The UN Regional Commissions
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The Executive Secretaries of the five UN Regional Commissions issue joint call for action to accelerate the transition to sustainable energy

ece101114Published:04 November 2014

The Executive Secretaries of the five United Nations Regional Commissions are issuing a joint call for action to accelerate the transition to sustainable and fair energy, on the occasion of the 5th International Forum on Energy for Sustainable Development in Hammamet, Tunisia.

The Forum will discuss what practical actions are needed to attain the objectives of the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) Initiative of the UN Secretary-General through a regional agenda: ensuring universal access to modern energy services, doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030.

In their joint statement, the Executive Secretaries of the United Nations regional commissions affirm that the objectives of energy sustainability are attainable, and need not contradict more short-term considerations, if the world embarks on a determined, collective effort.

The joint statement is a call for action to their respective member States, highlighting in particular three key components:

  • Energy efficiency in most countries needs to improve more quickly
  • Renewable energy policies need to be redesigned
  • Equitable access to modern energy services requires mobilising adequate resources

Presenting the joint statement at the Forum, UNECE Executive Secretary Christian Friis Bach said: “the Hammamet Declaration is a roadmap for achieving the objectives of the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) Initiative of the UN Secretary-General and for greening the energy sector and the economy as a whole. UNECE stands ready to assist its member States in developing their sustainable energy action plans and to work on developing standards for energy efficiency and renewables.”

The joint statement is available here.

Note to editors

The Fifth International Forum on Energy for Sustainable Development will be held in Hammamet, Tunisia, on 4-7 November 2014. The Forum is organized by the Government of Tunisia, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). The five Regional Commissions come together at this Forum to address their common goals and commitments related to sustainable energy.

For more information, please visit:

UNECE Executive Secretary participates in conference on sustainable development in the Aral Sea Basin

Published:29 October 2014

The drying out of the Aral Sea is one of the gravest environmental catastrophes in human history. It has had severe implications for the environment and the climate in the region, as well as for the health and development of the more than 60 million people living in the Aral Sea Basin.

To strengthen the cooperation in the Aral Sea Basin in order to mitigate the consequences of this environmental catastrophe, UNECE Executive Secretary Christian Friis Bach is visiting Urgench, Uzbekistan, on 28-29 October. He participates in the International Conference organised by the Uzbek Chairmanship of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS).

During the visit, Mr Bach signed a letter of intent with the chairman of the Executive Committee of IFAS to indicate continued UNECE support in areas such as water quality conservation, the safety of dams, the management and exchange of information on water resources and the environment.

“With this letter of intent, UNECE reconfirms its commitment to assist EC IFAS in finding solutions to the environmental and other challenges in the Aral Sea Basin, on the basis of international law and with respect to the interests of all countries of the region. Sustainable solutions to these acute problems can only be achieved with the full engagement of all the countries of Central Asia and through strong partnerships with international organizations and donors”, he said.

The multi-year Programme of IFAS is a regional action plan to alleviate the environmental and socio-economic consequences of the Aral Sea disaster and to facilitate progress towards integrated water resources management and sustainable development in the Aral Sea Basin. It covers:

· integrated water resources management;

· environmental protection;

· socio-economic issues and institutional;

· legal strengthening of water management in the region.

The programme is expected to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development, improve preparedness to address new challenges, including climate change, and foster integrated water resources management at the national, river-basin and regional levels.

For further information on the engagement of UNECE in water cooperation in Central Asia please visit:

or contact:

Mr. Bo Libert, UNECE Regional Adviser on Environment
Tel.: +41-22-917 23 96

Note to editors:

The International Fund for saving the Aral Sea (IFAS) was established in early 1990s by five Central Asian States — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — to implement in a coordinated way the practical measures and programmes to overcome the impacts of the Aral crisis and to improve environmental and socio-economic conditions in Aral Sea Basin.

Regional Ministerial Consultation calls for strong and participatory accountability for the post-2015 agenda at all levels

ece23sepPublished:23 September 2014, ECE

The Regional Ministerial Consultation “Monitoring and Accountability for the Post-2015 Development Agenda –The Regional Dimension” discussed how to give ‘teeth’ to a non-legally binding framework that will formulate an ambitious agenda of transformation towards sustainability for all countries. The focus of the discussions was on the features that are necessary to create a strong accountability and monitoring mechanism, the roles of the local, national, regional and global levels within a multi-layered architecture, and how the wealth of existing mechanisms could be integrated and adapted.

