Alliances between international organizations:


Environment and security in Europe

Frits Schlingemann, Senior Adviser and former Regional Director & Representative, UNEP Regional Office for Europe (ROE)

When a tailings dam broke in North West Romania in 2000, releasing large amounts of cyanide and heavy metals into downstream Hungary, tensions between the two countries rose.

When Lithuania announced plans to decommission a nuclear power plant and dispose of the waste close to the borders of Belarus, posing potential environmental risks to some tourist resorts, their diplomatic relations deteriorated and repercussions were considered on both sides.

Bringing countries together and helping them to assess, understand and mitigate the risks to the environment can stop a downward spiral in interstate relations. Moreover, it can help secure peace and cooperation in an environment conducive to human development and well being.

The interconnection between protecting the environment and peace-making has become equally undeniable: in December 2004, Mrs. Wangari Mathai, a Kenyan environmental activist was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It crowned a trend others had already noted. One year earlier, the Secretary General of the UN had welcomed the conclusion and signing of a Framework Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea as a major step forward towards building peace and stability in the region.

Preventing conflicts by eliminating environmental problems, and vice versa, offers win-win solutions to both environmentalists and peace builders. These solutions can last, if the negotiators address the social and economic forces behind conflict-prone environmental change. It therefore seems most logical, cost-effective and even natural to approach and tackle environmental problems by combining experience and expertise in conflict prevention and resolution with the capacity to address the social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainable development.

This is what in 2003 inspired the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - with its political mandate, the agency for development UNDP, and UNEP - the environmental watchdog of the United Nations, to establish the Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC). This joint undertaking was set up to assist countries in dealing with environmental problems and risks that threaten security within and between states.

Since then, NATO's Science for Peace programme - with its experience in problem analysis and clean-up work, and (at the end of 2005) the Environment, Housing and Land Management Division of the ECE - host of major regional environmental conventions and technical assistance capacity, and the Regional Environment Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) - running an assistance network in South Eastern Europe, have become partners in the Initiative. It is now a powerful and multi-functional instrument for working at the interface of risks to human security, social and economic development and the environment.

For example, at the request of the countries of Central Asia, the Caucasus region and South Eastern Europe, and most recently Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine, ENVSEC mapped out the environmental problems and situations that could be considered to pose security risks in the regions. It identified several issues requiring attention and assistance from the international community: mining practices posing cross border pollution risks, internationally threatened species and biodiversity, an absence of properly negotiated river basin agreements, legacies of nuclear and other hazardous waste left over from Soviet times, apparent neglect of the environment in areas of «frozen conflict», and lack of public access to environmental information or participation in decision making and access to justice.

On the basis of the assessments and in close consultation with all stakeholders involved, the Initiative is developing and implementing work programmes with projects aimed at reducing tensions and solving the problems identified. To take the example of mining, a ministerial conference entitled «Reducing Environment and Security Risks from Mining in South Eastern Europe and the Tisza River Basin» took place in May 2005 in co-operation with the Ministry of Environment and Water Management of Romania. The Executive Director of UNEP participated and Hungary sent its Minister of Environment and Water.

The Ministers endorsed two publications on sustainable mining practices and reducing environmental risks from mining. Work has been launched on assessing and programming remediation at several mining «hot spots» and on including mine closure «best practices» in training.

The ENVSEC Initiative has three key functions: assessment of environment and security risks, capacity building and institutional development to strengthen environmental cooperation, and integration of environmental and security concerns and priorities in international and national policy-making.

How does it operate? At ENVSEC Board meetings, lead agency responsibility for project development and implementation is assigned while programme and project monitoring, reporting and other coordination services have been put in hands of a small secretariat coordinated from UNEP Geneva. To date ENVSEC's portfolio has well over 50 projects.

Frits Schlingemann started his career as Policy Assistant at the Dutch Ministry of Environment, Water Sector, and later at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From 1984 to 1987 he served in the Office of the Executive Director of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS/Habitat), Nairobi, Kenya, as Inter-agency Affairs Officer. From 1991 to 1994, he was the Head of the Environment Programme of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Hague, and Senior Policy Adviser to the Minister for Development Cooperation on sustainable development issues. From 1994 to 1996 he worked as Assistant Executive Director and Director of the Division for Policy and External Relations in UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi.