2015 Year in review



Here, twelve key achievements, projects and activities are highlighted to give you a flavour of what the UN Environment Programme is doing in the pan-European region. We hope that some of our latest success stories will trigger your desire to work together with us for a more sustainable Europe.



“It is clear that we cannot afford to continue in a business-as-usual mode any longer and have to be serious about sustainability - and that is valid for every European country. UNEP’s work in 2015 is living proof that the transition to a Green Economy is already well underway. From sustainable food production to energy-efficient cities, a Green Economy is being shown to offer an alternative to the fossil fuel and consumption-driven society we have lived in until now. Yet only by working with a myriad of partners – which can include you - can UNEP help achieve the future we all want”
Jan Dusik, Director and Regional Representative, Regional Office for Europe, United Nations Environment Programme


2015 year in review

Green Economies shown to trump business as usual

Organic agriculture under the spotlight

Sustainable actions, technology and visions take stage for World Environment Day

Mountain Adaptation Outlook series launched at COP21

Powering cities with sustainable energy

Reinforcing collaboration in Central Asia

Developing biodiversity indicators across the region

Ensuring a collective commitment for the Caspian Sea

Environment and security: a fragile relationship

Strengthening the science-policy interface: the Pan-European GEO assessment

European CEO among Champions of the Earth

Advancing regional partnerships

UNEP in Europe - 2015 Year in Review

Green Economies shown to trump business as usual

In 2015, UNEP continued to support six Eastern European countries in their transition to a Green Economy by developing scoping studies to assist policymakers design strategic policy frameworks, and by providing workshops and trainings for experience exchanges and pilot demonstration initiatives.

The work, carried out under the ‘Greening Economies in the Eastern Neighbourhood’ (EaP-GREEN) programme financed by the EU, shows how economic growth can be decoupled from environmental degradation and resource depletion in Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, the Republic of Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine.

A scoping study for Moldova issued under EaP-GREEN in 2015 lays out concrete options for Green Economy measures and the gains these policies would bring.

Moldova can expect to earn back investments in renewable energy within ten years, for example. Investments in energy efficiency in the country are also seen to offer savings in energy consumption worth more than €100 million by 2020.

Meanwhile, a further report takes stock of moves already underway towards sustainable consumption and production policies and is expected to provide a platform for the exchange of good practices for the whole EaP region.

Titled ‘Sustainable consumption and production policies and initiatives in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus,’ the report was presented to policymakers from EaP countries and includes not only an overview of measures underway but also recommendations for furthering work and on how to organise institutions, such as by designating Green Economy focal points.

The foundations were also laid in 2015 for Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine to adopt their first ever sustainable public procurement plans thanks to guidance provided by UNEP. This work, set to continue in 2016 with the issuance and award of pilot tenders, will boost the domestic market for sustainable products and stimulate production in a further example of the broader benefits Green Economy measures bring on the ground.

UNEP in Europe - 2015 Year in Review

Organic agriculture under the spotlight

A series of studies and workshops conducted by UNEP during 2015 offer concrete examples of the gains a shift to organic agriculture could bring in Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine in particular.

A study launched in 2015 and funded by the EU shows how - when farmer earnings are taken into account - economic gains from organic agriculture in Moldova could immediately trump those from conventional farming even if crop yields are up to 20% lower.

Premium market prices for organic products, lower production costs and increasing demand from EU countries would all contribute to the welfare gain, revealing the case for economic incentives to encourage a shift from conventional farming. The paper also identifies barriers to the trade of organic products from the countries, given the strong potential of the EU market.

Thanks to UNEP, officials and stakeholders from all six EaP countries - Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, the Republic of Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine - meanwhile exchanged their success stories and identified common challenges in shifting to organic production during a special session on organic agriculture following the 4th EaP GREEN Steering Committee Meeting, which helped identify areas for future work.

UNEP has prepared a feasibility paper on an organic standard for the sub-region and is supporting the participation of producers from EaP-GREEN states in the world’s largest organic fayre, Biofach, helping farmers make new business contacts and secure sales contracts.