The meeting, organized by UNECE and the Regional UN Development Group for Europe and Central Asia, was held in Geneva from 15 to 16 September 2014. The Consultation was chaired by Ambassador Michael Gerber, Special Envoy for Global Sustainable Development of Switzerland, and attended by around 170 participants, including experts and representatives from governments, civil society, the private sector and other international organizations.

Participants identified a number of issues that should be taken into account in designing monitoring and accountability for the post-2015 agenda from the point of view of the UNECE region.

There was a general view among participants that the monitoring and accountability framework should be an integral part of the post-2015 development agenda and not an “after-thought”. A comprehensive, multi-layered and multi-stakeholder accountability framework is crucial for the success of the post-2015 development agenda. An overall accountability mechanism should ensure linkages between various levels (local, national, regional, global), actors (state and non-state) and sectors.

Accountability should be understood as a participatory and inclusive process, which envisages cooperation and an interactive dialogue between multiple stakeholders. Governments, as the primary duty bearers, are the key actors to be held accountable. Accountability also needs to involve parliaments, organized civil society groups and citizens, the private sector and international organizations.

Incentives for countries and other stakeholders to participate in a monitoring and accountability framework were considered a critical factor for success. Shared learning and positive rewards seem more effective to promote progress and participation than negative assessments. Some participants mentioned that ranking of the performance of countries in achieving SDGs in a clear and transparent way could be a powerful incentive in meeting these goals. Information on relative performance could inform the decisions of investors and donors, thus unlocking access to funding for the best performers.

The need for a “data revolution” was emphasized to strengthen monitoring and accountability. Data needs for the post-2015 development agenda are significant but there are already some initiatives to build upon, including the recommendations of the Conference of European Statisticians on how to measure sustainable development. Technological progress and “big data” offer new opportunities to strengthen real time monitoring and contribute to a transparent accountability framework.

The overall accountability framework should rely on the information, outcomes and lessons derived from existing monitoring and accountability mechanisms.  A pragmatic approach, building on existing mechanisms, should prevail.

The European region, in particular, has a solid set of institutions and mechanisms with mandates and data capacity to review and monitor socioeconomic and environmental developments as well as democratic governance, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

The value of peer reviews was recognized but some participants stressed that these reviews should go beyond the exchange of best practices to identify areas of underperformance, analyse the underlying causes and propose means of improvement. Experience with the UNECE Environmental Performance Reviews shows that regular monitoring of recommendations to improve performance in different policy areas can lead to strong results if accompanied by political will. Some features of an effective mechanism of peer reviews conducted by the OECD were also stressed.

In the private sector, there are already a number of mechanisms that promote reporting on environmental, social and governance factors, including at the global level initiatives such as the Global Reporting Initiative and the United Nations Global Compact.

There was a strong degree of consensus on the importance of the regional level in a multi-layered accountability mechanism as a link between the national and global levels. Complementarity between different levels in the accountability chain should be a key consideration.

A regional review can build ownership and understanding for the universal nature of the new agenda in the region. Regional commissions as well as the Regional UNDG Teams can promote the exchange of experiences and good practices and facilitate capacity building. The regional level also is the natural platform to address transboundary challenges like water cooperation or the green economy, which UNECE promotes through the Environment for Europe process, the Water Convention or the green economy toolbox.

Monitoring and review at the global level is essential and depends on high level political engagement. Many participants stressed that the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) is called to play the central role in ensuring the coherence of the overall accountability framework. It was underlined that the HLPF, under the auspices of ECOSOC, will conduct meaningful reviews from 2016 onwards, also taking into account the results of regional reviews.

In follow-up to the consultation, the Chair’s Summary will be submitted to the Secretary-General as an input to his synthesis report on the post-2015 development agenda which will be prepared by the end of 2014.

International Treaties Seminar: Road Safety, New York, 5 June


UNECE and the Office of Legal Affairs will organize a “Road Safety Treaty Day” for all Permanent Missions to the United Nations. The event – coorganized with the Regional Commissions New York Office and the International Road Transport Union (IRU) – will take place on 5 June 2014 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.
The seminar is organized at the request of the Inland Transport Committee, which is the highest transport policymaking body of the UNECE. In order to create a wider global understanding on what agreements and conventions currently exist in the field of road safety,  the program will include presentations by the Office of Legal Affairs and UNECE, which is responsible for managing 58 international legal instruments in the area of transport, including road safety.

