop organised with the Government of the Republic of Moldova.

Of the 17 states, only five reported to have legally-binding controls on lead in place. Yet the workshop’s success was illustrated by changes made by the Government of the Republic of Moldova which has since the event passed a law to restrict the use of lead in paint, with many more countries signalling their intention to introduce policies with support from UN Environment.

During the international lead poisoning prevention week of action in October, UN Environment Europe also highlighted the need to tackle lead in paint through an awareness raising campaign with the World Health Organization.

Events took place across the pan-European region, including meetings with paint store owners in Russia, a press conference in Azerbaijan and an art competition in Albania. We furthermore organised an interview with an expert Russian scientist, Dr Olga Speranksaya, who revealed how lead exposure continues to be a problem in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia in particular, while the cost of alternatives to lead is low.

Next year, UN Environment Europe will keep working towards a lead-free future and a healthier environment for all through support for legislation and awareness-raising.

First regional commitment to achieving the Global Goals

In 2016, UN Environment received a mandate from governments to help them deliver on real, measurable pledges to help fulfil the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In the framework of the eighth Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference held in Batumi, Georgia in June, 24 countries and 12 organisations have so far made over 110 pledges for the transition to a Green Economy.

These include a commitment from Lithuania to ban the disposal of food in landfill – in line with SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production - while Switzerland has announced a move to boost green technology through a CHF 4.2 million annual promotion loan for pilot projects from both the public and private sectors.

The conference included a live video connection with Bertrand Piccard, a UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador and pilot of the Solar Impulse plane which flew around the globe on solar power alone.

“I am sure that with UN Environment, delegates and all governments present, we can have a very fruitful partnership for applying clean technologies on the ground,” he told delegates during a stopover in New York.

In the margins of the meeting, a media masterclass was co-organised by UN Environment and sponsored by the European Commission. There, 31 journalists from all Eastern Partnership countries were briefed on topics linked to the conference and equipped with reporting tools from former BBC journalist Alex Kirby, helping to ensure the environment remains high on the agenda in futures.

The ministerial also saw the launch of UN Environment’s flagship sixth Global Environment Outlook for the pan-European region (see here) and the ratification of the Batumi Action Plan on Clean Air, which the study had identified as being the greatest threat to human health in our region.

Further side events organised by UN Environment and partners highlighted the job creation potential of policy measures to promote cycling, the launch of a Global Environment Fund project fighting land degradation in Georgia, and a meeting of Central Asian countries to exchange ideas and best practices for accelerating the Green Economy transition.

UN Environment is now working with countries to help turn their pledges into reality by identifying the technical advice, projects and capacity building needed.

GEO and our daily lives

Which city aims to go carbon neutral by 2025? Can climate change make you sneeze?

Every week, UN Environment in Europe has been taking a snippet of information from the sixth Global Environment Outlook report for the pan-European region (GEO-6) and shared it on social media to raise awareness on topical environmental issues and explain how they affect people’s daily lives.

The so-called #FridayFacts are written in an easily-digestible way and may explain the importance of decisions being taken at an ongoing major meeting, or the link between an environmental trend and our health for example.

One #FridayFact on Copenhagen aiming to become a C02 neutral city by 2025 was shared over 70 times on Twitter. Academia, investors, youth and women’s rights groups, journalists and lawyers have all shared the social media posts.

The exercise reflects the universality of the GEO-6 report, which aims to provide the basis for policymakers to act, but also allows members of the general public to learn more about environmental challenges and solutions in their country or region.

The Outlook was launched at the eighth Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference held in Georgia on 8-10 June (read more on the meeting here). It finds that air pollution and climate change are now the greatest threats to human health in the pan-European region.

The report is the sixth edition in an annual series and was produced together with the UN Economic Commission for Europe with support from the European Environment Agency. It has since been presented to the general public, policy makers and others during presentations in Lisbon, Almaty and elsewhere.

In the words of the British broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough, “Surely it is our responsibility to do everything in our power to create a planet that is a home not just for us but for all life on Earth”.

