United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)

The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), which was established in 1947 by the Economic and Social Council, is one of the five regional commissions of the United Nations. Its main objective is to promote economic integration, cooperation and sustainable development in the 56 member countries located in the UNECE region (Western Europe, South-Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe, North America, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Turkey and Israel). Many international and non-governmental organisations also participate in the work of the UNECE.

The UNECE is a multilateral platform for political dialogue, the negotiation of legal undertakings, standards and regulations development but also sharing and implementing best practices and economic and technical expertise, through cooperation.  It also contributes to enhancing the effectiveness of the UN through the regional implementation of outcomes of global UN Conferences and Summits.

The main objective of the UNECE's environmental activities is to strengthen environmental governance and conserve natural resources in the countries of the pan-European region. To this end, these countries:

  • formulate environmental policies
  • prepare and develop environmental treaties and standards through negotiation;
  • support international initiatives

Environmental treaties

The UNECE is the birthplace of five environmental Conventions (and twelve Protocols) and provides a framework for monitoring their implementation and development.

9th “Environment for Europe” Ministerial Conference / Initiative BIG-E

The Environment for Europe ministerial process is a high-level platform that helps stimulate and organise cooperation to meet environmental challenges in the pan-European region. It brings together 56 UNECE member states, international organisations, funding institutions and NGOs.

The Ninth Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference was held in Nicosia, Cyprus from 5 to 7 October 2022. It aimed to make a regional contribution to attaining the Sustainable Development Goals and to continue with implementation of the strategic framework for the Green Economy by 2030, adopted at the previous conference (Batumi, Georgia, June 2016).

The two main agenda items of the Nicosia Ministerial Conference were 'Greening the economy in the pan-European region: working towards sustainable infrastructure' and 'Applying principles of circular economy to sustainable tourism'. Switzerland played a leading role in preparing the voluntary commitments subsequently accepted by the participants at the Nicosia conference. For each of these two agenda items, Switzerland presented four actions which it has already started to implement. All actions and initiatives announced by participants at the Nicosia conference will be regularly evaluated until the next ministerial conference in 2027.

Environmental performance reviews

The UNECE conducts environmental performance reviews for each country in South-Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia that requests one. Recommendations are made in each review to enable governments to take the measures required to improve the state of the environment and to enhance international cooperation so as to harmonise their standards and build their capacity, while taking account of their own specific economic and social factors.

Environmental information

In an effort to promote well-informed policymaking, the UNECE also developed the pan-European Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS) to support the periodic reporting mechanism that each country in Europe and Central Asia has set up.

Pan-European initiatives

Finally, the UNECE plays an active role in several regional initiatives through its Environment Policy Committee, such as the "Health and Environment” ministerial process, the “Transport, Health and Environment” programme (THE PEP) and the “Education and Sustainable Development" strategy (ESD). In this way, it promotes synergies on environmental issues in sectoral policies.

Switzerland's commitment and interest

As a non-EU member, Switzerland benefits from the framework for cooperation within the European region provided by the UNECE, particularly under the various Conventions and the "Environment for Europe" process. Around 30 Swiss delegates are actively involved in UNECE activities, participating particularly in the development and revision of international agreements, the exchange of good practices, the development of improved implementation methods at the national level, and the pan-European harmonisation of environmental standards.

The UNECE also enables Switzerland to strengthen its cooperation with the countries of Central Asia and Azerbaijan which are members of the same Global Environment Facility (GEF) constituency group and are active in this organisation.

Further information

Last modification 09.06.2023

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