Information Note


Meeting of the Parties to UNECE Treaties on Environmental Assessment in June


Published:28 May 2014 (ECE)

Over 150 Government officials, representatives of international organizations, international financial institutions (IFIs), civil society, academia and other stakeholders from some 50 countries will meet in Geneva from 2 to 5 June to take stock of progress made in implementing environmental assessment procedures within the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) region and beyond. Such assessments are key for Governments and the public alike to ensure that projects, plans and programmes that affect the environment are developed in a most sustainable manner.

During four days of meetings, Parties to the UNECE Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo Convention) and its Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) will look, among other things, at how the Convention and the Protocol contribute to sustainable energy generation and use, how they can facilitate accession by countries outside the region and what role the IFIs can play in raising awareness about and increasing the implementation of the two instruments.

Aside from providing the platform for decisions on priorities and the budget for the next three years, the meeting will have three special thematic sessions in the form of seminars or a panel discussion.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, 3 June, a seminar on wind and hydro energy will look at good practice in the application of the Convention and the Protocol and will examine issues of landscape analysis, spatial planning and environmental challenges in the framework of environmental assessment for such activities and plans.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, 4 June, a seminar on the globalization of the Convention and the Protocol and the role of international financial institutions will be held, moderated by the European Investment Bank (EIB), to discuss the application of the Convention and the Protocol outside the UNECE region. The seminar aims to provide some insights regarding interested countries’ practice and development needs for their possible future accession to the two instruments. Participants will then explore ways to raise awareness of the two UNECE treaties in other regions and how the IFIs could support the development of the necessary legislation and institutional capacity for the implementation of the Convention and the Protocol in countries outside the region. The law and practice of a number of countries in the African and Asian regions will be examined. Representatives from the World Bank, EIB, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the African Development Bank and the Department for International Development (United Kingdom) will showcase their experience in applying environmental assessment in their operations within and beyond the UNECE region, and leading civil society organizations, such as Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) Bankwatch Network and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), will give presentations to further stimulate discussion.

On the morning of Thursday, 5 June, at the high-level segment, a panel discussion on the application of the Convention and the Protocol to energy-related matters will be held. Under the direction of Mr. Valentinas Mazuronis, Minister for Environment of Lithuania, and Mr. Andriy Mokhnyk, Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology of Ukraine, participants will examine achievements, lessons learned and remaining challenges in this area, in particular through recent case-studies, such as the Nord Stream gas pipeline project in the Baltic Sea and the Cernavodă nuclear power plant in Romania. Participants will then reflect on how to improve implementation of the Convention and the Protocol for energy-related projects, plans and policies, looking, in particular, at the practice in the countries of Eastern-Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia in the energy sector and the role of Euratom.

The adoption of a Declaration on Thursday afternoon, focusing on the areas examined during the seminars and panel discussions over the course of the 4-day meeting, will mark the end of the joint session.

Meeting documents are available at the Convention’s website

Acting Director-General of UNOG Michael Møller takes on functions of Acting Executive Secretary of UNECE



Published:10 April 2014

UNECE Executive Secretary Sven Alkalaj left his position upon expiry of his contract on 8 April 2014.

The Secretary-General has thanked Mr. Alkalaj for his service to the United Nations and for his accomplishments, leadership and commitment towards the goals of the Economic Commission for Europe.

The Secretary-General has asked Mr. Michael Møller, Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, to take on the functions of Acting Executive Secretary of the UNECE as of Wednesday, 9 April 2014, pending the arrival of a new Executive Secretary.

Switzerland joins the Aarhus Convention and its amendment on genetically modified organisms

1db2cc31b5Published:05 March 2014

 On 3 March 2014, Switzerland ratified the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention) and its amendment on genetically modified organisms (GMO amendment), raising the total number of Parties to the Convention to 47 and the Parties to the amendment to 28.

This ratification is very timely as it comes shortly before the fifth session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Convention, which will be held back to back with the second session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Convention’s Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (Protocol on PRTRs) in Maastricht, the Netherlands, from 30 June to 4 July 2014.

As a country with a rich tradition in participatory democracy and as a Party to the Protocol on PRTRs since 2007, Switzerland has been playing a leading role in the promotion of environmental rights and the protection of the environment in the UNECE region and beyond. Switzerland’s decision to join the Aarhus family has a significant added value as it bears testimony to the country’s commitment to further promote effective access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters.