As environmental challenges in the region become more systemic and complex, the GEO-6 report and #FridayFacts aim to help countries get onto a more sustainable pathway as well as re-establish the connection between people and nature.

Follow us on twitter and discover our weekly fact every Friday - @UNEPinEurope.

Campaign to drive green choices scoops award

UN Environment has continued to support the transition to a Green Economy in Eastern Partnership countries in 2016 - including through awareness-raising campaigns, legislative support and help for green business on the ground.

In June this year, an awareness-raising ad campaign produced by our office on organic food was prized with the Global Green award in the responsible consumption and eco-labels category at the Deauville international film festival.

The recording of a doe, badger and rabbit making the natural choice of selecting organic over conventional food formed part of a series of ads for Moldovan television and in English for wider diffusion.

The ads were made as part of the 'Greening Economies in the Eastern Neighbourhood' (EaP-GREEN) programme funded by the European Commission.

EaP-GREEN is jointly carried out by UN Environment, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation.

Together with partners, UN Environment’s Europe Office has also helped Moldova and other countries work on national action plans for transitioning to a more resource-efficient economy, such as through encouraging green public procurement.

Working on the ground, we meanwhile helped to link organic producers from Ukraine, Armenia and Moldova with international buyers, in order to seize export opportunities. Ukrainian producers sealed contracts worth € 3.5 million during this year’s Biofach organic fair alone for example.

Further along the food production chain, we furthermore supported the training of farmers to convert from conventional to organic farming in Moldova, in line with the country’s target for 5.8% of its farmland to be organic by 2030.

Following a presentation made by UN Environment’s Europe Director at the first ever formal meeting of Eastern Partnership countries on climate and the environment in October, several ministers expressed their wish for EaP-GREEN to continue in future.

Empowering green choices in Central Asia

The opening of a new UN Environment office for Central Asia in 2015 has already led to important initiatives and results helping countries to green their economies this year.

Government representatives from all five states met several times during 2016 to narrow down their environmental priorities and discuss updating the region’s Environmental Action Plan with support from UN Environment.

A conference was also organized with UNDP and partners to foster a region approach to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, with a distinct focus on Green Economy. Following the event, countries pledged to include the Global Goals in their development planning, and for the Shared Environmental Information System to support their environmental aspects.

A regional dialogue was furthermore promoted for ensuring that the potential for climate change adaptation in the region translates into action - including through a new strategy covering forestry, energy, agriculture, biodiversity sealed at a regional expert workshop held in Almaty.

Following the eighth Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference, UN Environment has meanwhile worked with Central Asian states to support the transition to Green Economy not only at government level but through wider partnerships.

Waste management companies are among the stakeholders UN Environment reached out to. Numerous examples of how its sustainable management can be a boon for both business and the environment were presented to a major conference on recycling on green energy, while a Waste Outlook report for Central Asia will be launched by UN Environment in 2017.

Furthermore, in a speech to Kazakh parliamentarians and ministers in November, UN Environment’s Europe Director Jan Dusik stressed how Kazakhstan could lead in translating the Global Goals and Paris Agreement into national action.

The country’s commendable Green Economy policy can help fight mass desertification caused by climate change and protect water supplies, but now depends on parliamentarians and UN Environment stands ready to help, he underlined. The global EXPO on ‘future energy’ to be held in 2017 is a golden opportunity to showcase technology solutions can create new jobs and improve health and energy access both in Kazakhstan and worldwide, Mr Dusik stressed.

With Kazakhstan’s capital Astana revealing plans to cover 52% of its land area in greenery and become an eco-city by 2025, we hope to spur other good examples from Central Asia to inspire the region and beyond.

Mountain Outlooks are already inspiring action

Existing and future threats to people and nature posed by climate change affecting mountains in the Andes and East Africa have been exposed in 2016 as part of a Mountain Adaptation Outlook series issued by UN Environment, with a further report to cover Central Asia in 2017.

The reports also provide practical recommendations for adapting to climate change, with an emphasis on ecosystem-based responses given the importance of nature’s services to mountain communities and those at lower altitude.