In addition, on the production side, UNEP has held targeted trainings for farmers and producers on the conversion to and certification of organic agriculture practices. It has also launched a broad awareness raising campaign to stimulate the domestic organic market.

An advert commissioned by UNEP is meanwhile soon due to go out on Moldova’s state television channel promoting organic agriculture for the first time. Despite the potential welfare gains for farmers and health and environmental benefits, research shows that scarce awareness of these benefits exists across the entire EaP region.

UNEP in Europe - 2015 Year in Review

Sustainable actions, technology and visions take stage for World Environment Day

A rich medley of events was organised by UNEP across Europe on 5 June as part of the global call for sustainable actions on World Environment Day.

The theme to the 2015 edition of the world’s largest, most celebrated environmental awareness-raising day was ‘Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care,’ tying in with that of the Milan EXPO, which hosted the main WED events - ‘Feeding the Planet. Energy for life’.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner and UNEP Goodwill Ambassador and star footballer Mr Yaya Touré tested out different parts of the electric car market by starting their journey from the city centre in an electric Tesla S model before switching to a car converted to electric by an Italian association of craft and SMEs. Mr Steiner and Mr Touré also took part in a cooking class using leftovers to avoid food waste and joined a mascot parade with members of the next generation.

The UNEP Executive Director furthermore joined Italian Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti in signing the Milan Charter – a commitment involving businesses, citizens, government and non-government actors to ensuring food security.

Jan Dusik, director of UNEP’s Regional Office for Europe, also spoke at a roundtable on the multiple values of European mountain forests in the margins of the main WED celebrations, highlighting their important role in achieving sustainable development and green economy goals.

Exhibitions, tastings and games were meanwhile held in Brussels’ Parc du Cinquantenaire as part of what is the biggest mobilisation for the environment held in the city.

UNEP provided sustainability-themed games for children, presented an infographic on COP21 in three languages and organised a vertical gardening demonstration. Some 500 people also attended the screening of a documentary on the science of climate change and the drivers of climate scepticism organised by UNEP together with CINE ONU.

The Geneva Environment Network joined in with the celebrations by hosting a roundtable on how sustainable procurement can contribute to the transition to a green economy, a pub quiz, an art exhibition on rubbish gyres in oceans and a film screening – attended by 600 people - on saving a national park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Experiences in promoting sustainable development were exchanged at a roundtable titled ‘Environmental challenges in the context of global and regional changes’ organised in Almaty, Kazakhstan by UNEP’s sub-regional office in the city together with the country’s UN office and Kazakh National University.

UNEP’s African Mountain Atlas was meanwhile launched at WED events taking place in Vienna, which also included a photo exhibition and documentary screening, attracting a wide range of guests including journalists, NGOs, academia and government officials.

More than 400 people, including Moldova’s Prime Minister, furthermore attended a conference held in Chisinau on how green economy principles can be enacted on the ground.

A visit to protected areas in the Sarajevo canton, a press conference and awareness-raising on nature through art all formed part of WED events taking place in Bosnia and Herzegovina, while thematic visits to Moscow’s zoo were organised for disabled children by UNEP’s office in the Russian capital. WED was furthermore promoted on 150 electronic billboards in Paris.

UNEP in Europe - 2015 Year in Review

Mountain Adaptation Outlook series launched at COP21

A series of reports launched by UNEP on the final day of the COP21 climate talks have shown how policies in favour of ecosystem-based adaptation in mountain regions can help countries build resilience and reduce the vulnerability of communities living in mountains as well as millions of people living downstream.

The studies – conducted with GRID Arendal and mountain centres of excellence and co-funded by the Government of Austria - provide concrete examples of the threats posed by climate change to mountains and recommend policy solutions.

Ministers and other high level leaders from various mountain countries around the globe including Austria, Bhutan, Czech Republic, East Africa, Kyrgyzstan, Norway, Peru, Serbia, Switzerland and Uganda attended the launch. There, they committed to try and ensure that climate change adaptation for mountains becomes a priority issue at the inter-regional, regional and national levels.