For further information on the Aarhus Convention, its GMO amendment and the Protocol on PRTRs please visit

65th session of the Economic Commission for Europe adopts renewed strategic framework for UNECE’s work

ECE 65th Session

At its 65th session, held from 9 to 11 April at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) adopted the outcome document of the review of the 2005 UNECE reform, which defines the strategic priorities for UNECE’s work for the coming years.

The high-level debates were centred on two issues that are most pertinent to the current development debate and are at the core of UNECE’s activities and member States’ priorities:

1.         Follow-up to Rio+20 and post 2015 development agenda.

Some of the main points arising from the discussions, the summary of which will serve to inform the global processes, in particular the high-level meeting of the General Assembly in September 2013, were:

  • Messages in the Rio+20 outcome document “The Future we want” provide a sound basis for further work on achieving sustainable development. Next steps include creating a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), beginning to address the financing needs of developing countries, and creating a range of new partnerships.
  • the UNECE region’s diversity in terms of the level of development, the range of economic models, climatic conditions, natural resource endowments and the overall challenges facing each country, need to be recognized in any policy framework as there is no ‘one size fits all’. In addition, this diversity can act as a laboratory for testing different approaches towards addressing these challenges.
  • the need to eliminate or reduce fossil fuel subsidies was highlighted as a quick policy change that can have immediate impact by changing consumer behaviour.

As regards the sustainable development institutional set up:

  • Delegations stressed that the new high-level political forum (HLPF) currently under development should take into account the lessons learned from the Commission en Sustainable Development (CSD). In order to make better use of existing United Nations processes and institutions, delegations called for the HLPF to serve as a dynamic platform directly linked with ECOSOC.
  • Sustainable development goals (SDGs) should be global in nature and universally applicable to all countries, limited in number, action-oriented and easy to communicate. However, some flexibility in the definition of indicators will be required to take into account regional and national circumstances.
  • The regional commissions should assume an active and strong role in both the HLFP and SDGs processes, also acting as a “conductor” between global and national levels.

2.         Economic developments and challenges in the UNECE region

During the discussion on the “The role of innovation in creating a dynamic and competitive economy”, some key points made included:

  • Innovation has acquired heightened importance in current economic circumstances as a way to improve productivity and competitiveness, and overcome tight budgetary constraints.
  • Greening the economy is a large-scale structural transformation that requires a regulatory and policy environment that encourages innovation in multiple sectors.
  • Successful innovation requires collaboration between the public and private sectors, and between academia and industry.

There were several proposals to strengthen the role of UNECE on innovation, in particular regarding issues such as the creation of mechanisms to facilitate cross-border policy learning and the exchange of good practices on eco-innovation, the promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises and the linkages between standard- setting and innovation.

The results of this panel discussion will serve as regional input to the 2013 ECOSOC Annual Ministerial Review whose theme is “Science, technology and innovation, and the potential of culture, for promoting sustainable development and achieving the MDGs”.

New bureau

The Commission elected its new Bureau, with the Netherlands as Chair (Ambassador Roderick van Schreven, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva), and Switzerland and Turkmenistan as Vice-Chairs (Ambassador Remigi Winzap, Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and to the European Free Trade Association (EFTA); and Ambassador Esen Aydogdyev, Permanent Representative of Turkmenistan to UNOG and other international organizations in Geneva).

All delegations paid tribute to the outgoing Chair, Ambassador Zvekic of Serbia, and Vice-Chairs, Ambassadors Manor of Israel and Ciobanu of Romania, for the leadership demonstrated over the last two years in the negotiations on the outcome document of the review of the 2005 UNECE reform.

The Executive Secretary stressed that this 65th session was of particular relevance since it constituted the regional contribution to global processes led by ECOSOC and the UN General Assembly. The 65th session strengthens trust and confidence amongst member States and between member States and the Secretariat, he said.

Among other decisions, the Commission also decided that the Timber Committee be renamed “Committee on Forest and Forest Industry” in order to better reflect its current focus and tasks.

