Highlights include welcoming a new member state, achieving enhanced legal status
By Nathan Johnson
The 2012 REC General Assembly meeting, held on November 8-9 in Szentendre, Hungary, was notable for a number of reasons worth cheering about.
To begin with, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Hungary informed that the REC has, as of October 31, achieved formal status as a full-fledged international organisation based on the entry into force of the agreement on the legal status of the REC.
Another big cause for celebration is the addition of Ukraine as a REC member state and an exciting link in the REC network. Ukraine's Minister for Ecology and Natural Resources, Eduart Stavytskyi, travelled to Hungary, both to sign the REC Charter and the agreement on the legal status of the REC and to attend part of the November 9 GA panel discussion.
"The REC is a unique example of various stakeholders in addressing environmental issues," Stavytskyi addressed the GA participants following the signing ceremony. "We welcome the opportunity to establish more environmental centres. Ukraine is interested in finding new methods to confront problems and to contribute to finding solution to environmental problems. We hope you will be happy to accept Ukraine in helping to secure the well-being of future generations. I'm sure that this will further the dynamic involved in this global process. I hope that our steps will be relevant and timely, as 2013 is also the 'Year of Environment' in Ukraine."
As there are a few new faces amongst the REC Board of Directors, newly elected Board Chairman Andrzrej Kassenberg has good reasons to feel that these fresh developments bode well for the REC's ongoing and future endeavours.
Poster Session on 2012 key achievements
This year's GA meeting featured, for the first time, a Poster Session to highlight the present year's signature achievements. were prepared, each of them focused on a specific REC work area. In turn, each of the posters featured highlights from two leading projects within each of these topic areas. Information concerning the donor(s), duration and budget was provided for each project highlighted in the posters.
Each GA participant was invited to learn about the current year's activity by viewing the posters in an informal setting during an event reception. The following 13 work areas were represented: Law Development, Enforcement and Compliance; Water Management; Participatory Governance; REC in the ENVSEC Initiative; Sustainable Development Academy; Green Transport; Strategic Programme in Turkey; Climate Change and Clean Energy; Local Governance; Environmental Financing; Educational Tools; Health and Environment; and Environmental Management.
GA Panel Discussion
GA activities for Friday, November 9, opened with a panel discussion chaired by former REC Board Member Istvan Pomazi. The featured panellists were Timo Makela from DG Environment; Jurijs Spiridonovs, Latvian Deputy State Secretary for the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development; and Christian Averous, a former administrator and head of division at the OECD.
The title of the discussion was 'Green Economy: challenges and opportunities, ways forward'. With this year's GA occurring just weeks after the Rio+20 UN summit meeting, the panel discussion provided a good opportunity for participants to talk about the very serious environment-related issues that lie ahead. Some time remained after the panel for questions from participants and brief answers from the panellists.
Makela, while admitting that Rio failed to live up to expectations, urged that the summit was in no way a disaster, and that there were, in fact, number of key achievements, namely: several concepts were put forward in terms of further developing sustainable development goals; there was a move away from old models into a genuine debate about how to mobilise resources most effectively; there was careful deliberation about how to improve existing institutional structures; and, finally, more than 2,000 different initiatives were put forward-by CEOs, NGOs and a multiplicity of stakeholders.
"Success will be measured by what happens after the event," Makela summed up.
Drawing much of presentation content from the '36 Marseille Recommendations', Averous discussed various avenues to green growth, arguing that this approach is environmentally effective, economically efficient, socially inclusive, and a path towards sustainable development and poverty reduction. The former OECD head of division noted, however, that there are key challenges and obstacles to these goals: the need to create stable countries; the need to mobilise private finance; the need to reduce fossil fuel consumption; and the need to ensure that management personnel at top companies pursue strategies that take both short-and long-term perspectives into consideration.
Spiridonovs gave a provocative presentation that focused on a single country: his home nation of Latvia. He began with a chart showing per capita emission levels throughout Europe, noting that Latvia's was one of the lowest. The caveat, however, was that this result is mainly the result of economic crisis. The combination of global environmental and economic crises has pressed home the urgency to think about ways to build a green, more self-sufficient, economy, a partial list of which includes: resource efficiency, green infrastructure, recycling, financial support, green jobs, withdrawing of harmful subsidies, renewable energy resources, using of local products, pollution prevention and green procurement. One remark that provoked some interesting discussion shortly afterwards was a remark about terminologies and definitions.
"Rio+20 was a very interesting experience," said the Latvian Deputy State Secretary. "The reality is that more than 100 countries agreeing on something is a kind of success. Let's not strive for a common definition. Each country will have its own approach, and there is a need to protect local markets."
World Cafe brainstorming session
After discussing the REC work plan for 2013, GA participants split into three groups for a unique brainstorming session titled the 'REC World Cafe'. The three main topic areas to be discussed on Friday afternoon were: governance for sustainable development, capacity for sustainable development, and green financing. Heading the respective discussion groups were Mark Canning (US Embassy in Budapest), Janos Zlinszky and Ruslan Zhechkov (both from the REC).
Groups were given approximately one hour to discuss each topic amongst themselves before moving on to the next round of discussion, while everyone gathered at the end to report the results of their respective group discussions. Outcomes of the working groups will be reflected and incorporated in the 2013 Work Plan.