They also pledged to make better use of existing technical assistance mechanisms such as the Climate Technology Centre & Network and financial ones such as the Green Climate Fund and support greater knowledge-sharing.

The impacts of climate change are already seen to be felt in mountain environments, the studies find. Farmers in the Tropical Andes have already had to move their potatoes by about 150 metres in the last 30 years for example. Climate change now threatens the essential water supply provided by the Pamir-Alai and Tien Shan mountains in Central Asia, while adaptation measures urgently need to be carried out to protect biodiversity-rich areas such as the cloud forests of Peru.

The series was launched on 11 December, International Mountain Day. Links to the reports can be found below:

UNEP in Europe - 2015 Year in Review

Powering cities with sustainable energy

Three East European and South Caucasus cities carried out pilot sustainable energy projects under an EU-sponsored initiative during 2015, securing significant carbon savings and funding for future activities with the aim of inspiring others to follow.

Icherisheher in Azerbaijan, the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia and Balti in the Republic of Moldova took part in the ‘Sustainable energy planning for cities: Eastern Europe and South Caucasus’ project, which was coordinated by UNEP and took place between January 2012 and April 2015.

As a result, Vinnytsia has now replaced 363 wooden window frames with double-chamber plastic ones that have energy-efficient coating, in a move expected to bring about net carbon savings equivalent to 63 tons (t) CO₂/year.

Icherisheher also expects to reduce emissions by 271 t CO₂/year by replacing inefficient public street lights with 600 LED lamps, thanks to the EU funding.

Meanwhile, in Balti, the external walls of a kindergarten were insulated using special materials including mineral wool based on basalt fibre – expected to save the equivalent of 114.33t CO₂/year.

The three cities had also first successfully produced Baseline Emission Inventories – generally dating back to 2005 - so that the carbon savings could be accurately measured for the most-polluting sectors of their economies.

Activities were carried out under Sustainable Energy Action Plans that cities draw up as part of the Covenant of Mayors, an initiative set up by the European Commission aimed at reducing dependency on fossil fuels and curbing the impact of climate change.

Full details on the full sustainable energy planning project can be read by clicking here.

UNEP in Europe - 2015 Year in Review

Reinforcing collaboration in Central Asia

UNEP has solidified its presence in Central Asia by opening a new office there and organising or supporting a series of key meetings for helping achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A new UNEP sub-regional office for Central Asia was opened in Almaty, Kazakhstan in May 2015 and has already made strides in empowering countries there to cooperate more closely on sustainable development, climate change and the environment.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon made a call for the cooperation among Central Asian states after visiting all five countries in the region last year. During 2015, countries made strong progress on agreeing priorities for global, pan-European, sub-regional and national level work areas and actions.

Ministers and high-level officials from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan attended an Interstate Commission on Sustainable Development of Central Asia (ICSD) meeting supported by UNEP in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

There, the countries called on UNEP to support their work on mountains, waste management and moves towards a Green Economy given the upcoming Environment for Europe ministerial meeting, as well as to provide legislative support.

In a further meeting held in Almaty, Kazakhstan, states agreed on how they would work on sustainable consumption and production – in line with fulfilling SDG 12 on responsible consumption. The event was held as part of the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production patterns.

The states also agreed on the next steps for drafting a Regional Waste Outlook and discussed preparations for the upcoming Environment for Europe Ministerial meeting.

Given the work areas identified by countries, the need for coordination among different layers of environmental governance and the need to involve a range of stakeholders, the scene has been set for UNEP to keep extending its work in the region in 2016.

This will partly be done through the ICSD together with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

UNEP in Europe - 2015 Year in Review

Developing biodiversity indicators across the region

Thanks to capacity-building workshops organised by UNEP, a number of countries across the pan-European region are working to harmonise biodiversity indicators and become equipped to better measure the fulfilment of certain international agreements.