The 66th session of the Commission will be held in 2015

UNECE Ministerial meeting “Making the Euro-Asian Transport Network Operational”

ECE Ministerial Meeting on TransportPublished: 27 February 2013

On the occasion of the 75th Jubilee session of the Inland Transport Committee (ITC) of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), a high-level Ministerial meeting was held on 26 February 2013. More than fifty Ministers, Deputy Ministers and other high-level officials from across Europe and Asia gathered in Geneva to endorse the final report of Phase II of the Euro-Asian Transport Links (EATL) project. The report identifies overland transport routes that could save both time and costs of delivery of freight and trade between two continents. In addition, the Ministers and other heads of delegations from thirty two countries signed a Declaration future cooperation on the EATL project.

The EATL Phase II report identified 9 rail and 9 road routes between Europe and Asia as well as 17 water transport links, and several inland and maritime ports. Road and rail routes are new versions of the “old silk road”, but they are extended far beyond this traditional lifeline of ancient times. EATL road and rail routes will stretch eastward from Central and Eastern Europe all the way to Russian ports on East Sea, Chinese ports on Eastern China Sea, and southward toward Iran and Pakistan and their ports in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. The routes will criss-cross the land mass between Europe and Asia thus connecting regions and countries that have so far suffered from lack of access to seaports and good transport connections to their neighbours.

The project resulted in a multi-country transport investment plan, which is the outcome of the review and prioritization of 311 priority projects The total cost of these projects is over US $200 billion. Out of them, 188 projects have been identified as high priority requiring special attention. Their estimated costs are US $78 billion.

In addition, The EATL project had other tangible results, all included in the study that was launched during the Ministerial meeting. Among them, you can find the Geographic Information System (GIS) data base which is an innovative feature in the project that governments may wish to use and further develop in their national planning processes. Furthermore, the comparison of maritime and land transport – described in details in the publication – has challenged   conventional wisdom that maritime transport is per se more competitive than land transport. A door-to-door approach however, showed that railway transport between Europe and Asia can be a viable alternative both in terms of time and cost.  Accordingly, maritime transport is cost-effective, but in most cases standard deliveries take up to 30 days port-to-port while hinterland connections may pose a challenge. Being twice as fast as maritime transport, railways could provide a viable alternative for Euro-Asian freight transport, and could also deliver door-to-door. In addition, costs could be reduced between 10 and 30 per cent compared to maritime transport.

Mr. Sven Alkalaj, Executive Secretary of the UNECE said: “Development of Euro-Asian transport links is a long-term process which requires, first and foremost, strong political will and commitment of the countries concerned, as well as careful use of scarce financial resources”. He also added: “This makes it a complex exercise, requiring Governments to strike a balance with other national priorities and weigh them with international interests. They also need to ascertain the economic, social and environmental net benefits, coordinate programmes and timetables in close cooperation with neighbouring countries, as well as to balance private sector versus public participation, all while factoring-in security considerations”.

Mr. Yang Zan, Director-General of the International Cooperation Department, Ministry of Transport of the People’s Republic of China, said … that “the early realization of Euro-Asian Transport Linkage and transport facilitation will be beneficial to the economic and social development of Euro-Asian countries. However, we are also aware that there still exist in practice many difficulties to be tackled. The Chinese government greatly appreciates the measures taken by UNECE in this respect”…. and that “China is ready to work with all the interested parties to make more contribution to the economic development and social progress in the region”.

Mr. R. V. Sklyar, deputy Minister of Transport and Communications of Kazakhstan, said that, due to its geographical position at the crossroads of routes between Europe, China, Japan and South-East Asia, Russia, Turkey, Persian Gulf, and Black Sea, Kazakhstan attaches great importance to development of transport infrastructure and invests considerable amount of financial resources in 5 major transport corridors, which are part of EATL links, passing through his country.

Another part of the report brings out analysis of non-physical obstacles to international transport between Europe and Asia. A comprehensive set of recommendations concludes this analysis highlighting remedies for concrete obstacles at border crossings, along transport route corridors as well as logistics obstacles. As an integral part of the project, a Geographic Information System (GIS) data-base was set up and GIS maps developed showing the planned projects.

The Phase II of the EATL project which has recently been completed covered 27 countries[1], with more countries expected to join the project in the next phase. By signing the Declaration, Ministers reiterated their support to Phase III of the project, which would focus on specific trade and transport facilitation measures to make EATL links not only more efficient and attractive to investors, but also contribute to faster economic growth, increased employment and better regional connectivity. Mr. Sergey Aristov, Secretary of State – Deputy Minister of Transport of the Russian Federation, outlined the focus of the Phase III of the project, by underlying market oriented analysis, investigation of trade flows attracted to EATL routes and issues related to application of modern technologies and innovations.