Reforesting Mt Kilimanjaro could halt sever water shortages in East Africa for example, finds the region’s Outlook, which was launched at the World Mountain Forum in Uganda in October.

Climate change and resulting fires have slashed tree cover on the landmark by 25%. The resulting loss in mountain dew is equivalent to the annual drinking water supply for 1 million people in the surrounding region, the report notes.

Meanwhile, traditional knowledge and women must be involved in adaptation plans for the Andes, states the region’s Outlook. By the end of this century, the coldest years in the Tropical Andes will still be the warmest to which humans have adapted thus far, the report notes – yet mountain adaptation is currently not high enough on the political agenda.

In Central Asia, climate change is destroying the habitat of species such as the emblematic snow leopard. Yet protected areas such as the Khan Tengri park in Kyrgyzstan is shown to help protect the species. Greater awareness-raising on climate-related risks is needed for human populations too, given that poverty is forcing more and more to live in disaster-prone areas, according to the report.

Launch events were organised for each report, allowing policymakers from the countries involved to meet and explore how to apply findings together. During the Andean Outlook launch event in April, the report formed the basis for discussion on a Strategic Agenda for climate adaptation in the Andes supported by the countries concerned. At national level, the Outlooks have already helped to generate various project proposals and ideas using technical assistance and financial instruments.

A further study issued by UN Environment this year reveals the main sources of mountain waste and the solutions for its sustainable management. Urban sprawl, ongoing and past mining and tourism exacerbate the litter problems already suffered by mountain communities worldwide due to their altitude, the Mountain Waste Outlook finds. Inadequate treatment or disposal of waste in mountains not only creates risks for ecosystems and human health in mountain regions, but also for downstream areas.The climate adaptation Outlooks were produced by UN Environment with GRID-Arendal together with regional mountain hubs such as the Consortium for the Sustainable Development of the Adean Ecorregion.

The Mountain Waste Outlook was produced by UN Environment with GRID-Arendal, UN Environment’s International Environment Technology Center, the International Solid Waste Association and other experts.

Species protection in the limelight during World Environment Day

UN Environment in Europe mobilised in a vast number of ways to raise awareness on the plight of wild life and the need to take care of our planet for this year’s edition of World Environment Day.

The Day is celebrated annually on 5 June around the world and is UN Environment’s main event for attracting the international community’s attention to environmental issues and stimulating political interest and appropriate actions needed to solve them.

For the 2016 edition, whose global theme was ‘Go wild for life,’ our Central Asia Office joined partners to organize a conference exploring the illegal wildlife trade through a regional lens by focusing on poaching and illegal fishing and species such as the Caspian Seal and snow leopard.

In Geneva, endangered species was meanwhile one of the categories in a quiz organised by the Geneva Environment Network. Over twenty teams took part and the top teams won the chance to have lunch with senior UN staff.

UN Environment was also represented at Brussels’ Fete de l’environnement - attended by tens of thousands of people – by hosting a stand boasting numerous activities for children and information on endangered species and other aspects of our work.

An uplifting video produced by UN Environment’s Vienna Office furthermore conveyed how youths are involved in achieving the Global Goals. An event exploring the political processes for and discussing the challenges to doing so was also organised by the office on 3 June and featured the planting of trees by high-level guests.

In Moscow, 40 grass carp fish were released into the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Main Botanic Garden as an environmentally-friendly way of preventing eutrophication, where aquatic plants become overcrowded and compete for light . A wide range of stakeholders - including the private sector - meanwhile attended a further event to plant apple seedlings specially adapted to Moscow’s climate. Numerous film screenings were furthermore held across the region.

Ending the illegal trade in species is crucial to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as it threatens biodiversity and livelihoods while also disturbing peace.

First Caspian Sea Protocol enters into force

Measures to protect the Caspian Sea moved from talk to action in 2016, with the first ever legally-binding protocol for the waterbody entering into force.

After being ratified by all parties – Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan - the Aktau Protocol for preventing, responding to and cooperating on oil spills entered into force on 25 July 2016.