Through sub-regional workshops in 2015, four sub-regions identified common priorities and targets within their National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs). Delegates from countries in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, the Southern Caucasus and South Eastern Europe then identified and prioritised a number of indicators responding to these shared issues. This suite of indicators will be used to report on, interpret and respond to common problems and trends relating to biodiversity.

The indicators will support implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as where possible the monitoring and reporting of other multilateral agreements on biodiversity, such as the Ramsar Convention on wetlands and the Convention on Migratory Species.

Countries are now developing factsheets for the prioritised common indicators to ensure shared understanding and transparency of data and methodologies. Where appropriate, indicator methodologies will be enhanced, lessons around data collection and monitoring will be shared, and countries will support one another to apply the indicators throughout the project.

The work – which will continue with a further regional meeting in Montenegro this year - is organised by UNEP in partnership with the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre and WWF Russia. It takes place under the ‘Strengthening synergies and indicators in NBSAPs for the Pan-European region’ project funded by the European Commission’s Thematic Programme for Environment and Sustainable Management of Natural Resources including Energy fund, with contributions from UNEP. The project comes in response to the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

UNEP in Europe - 2015 Year in Review

Ensuring a collective commitment for the Caspian Sea

Parties to the Tehran Convention for the Caspian Sea environment advanced cooperation in 2015 for an agreement on collecting and sharing environmental data and enhanced engagement of public stakeholders.

The Parties also prepared the set-up of the Convention Secretariat in the Caspian region, which is due to take place early this year.

The Convention - ratified by Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan – fosters cooperation for the protection and sustainable use of the Caspian Sea natural resources. Its interim Secretariat is administered by UNEP’s Regional Office for Europe.

The five countries started negotiations during 2015 on a draft Protocol on Monitoring, Assessment, Access to and Exchange of Environmental Information, which will provide binding obligations to harmonise the collection, access to and sharing of environmental data among them.

An expert working group was established which will feed into the protocol negotiations as well as the implementation of the Caspian Environmental Monitoring Program, which will provide consistent and reliable information for environmental policy and decision-making.

Representatives from civil society, local communities, private sector and academia as well as government officials of the Convention Parties furthermore agreed on a set of ambitious recommendations for increased public involvement in both the process and implementation of the Convention.

The recommendations will be presented at the Sixth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties this year and include calls for a Caspian Sea Environment Forum and a micro-grants programme to be set up for environmental projects run by local organisations.

A Convention Secretariat, administered by UNEP, will meanwhile be inaugurated in Baku, Azerbaijan in the coming months anchoring this work. The Secretariat will be headed by an Executive Secretary and a Convention Trust Fund is to be set-up.

UNEP in Europe - 2015 Year in Review

Environment and security: a fragile relationship

A new platform uniting scientists and policy makers is helping assess the risk of and respond to crises caused by natural disasters linked to climate change.

The initiative, known as the Geneva Science-Policy Platform on Environment and Security, will see annual meetings take place between scientists and policymakers with the aim of addressing existing and emerging environmental risks and tensions in the overall context of global issues.

New solutions for environmental cooperation are expected to result from the exchange, which was launched at an event hosted by UNEP as the 2015 chair of the Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC) and the University of Geneva.

The event was held in the framework of Geneva Peace Week and was attended by academia and Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives of UN member states. Participants exchanged views on the effects of climate change already taking place in Europe and the security implications for the future, such as the threat of mass migration.

The knowledge exchange is expected to help integrating environmental sustainability and ecosystem management in other national policies.

The Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC) is a partnership of five international organisations, including UNEP, working to reduce environment and security risks through strengthened cooperation among and within countries in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, the Southern Caucasus and South-Eastern Europe.

UNEP in Europe - 2015 Year in Review

Strengthening the science-policy interface: the Pan-European GEO assessment

The Global Environment Outlook (GEO) is a consultative, participatory process that builds capacity for conducting integrated environmental assessments and reporting on the state, trends and outlooks of the environment. GEO is also a series of products that informs environmental decision-making and aims to facilitate the interaction between science and policy. GEO-6 will be built on six regional assessments, including the Pan-European assessment.

