Speech - Welcome address to the Ad-Hoc Working Group of the European Environment and Health Task Force

Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe

10 June 2016, Batumi, Georgia

Dear members of the European Environment and Health Task Force,  

dear Amiran, 

I am very pleased that the Georgian government has extended its traditionally warm and generous hospitality to us in hosting our meeting in this important academic institution. It is a pleasure to be here and I thank you for that!

I have been closely following the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group since our big meeting in Haifa last year. I am very pleased that there is a well established process of preparations for the Sixth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health next year, and that the Ad Hoc Working Group, in attracting and engaging an even wider circle of Member States, is making steady progress in preparing for the future of the European Environment and Health Process. 

This afternoon we have a very important task at hand: to give shape and strategic direction to the political outcomes of the Sixth Ministerial Conference by agreeing on a number of substantial issues that will guide the further development of the zero draft of the outcome document.

Yesterday, when I addressed the Batumi Conference, I stressed the importance for the Environment for Europe and European Environment and Health processes to collaborate and align with each other as much as possible to ensure synergy and coherence in policy direction and implementation efforts. The fact that many of you participate in both processes greatly facilitates this coordination and mutual reinforcement. Extending this policy coherence to the multilateral agreements and protocols serviced by UNECE, UNEP, WHO and other partners is of greatest value and importance for converting commitments from our two voluntary processes into a reality in the countries. 

This has implications on today's discussion. The proposal of commitments that will be placed in front of the Member States either has to add value to the existing objectives or address identified gaps in policy. 

Over the past years, and most importantly at the Mid-term Review meeting in Israel and the Task Force meeting later on in Skopje, we have extensively discussed the environment and health priorities of today and tomorrow. There is full consensus among the Member States on priorities such as air pollution, water, sanitation and hygiene, climate change and chemical safety.

There is no shortage of policy instruments and commitments in most of the priority areas, but it is difficult to implement them, as we also acknowledged last year. Furthermore, navigating such a complex agenda and a multitude of implementation mechanisms is a challenge.

What is of the greatest strategic importance is to firmly anchor the outcomes of the Conference, and the Environment and Health Process itself, to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Goals. I am convinced that this provides a strong, unifying and universal framework, horizontally connecting and harmonizing sectoral and seemingly vertical elements into a coherent systemic approach to improving the health and well-being of people and of the planet.

Doing so will ensure ownership by the health, environment and other constituencies of this Process. Making very concrete contributions to the achievement of selected targets within the 17 Goals and supporting Member States to implement their SDG commitments nationally and internationally is the required added value for the Member States.

On one side, the Environment and Health Process should be a platform reinforcing the implementation of the commitments that are already in place, leveraging unique partnerships among sectors, different stakeholders and a mix of policy makers, implementers and scientists. The plan for the implementation of the outcomes of the Sixth Ministerial Conference should reflect that. 

On the other side, through the ongoing implementation of the roadmap agreed in Haifa and the exploration of its themes, we are also in an excellent position to identify emerging issues and gaps in policies that could be turned into new, concrete commitments. 

The roadmap is a highly effective way of consulting with Member States, stakeholders and experts. Using it ensures that our political discussions are guided by the best available evidence, and that the policy commitments made will maintain the greatest scientific relevance. 

If we succeed in being relevant to both our health and environment constituencies, in making a difference to the implementation of the commitments already taken in the priorities you have identified, and in agreeing to new actions where it can make a real difference, the European Environment and Health Process has the opportunity to continue into the future, becoming an exemplary regional policy platform to implement parts of the Agenda for Sustainable Development, and a reference to other Regions for multisectoral action and cooperation across all levels of government.

Let me close with two more issues. It is rather obvious that a consensus is emerging on broad directions for proposing revised institutional arrangements for the Environment and Health Process. While awaiting the completion of the background paper for our discussions in September, I would like to at least agree today on the essential principles for the new arrangements. In my mind, these would ensure: an appropriate mechanism for high-level political engagement; close linkage with the institutional governance of WHO and UNECE; the inclusion of all Member States and the engagement of the most active and most relevant stakeholders, including the civil society; an effective networking platform; and simplicity and cost-effectiveness. These issues have been the most prominent concerns raised by many of us over the past six years.

Finally, the outcomes of today's meeting and of the further work that the Ad-Hoc Working Group will accomplish at its next meting at the end of September will be broadly shared for online consultation with Member States and stakeholders throughout the coming months. Additional opportunities to discuss the developments in the preparation of the outcome document will be provided by the forthcoming WHO Regional Committee meeting that will take place in Copenhagen in September, and by the next meeting of the UNECE Committee on Environmental Policy in Geneva later on. This means that we will have a solid and broad emerging consensus at the next Task Force meeting in Vienna later this year.

I have the greatest confidence that together we will succeed in making the next Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health a memorable and important political milestone, and I wish to thank you all, as well as the Chair and Co-chair, for your commitment to making this happen. 

Thanks for your attention.