As a result, with support from UN Environment, national oil spill contingency plans are now being coordinated and aligned with a draft regional plan. A minimum standard of equipment must be in place to deal effectively with spills for example, while all countries must be informed of oil spill incidents.

While oil and gas exploration continues around the Sea and has left a legacy of environmental damage, today’s industry is showing that it wants to gain economic benefits while protecting the Sea’s environment. Its role in providing data, supporting and taking part in actions to protect the Sea are of vital importance and UN Environment has increased this partnership during 2016.

Local residents and groups meanwhile mobilised en masse to mark Caspian Day on August 12, including with a clean-up of the Volga-Akhtuba floodplain in Russia and an open-air sculpture event replicating marine life in Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan, among others.

UN Environment’s Europe Office hosts the interim Secretariat for the Tehran Convention to protect the sea. The Convention is the first legally-binding regional agreement signed by all Caspian littoral states.

A new Protocol on environmental data collection and sharing is now being negotiated with support from our office. The Protocol will bind the states to collect, release and exchange data and information on the protection of the Sea’s marine environment.

Plans are also being finalised for the Convention’s Secretariat to be established in the region on a rotational basis from 2017.

Taking the plunge to save Lake Baikal

The World Heritage site of Lake Baikal in Russia is the oldest and deepest lake in the world. Owing to its plentiful array of over 1,300 endemic species, UN Environment Europe recognises that its protection is particularly important.

This year, threats to Lake Baikal’s ecosystem – from rapidly developing tourism and industrial pollution – became of specific concern. Rare species, such as the endemic Baikal Seal (Pusa sibirica), shrunk in population size, due to pollution and hunting. A proposal was also submitted for a dam in a tributary to Lake Baikal, in Mongolia – a project that would certainly have implications on the fragile ecosystem that exists there.

In response to this, the UN Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh has worked with the Russian Federation to make this year’s Lake Baikal Day memorable. Lewis took place in an ‘alert-swim’ in Lake Baikal on September 16, to raise the alarm about the current and future problems of the lake. Over the last year, Lewis has been an active ocean advocate for UN Environment. In August, he helped in UN Environment’s world’s largest beach clean-up, in Mumbai – one weekend that removed 57 truck-loads of litter from the beach.

Mr Sergey Ivanov has been appointed as the President’s Special Representative for Environmental Protection, Ecology and Transport and has already acknowledged the importance of Lake Baikal. The lake’s protection will be central in the Russian Federation’s upcoming 2017 Year of Ecology, he underlined.

UN Environment Europe will continue in its efforts to protect Lake Baikal into the next year by working closely with the Russian Federation during its Year of Ecology and continuing to monitor the health of the precious waterbody.

New storyline tool lets good ideas travel

Policymakers, journalists and all mountain enthusiasts can now learn from prime examples of how biodiversity protection can be a win-win for the well-being of both people and the environment thanks to a new online platform supported by UN Environment.

The new tool was launched at an event hosted by the Slovak Presidency of the EU at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 13th Conference of the Parties in Cancún in December.

It gathers best practices from the Carpathian mountains in the form of stories– with plans for this to expand to other mountain regions - and includes examples in key economic sectors including transport, forests and education, while the opportunity exists for users to add their own stories for others to learn from.

In one case study, an ‘Alpine Carpathian Corridor’ was created between the two mountain ranges. Fragmented by roads and infrastructure, the dynamic migratory area between Vienna and Bratislava,– which supports the movement of lynx, bear and deer - was under threat. In response, stakeholders from Austria and Slovakia, including the national highway companies, have since supported technical solutions such as green bridges (serving as wildlife corridors) and spatial planning, among other initiatives.

UN Environment’s Vienna Office hosts the Convention for the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians, the only existing mountain convention together with the Alpine Convention. By having signed the Convention’s Protocol on Sustainable Transport, seven states have committed themselves to avoiding habitat breakup in all transport and infrastructure plans - as is being successfully achieved in the Corridor project.

The online tool allows users to step into such examples and use them as inspiration for planning in their own region, including towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, which have a strong focus on mountain biodiversity. Access the platform here and keep an eye out for new additions in 2017!