Speech – Closing remarks at the Sixth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health

13–15 June 2017, Ostrava, Czech Republic

Your excellences,

Mr Kolaja,

Governor Vondrák, Lord Mayor Macura,

UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme] Regional Director Jan Dusik,

UNECE [United Nations Economic Commission for Europe] Director Marco Keiner,

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Ostrava Declaration has just been signed. With this symbolic gesture, we have sealed this voluntary commitment to make Europe a better place in which citizens will enjoy better health, better environments and be able to pursue sustainable choices.

The European Environment and Health Process owes its durability over 30 years to its capacity to adapt and reinvent itself within a permanently changing context. In that sense, the Ostrava Declaration should open the doors to a new stage in collaboration among sectors, to advance the environment and health agenda in Europe.

As we prepare to go back to our countries, let me share some reflections from these 3 very intense and exciting days.

The opening concert was a beautiful welcome to Ostrava and a perfect metaphor of how diversity creates harmony and beauty when everyone plays a different instrument along the same score. Let the Ostrava Declaration be the score that gives us a clear sense of shared direction and aspiration, yet respecting and valuing our diversity.

Music is also about passion – and this is the word that perhaps best describes how you have been negotiating the Declaration and its annexes until the very end: Robert, thanks once more for tirelessly leading the negotiations, always trying to find, and in the end finding, a constructive way forward. Bravo! And our thanks go to the European Environment and Health Task Force, its Ad-hoc Working Group and the European Environment and Health Ministerial Board for their guidance during the journey that took us from Parma to Ostrava.

The passionate negotiations give hope and inspiration for future work, as it reflects your interest to make it work and make a difference in your countries.

This takes me to my second reflection: this morning’s presentation by Dr Ženatý of the "Slezsko" project. This project, which was inspired by the first Ministerial Conference in Frankfurt, demonstrates that the European Environment and Health Process can make a long-term difference on the ground, and be a catalyst for further action.

I believe that this Conference introduces some very important innovations:

  • It is transforming the Process into a platform for the implementation of Health 2020 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It should serve as a strong mechanism for the environment and heath sectors to continue working with each other. But we should take it further – as we discussed here, the big pressures and drivers of health and well-being are sitting elsewhere. This process should be a tool for our 2 core sectors to engage the “big spenders and big drivers” such as agriculture, energy, transport and others. Otherwise, we may not see a big change.
  • We should also engage new partners and stakeholders. Besides the steady and strong partnership with civil society here, we need to actively reach out to the financial institutions and mechanisms, the private sector and non-traditional partners to fully mobilize society.
  • The process needs to address environment and health issues within the wider context of social processes, addressing injustices and inequities and considering social, not only physical resilience of our communities. We are in the midst of a politically turbulent and quickly changing period and we should invest into finding appropriate ways to engage the highest levels of policy-making in responding to the expectations of our citizens to live in safe, prosperous, clean and healthy environments. The strong link between this platform and the governing bodies of WHO and UNECE, where ministers set sector-wide and government-wide policies, will give the necessary attention to environment and health.
  • This conference brings the environment and health agenda closer to the people and to the places where they live, work, study or relax. Recognizing and embracing the unique role of cities and regions in improving the lives of 900 million individuals in this Region, we have established tools to engage them and we committed to work with them to deliver change. It is the simple rule of public health – while we keep strengthening and maintaining our preparedness and our institutions to do big things, we continue saving and improving their health – one by one and day by day.
  • We have agreed here on leaner and more effective institutional arrangements and the strengthened collaboration with UNECE and UNEP. It is a very important move and should facilitate a coordinated and coherent push forward towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Finally – while we agreed on 7 priority areas for action, in reality, we made only 1 commitment: the commitment to develop national portfolios for action in the coming year in order to make a difference. I can assure you – there will be no progress unless each and every Member State in this room moves forward, faster and further than ever before. And we should address it persistently, decisively and with courage – 1.4 million times, and one by one if needed.

Ladies and gentleman,

Let me say a few words about this event. We have had here 500 delegates and observers from 49 of the 53 WHO European Member States, plus guests from Canada, the United States and the Philippines. There is a very strong presence from the European Union and 15 international and nongovernmental organizations, and numerous participants from cities, regions, civil society and academia.

At the Ministerial Consultation for the 2017 Environment Assembly, organized by UNEP and the Czech Ministry of Environment, 9 plenary sessions and 16 side events addressed all of the priority areas identified in Haifa. Side events turned the Conference into a dynamic hub for different groups of Member States, and civil society (including youth and scientists) to come together and interact informally, greatly enriching the contents of this Conference, and offering participants a broad menu of interesting events. It is quite a unique WHO meeting in that respect. While the host country and the secretariat worked hard and long on preparing the ground for the Conference, the final green light was given on 28 February this year and this has been the fastest Conference preparation ever. We showed that WHO and the United Nations can be fast, efficient and effective.

Dear hosts,

None of this would have happened without the generous and most welcoming partnership and hospitality from the Czech Government, the Moravian-Silesian Region and the City of Ostrava: Mr Kojala, Governor Vondrák, Lord Mayor Macura, thanks for being such great partners and thanks to the colleagues in your teams, who spared no efforts to ensure that we would be able to operate under the best possible conditions, and became part of our team as the preparations advanced.

Thanks to UNECE and UNEP for the good collaboration in preparing for this Conference. We look forward to strengthening the collaboration under our new institutional framework.

Thanks to all speakers, moderators, panellists, participants and interpreters. It is you who made the conference a success.

Let me finish on a personal note: I have been part of this process for a very long time. After being elected as the Regional Director for Europe, the first big event was the Fifth Ministerial Conference in Parma. I gave you my promise that we would not spare any effort to take it forward. WHO has been keeping its part of the deal – the European Centre for Environment and Health, supported and hosted by Germany, has been advancing the work in the countries day and night, and developing evidence and knowledge that enabled us to do our work in Ostrava. I am very confident that Ostrava will have a significant impact on the future direction of WHO globally under its new Director General, and that environment and health will find its rightful place in the new General Programme of Work. I am confident that we will hand this process alive and well to some future generations at the next Ministerial Conference in another inspiring and welcoming place in Europe.

I wish you a safe trip back home.