A new assessment report examines the links between environment and security in three East European countries and proposes some 20 projects and activities for improving conditions there.
The report highlights the importance of recognising the region’s geopolitical positioning between the EU and the Russian Federation, improving energy security without jeopardising the environment, cleaning up obsolete military infrastructure and chemicals stocks, addressing the Trasnistrian conflict in Moldova and strengthening cooperation over shared rivers and ecosystems.
The ENVSEC partners that have produced the report are the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the UN Economic Commission for Europe and the Regional Environment Centre (REC) in association with the ‘Science for Peace and Security’ programme of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The report notes that the three former Soviet republics of Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine are targeted by the EU’s “Neighbourhood policy” while being viewed by Russia as being part of its “near abroad”. By pursuing collaboration on environment and security the region can position itself as a bridge rather than a barrier between these two major powers.
Energy security is a dominant issue for the region. The three countries depend on Russian gas supplies, and they are transited by pipelines transporting natural gas to the EU. Belarus and Ukraine are pursuing greater energy self-sufficiency in part through plans to build nuclear power plants despite the shadow of Chernobyl, whose legacy continues to place a heavy burden on the Belarus and Ukraine economies and on the livelihoods of their people.
The rapid development of oil terminals and thermo- and hydro-power plants also has important implications for both security and the environment. The region’s environment stands to benefit if more environment-conscious energy planning and a more efficient use of available resources can be achieved.
While Eastern Europe succeeded in navigating its recent political transition peacefully, the Ukraine in particular is still littered with airbases and other unused military infrastructure containing munitions and rocket fuel that pose environmental risks.
The ubiquitous depots of industrial wastes and obsolete pesticides are another legacy of the past, as is the heritage of unsustainable mining practices still present in such socially and environmentally-stressed regions as Donbas in Ukraine and Soligorsk in Belarus. Meanwhile, the region has been targeted by illegal waste traders responding to tougher environmental regulations in neighbouring countries that have just joined the EU.
Another major challenge is the ongoing Trasnistrian conflict in Moldova. Solving this conflict is a prerequisite to addressing the environment of this region in a fully collaborative manner. At the same time, the prospects for conflict resolution can be improved through greater cooperation on common environmental challenges such as pollution and waste.
Finally, the report considers the region’s network of shared rivers, including the Dnieper, the Dniester, the Pripyat and the Zapadnaya Dvina / Daugava, to name just a few. Other shared ecosystems include the Carpathian region and the Polesie marshlands in Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and Poland. Each of these shared natural resources offers an excellent opportunity for regional cooperation, as is demonstrated by the ENVSEC-facilitated agreement on Dniester basin cooperation developed between Moldova and Ukraine.
It is increasingly recognized today that security is not just a military issue, and that the destruction and over-exploitation of natural resources and ecosystems can also threaten the security of communities and nations. Similarly, disputes over cross-border pollution or shared assets such as rivers and lakes can cause political tension and even conflict. Countries experiencing an economic transition or political stress are particularly vulnerable to environmental damage and resource competition.
The Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC) was conceived to support countries in their efforts to manage environmental risks. This international partnership recognizes that the best path to addressing environmental and security concerns is through international dialogue and neighbourly cooperation. It therefore assists Governments to identify common solutions and develop joint projects for achieving them.
Note to journalists: For further information see www.envsec.org or contact the ENVSEC inter-agency secretariat at +41 22 917 8779 or email@example.com.