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.

8th “Environment for Europe” Ministerial Conference / Batumi 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 eighth "Environment for Europe" Conference was held in Batumi, Georgia from 8 to 10 June 2016 and aimed to make a regional contribution to reaching the sustainable development goals. In Batumi, the States adopted a strategic framework for a green economy until 2030.  The Batumi Initiative on Green Economy (BIG-E initiative), developed under the leadership of Switzerland in close cooperation with UNEP, the UNECE and the OECD, was launched at this meeting to make this strategic framework operational. BIG-E is a series of voluntary green economy commitments made by interested States and organisations. To date, a total of 24 countries and 12 organisations have presented over 110 commitments. Switzerland has presented five actions that it has already begun to implement. These initiatives will be assessed regularly as they are carried out, with the first scheduled for January 2019.

Air pollution was the second theme of the Batumi Conference. Participants adopted the “Batumi Action for Cleaner Air” (BACA). For that purpose, UNECE countries were asked to announce the national actions that they have committed to implement. Switzerland presented five measures in progress. These actions will also be assessed regularly as they are implemented, with the first scheduled for January 2019.

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. The UNECE Environmental Performance Reviews Programme celebrated its 20th birthday at the “Environment for Europe” Conference in Batumi, Georgia in June 2016.

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 21.08.2018

Top of page