The Pan-European assessment began in April 2015 when UNEP and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), with support from the European Environment Agency (EEA), convened a Regional Environmental Information Network (REIN) conference.

The REIN conference was attended by the Working Group on Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, European Environment Information and Observation Network focal points, GEO government representatives and the GEO expert community.

The REIN conference identified five priority areas for the assessment to focus on – climate change, air quality, chemicals and waste, biodiversity and freshwater. It also identified emerging issues, megatrends and outlooks to be analysed, as well as the green economy and air quality which are priorities for the 8th Environment for Europe Conference in June 2016.

Over 75 experts from 25 countries are participating as authors in the assessment, as well as over 40 expert reviewers who have provided comments on the stage 1 draft. The assessment is built on the 2015 edition of EEA's State and Outlook report, and supported by national data provided by UNECE's Shared Environmental Information System and made openly available through UNEP Live.

The Pan-European GEO assessment will be launched at the 8th Environment for Europe Conference, as well as inform discussions and outcomes at the second United Nations Environment Assembly meeting. The assessment is currently being reviewed by governments and major groups and stakeholders. Preliminary findings will be available to support discussions at the Committee on Environmental Policy special session and Open-Ended Committee of Permanent Representatives in February 2016.

The assessment comes at a time where the international community and the environment constituency at large prepares to implement the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

UNEP in Europe - 2015 Year in Review

European CEO among Champions of the Earth

Unilever CEO Paul Polman was among UNEP’s Champions of the Earth in 2015. The Dutch national received the prize for his work in leading the business world to a new model of sustainable growth.

Under Mr Polman’s leadership, Unilever has adopted a plan to halve the environmental footprint of the manufacture and use of its products by 2020. The company has already achieved zero waste to landfill across its entire global factory network, reduced the amount of CO₂ from energy and water in manufacturing by 37 per cent and 32 per cent since 2008 and is sourcing more than half of the agricultural raw materials it uses sustainably.

The CEO was also asked by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to be part of the UN High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. There, Mr Polman worked with fellow panel members to come up with key recommendations on the new Sustainable Development Goals.

The CEO’s imprint can furthermore be felt in the UN Global Compact – the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, set up by the UN in 2000 – where he sits on the Board. The annual Champions of the Earth prize is awarded to outstanding leaders from government, civil society and the private sector whose actions have had a positive impact on the environment.

The 2015 edition of the prize aimed to support the new Sustainable Development Goals by illustrating – through the examples of the laureates – that the transition to low-carbon, resource-efficient, inclusive and sustainable economic models is not just possible, but already in progress.

UNEP in Europe - 2015 Year in Review

Advancing regional partnerships

UNEP’s ability to support countries in their transition to a green economy has been boosted thanks to a strengthening of its partnerships with the European Commission (EC) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

In the run-up to the seventh Environment for Europe Ministerial set to take place in June, UNEP and the UNECE pledged to work more closely on the meeting’s two main themes – the shift to a green economy and work on reducing air pollution.

Other topics on which the two are sharing information are education for sustainable development and environmental monitoring and assessment, with the door opened for this to be extended to transport, forests, housing and energy in future.

Meanwhile, the EC and UNEP agreed in 2015 to make their collaboration even more strategic and focus on a number of priority areas up until 2020 - such as green economy and sustainable consumption and production, oceans governance, the relationship between science and policymaking and international environmental governance. Champions of the Earth prize is awarded to outstanding leaders from government, civil society and the private sector whose actions have had a positive impact on the environment.

The agreement follows two decades of working together successfully, with a number of information exchanges and policy dialogues held during 2015 and more planned for the first half of 2016. Interaction at policy level is complemented by a systematic programmatic cooperation between the EC and UNEP.

Partnerships for action

2015 was a watershed year for our planet. Faced with a last chance to avoid the worst effects of climate change, the UN provided a forum for countries to agree to the first climate change agreement covering all of its member states.