For further information on Ministerial meeting visit:

You can download the full EATL report at:

You may also contact:

UNECE Air Convention Parties adopt more stringent controls of heavy metals emissions and measures to help Parties from Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia to join in

Following three years of negotiations, Parties to the 1998 Protocol on Heavy Metals under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution adopted historic amendments on 13 December 2012, the last day of the thirty-first session of the Executive Body, the Convention’s highest-level decision-making organ.

Under the Protocol, Parties are obliged to reduce their emissions for three heavy metals — cadmium, lead and mercury — below their levels in 1990 or an alternative year, at the choice of each Party, between 1985 and 1995. The amendments adopted last week introduce more stringent emission limit values for emissions of particulate matter and of the specific heavy metals cadmium, lead and mercury applicable for certain combustion and other industrial emission sources releasing them into the atmosphere. The emission source categories for the three heavy metals were also extended to the production of silico- and ferromanganese alloys, thus expanding the scope of industrial activities for which emission limits are established.

To meet these limit values, a key obligation of the Protocol is the application of best available techniques to existing and new stationary emission sources such as combustion, manufacturing and other production plants. The amendments also include updated references in this matter. In addition, Parties adopted a guidance document on “Best available techniques for controlling emissions of heavy metals and their compounds from the source categories listed in annex II”. This document will provide guidance on how to meet the emission reduction obligations not only for current Parties to the 1998 Protocol, but also for Parties aspiring to accede to the amended Protocol.

Following the approach used for the amendments to the Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone (Gothenburg Protocol) adopted in May 2012, the amended Heavy Metals Protocol contains considerable flexibilities to enable the accession of the countries in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia in the coming years. Representatives of these countries participated actively in the negotiations, which take into account the economic difficulties and obstacles faced by countries with economies in transition.

Parties expressed their willingness to contribute their experience as regards mercury and the updated guidance document on best available techniques to the negotiations on a global legally binding instrument on mercury currently ongoing in the framework of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). To ensure coherence between regional and global commitments, the Parties agreed to revisit the issues of mercury-containing products and emission limit values for heavy metals in 2014. In addition to emissions to the atmosphere, these negotiations on a global mercury instrument also cover releases to water and land, mercury supply sources and trade, stocks and products.

The unedited version of the amended Protocol on Heavy Metals showing the amendments is available at:


Note to editors

The 1998 Protocol on Heavy Metals under the UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution entered into force on 29 December 2003. It currently counts 31 Parties – see list at:

Heavy metals released into the atmosphere and subsequently deposited on ecosystems, such as forests, water and vegetation, can cause significant environmental and health damage Through the Protocol, Governments take measures to prevent and minimize emissions of the heavy metals cadmium, lead and mercury, by regulating combustion and industrial processes as predominant anthropogenic sources of their emissions, in line with the precautionary approach.


Heavy Metals: sources, their health and environmental effects

Cadmium compounds are currently mainly found in rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries as well as cigarette smoke. Food is the most important source of cadmium exposure. In heavily contaminated areas, dust resuspension can constitute a substantial part of the crop contamination and exposures via inhalation and digestion. The main critical effects include increased risk of osteoporosis and lung cancer.

Emissions of mercury into the air from both anthropogenic and natural sources are in inorganic forms that can be converted biologically to methylmercury in soil and water. Methylmercury bioaccumulates and enters the human body readily via the dietary route. Methylmercury is a potent neurotoxic chemical. Unborn children (i.e., fetuses) are the most susceptible population group, the exposure being mainly from fish in the diet of the mother. Methylmercury is also excreted in mothers’ milk.

Historical data, e.g., from lake sediments in Scandinavia, show a two- to fivefold increase in mercury concentrations with respect to the preindustrial era, reflecting anthropogenic emissions and long-range transport. Methylmercury in freshwater fish originates from inorganic mercury in the soil and direct atmospheric deposition.

The general population is exposed to lead from air and food. During the last century, lead emissions into the ambient air have caused considerable pollution, mainly due to lead emissions from petrol. Food is the predominant source of lead uptake in the general population. Ingestion of contaminated soil, dust and old lead-based paint due to hand- to-mouth activities may also be important regarding lead intake in infants and young children. When tap-water systems with leaded pipes are used, drinking-water can be an important source of lead intake, especially in children. Inhalation exposure may be significant when lead levels in the air are high.

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