Environmental performance reviews

Objectives

Environmental Performance Reviews (EPR) assess a country’s overall environmental and environmental health status, its efforts to reduce pollution, manage natural resources, and implement environmental and environmental health policies.

Methods

The reviews, performed under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe UNECE) in the case of countries in transition, are conducted via a peer review panel of outside experts, with the participation of the relevant domestic government officials, experts and public stakeholders. UNEP and WHO regional offices for Europe are also collaborators in the pr ocess. The WHO provides expertise in environmental health issues and developed a chapter on Environmental Health within the EPRs.

Elements in Environmental Performance Reviews

Preparation

  • UNECE consults with the country to be reviewed on the structur e of the review.
  • Eight core topics are always included, including air, water, waste, biodiversity, human health, legal instruments, economic and regulatory instruments, and international cooperation.
  • The Secretariat assembles a review team, which typically includes experts in environment and environmental health from other European countries, research institutes, and international bodies (WHO, UNEP). Preliminary data and information is gathered and distributed to all team members.

Review mission and report

  • Teams participate in a mission to the country under review.
  • Experts in each relevant field or sector under review make an assessment based on relevant literature and data available, and on the basis of a broad series of consultations with relevant stakeholders, including government departments, different economic sectors, research groups, NGOs, and interest groups.
  • Each team member prepares a draft of a chapter of the review report after the mission, containing descriptive text, data tables, and recommendations. Draft Chapters are circulated for comments, discussed by an Ad Hoc Expert Group, comprised of members from ten ECE countries, and finally submitted to the UNECE Committee on Economic Policy, where the document is debated and peer reviewed, prior to publication.

Environment and health in the report

  • WHO experts carried out the environmental health aspect of the UNECE reviews, producing a special chapter on health issues and recommendations.
  • Environment and Health Performance Reviews have included: key health and demographic indicators; environmental health issues related to water, food, air, radiation, noise, and waste; health indicators and issues across sectors such as transport, agriculture, mining, and industry; environmental health policies , information systems and human resources.

Follow up

  • Second reviews focus on particular problems identified in the country at issue during the first review.
  • Follow-up reports focus on the implementation of the recommendations in the initial review. The intention is to carry out this review when sufficient progress has been made in implementation of the recommendations and when secondgeneration problems occur. In general, this is about five years after the first review.

Relevance to policy making

The process of Environmental Performance Reviews was originally instituted by the OECD for its member states. Since 1994, the UNECE has carried out reviews in 16 European countries in transition, including countries of central and eastern Europe and newly in dependent states of the former Soviet Union. Second, or follow -up reviews were conducted in seven countries. The peer review by outside experts creates a process that can support better environment and health policy and improved implementation in countries where local institutions may still lack the tools or influence to impact change.

In comparison to other assessment methods, this process accomplishes an across the board review of current environment and health policies and problems in all major fields and economic sectors. By comparison, the EHIA performs an assessment for just one proposed program or policy while methods such as Environmental Burden of Disease (EBD) quantify the burden of one risk factor. The results of Environmental Performance Reviews are discussed in the UN Committee for Economic Policy, and recommendations are issued as reference points for follow up reports. In an evaluation being prepared for the next European Conference of Ministers of Environment and Health, the process has been described as a very useful resource on environment and health information for European countries. While the process has been applied so far exclusively in the European context, it could be relevant as a potential tool for leveraging change in countries of the developing world.

Lithuania

Lithuania was one of the first countries to be reviewed under the UNECE process in 1998. As is the case in most of the transition countries under review, the EPR provided the first systematic assessment and summary of environmental problems in the country to have been undertaken. The review process prompted government interest in the improvements to the country’s environmental information system.

Issues examined during the review included the question of lingering exposures to radioactivity as a consequence of the Chernobyl accident – Lithuania having been in the trail of the Chernobyl plume in 1986. Overall, population exposure today to radioactivity as a result of Chernobyl appeared to be practically insignificant.

Population and food exposure to radioactivity from Lithuania’s Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant (INPP) were also found to be within normal limits overall. However, a higher than average rate of cancers was found in the residents of the region around the INPP, an issue that is still being explored. In terms of air pollution, Total Suspended Particulate (TSP) matter and NO2 levels have declined since the early 1990s, but their levels in some urban areas are still dangerous to human health. High TSP episodes were roughly estimated to cause an extra 7 to 15 deaths and 15 to 30 hospital admissions for respiratory symptoms per day. Transport was dubbed the most important and growing, source of air pollution. Lithuania, like many transition countries, has recently seen an explosion in the import of obsolete vehicles from Western Europe, a factor adding to the vehicle pollution emission load. There are plans, however, to use tax policy to discourage the import and use of older vehicles. In terms of water, microbial contamination of drinking water was found to be an important problem, associated with a relatively high incidence of water-and foodborne diseases. In terms of water, cases of heavy metal contamination are rare. But some 3 % of milk and dairy produce samples were found contaminated by lead, and 6 % by cadmium. It was estimated that some 300,000 people drink water contaminated with nitrates at levels in excess of WHO standards, as a result of the infiltration of nitrates into water wells from agricultural fertilisers and organic wastes (e.g. manure).

References

UNECE, Environmental Policy in Transition: Lessons Learned from Ten Years of UNECE Environmental Performance Reviews, Economic Commission for Europe, Committee on Environmental Policy, Unpubli shed Draft, October, 2002.
WHO, Human Health and the Environment, Chapter 10, Environmental Performance Review of Lithuania, UNECE, 1998.
WHO Regional Office for Europe, The Environmental Health Situation in the Commonwealth of Independent States, Unpublished Draft, Copenhagen, 2003.
WHO, National Environmental Health Performance Reviews , WHO-Europe, 1998 -2002. (PDF format: www.euro.who.int).
WHO, Environmental Performance Reviews as a Tool to Support Policies, abstract presented at the ISEE/ISEA 1999
International Conference on Exposure Assessment, Environmental Epidemiology and Decision -Making: Closer Interactions for Better Protection of Public Health, Athens, 1999.
UNECE Environmental Performance Reviews Programme (http://www.unece.org/env/epr).

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