The Sustainable Development Goals adopted by UN member states a few weeks earlier demonstrate equal ambition - and UNEP stands ready to support their achievement.

The variety of our work above mirrors how the environment is a cross-cutting theme to the goals rather than an afterthought. UNEP’s two core tasks are to equip policymakers with the information and tools for protecting the environment while ensuring sustainable development, and to flag up any upcoming trends that could threaten it. For policymakers to be equipped with the most pertinent information and know that agreements can be made without leaving any country behind, a neutral authority on the environment is needed. In order for countries to ensure that efforts in one policy area link coherently to others and contribute towards the Sustainable Development Goals efficiently, an organisation with global reach is needed. UNEP is best placed to lead in this role.

However, the work cannot be done alone. This is why we work with nine Major Groups and Stakeholders to ensure that agreements on the management of water resources, studies on sustainable consumption and tools for monitoring environmental change take into account views from the broadest reaches of society and that benefits are spread. By contributing to our work you contribute to the livelihoods of women, farmers, business and industry, non-governmental organisations, workers and trade unions, indigenous peoples and their communities, children and youth, local authorities and the scientific and technological community.

As shown in some of the achievements from 2015 alone, work for a healthy, sustainable environment knows no bounds. Whether by raising funds, designing a project, debating a policy, running a campaign or rallying for a common vision, UNEP’s results in 2015 have come about thanks to its partners from all sectors. We count on them more than ever to secure a better quality of life for countries and people, both for today and in the future.

About the United Nations Environment Programme

UNEP’s Mission is to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling states and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

Within the United Nations, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the voice and conscience of the environment. UNEP is represented across the world by the work of five divisions and six regional offices, all dedicated to seven priority thematic areas: climate change, resource efficiency, disaster and conflicts, environmental governance, chemicals and waste, ecosystem management and environment under review.

UNEP was founded at the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. We work with national governments, other United Nations entities, international organisations, industry, business and civil society to enable sound environmental management and create the sustainable development models that are needed to meet global environmental challenges. All 193 UN member states take part in the United Nations Environment Assembly, UNEP’s governing body.

UNEP in Europe: working towards the Sustainable Development Goals

Behind the scenes and on the ground: UNEP’s Regional Office for Europe (ROE) provides guidance to governments, carries out projects and develops tools to tackle environmental challenges in Europe.

These challenges range from cross-border environmental management of the Caspian Sea, resource-efficiency in cities and climate adaptation in the Carpathian Mountains. We promote and enable the switching to more sustainable agriculture such as in Eastern and Central Europe, and help the development of sound management of transboundary resources, such as river basins irrigating several countries. We also scan the horizon to alert authorities of emerging environmental threats, thus keeping the environment under review.

UNEP in Europe advises and steers countries, the private sector and civil society on the road towards greener economies by fostering renewable energy technologies, promoting sustainable transport, and by sharing experiences and best practices on a range of topics including organic agriculture and sustainable consumption and production. UNEP supports capacity-building and the implementation of environmental policies in the pan-European region such as through Multilateral Environmental Agreements and regional biodiversity strategies. Together with partners, UNEP also assesses the environmental aspects of disaster and conflict risks across the region.

The Geneva Environment Network (GEN) plays a crucial role in this work. GEN is a partnership of more than 75 organisations, including UN offices and programmes, NGOs, academic institutions and local authorities located in Geneva and active in the fields of environment and sustainable development. Since 1999, the GEN Secretariat – led by UNEP and supported by the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment – has actively promoted increased cooperation and networking among its members by organising and hosting numerous dialogues and other events up to and including 2015. GEN has become a resource and information portal for any sector wanting to learn about the environment, green its economy and develop sustainably.

While the year 2015 has been very busy on the global multilateral ground, with major conferences and their outcomes shaping the global agenda for the coming decades (from Sendai through Addis Ababa and New York to Paris), UNEP’s work in Europe concentrated on supporting countries in concrete environmental activities, sharing best practices and building capacities.