"Strengthening the Local Environmental Planning and Environmental Civil Society in Ukraine: Cities as Drivers of Sustainable Development in Ukraine" was the title of a conference held in Kyiv, Ukraine on October 19-20, 2015. The Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) organised what turned out to be informative and inspiring event that drew more than 110 stakeholders.
REC Executive Director Marta Szigeti Bonifert welcomed the participants and introduced keynote speaker Judith G. Garber, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, U.S. Department of State. Garber highlighted several challenges that Ukraine currently faces, spoke on how societies can take the path towards democracy, remarked on the importance of natural wealth, environmental stewardship and governance for sustainability, and stressed the importance of civil society and active citizenship in assisting Ukraine's transformation one city at a time. She also highlighted the success of Ukraine's ongoing partnership with the REC.
Acting Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources of Ukraine, Sergiy Kurykin, added that the ministry will lend its support to the Regional Environmental Center throughout the process of assisting Ukraine in making a transition towards a more sustainable future.
Following the opening, much of the first day was dedicated to analysing results of the one-year project "Local Environmental and Energy-Related Action Plans (LEAPs) for Sustainable Development, Energy Diversification and Civic Engagement in Communities in Ukraine", which were presented by representatives of the three project partner municipalities: Cherkasy, Poltava, and Ivano-Frankivsk.
The event also featured the official kick-off of a follow-up project titled "Local Initiatives for Sustainable Ukraine" (LINK Ukraine). This project will be implemented until April 2018 with the support of the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment. The municipalities of Lubny and Derdychiv will also participate, in addition to the three municipalities already involved. A statement of mutual cooperation was signed to officially endorse the project and to seal the commitment of cooperation between all five municipalities.
The first day concluded with a roundtable discussion, "Cities as Drivers of Sustainable Development in Ukraine", which was moderated by Raffi Balian, Regional Environmental, Science & Technology and Health Attaché for Central and Eastern Europe, U.S. Department of State, and a television presenter Andriy Kulykov. Among the discussion panellists were representatives from donor organisations, financial institutions, academia, civil society and the business sector. The speakers genuinely inspired the audience by providing valuable insights and strategies into overcoming some of the key obstacles to building a better and more sustainable future. The audience, comprising representatives from municipalities from all over Ukraine, took advantage of a follow-up Q&A session to get the most of the expertise within the room.
The second day of the conference, organised as a workshop, addressed the topic of boosting investment in energy efficiency in Ukraine's urban environment. The goal of the workshop was to strengthen the capacities of Ukrainian stakeholders in applying for and implementing concrete energy efficiency projects.
All in all, judging by the overall level of satisfaction of the participants, the conference was a great success. While it will not be easy to replicate this year's success in the year to come, the REC is confident about building stronger and larger partnerships in Ukraine. Hopefully, even more people will sufficiently attracted to take part in next year's conference.