REC Executive Director addresses high-level ministerial panel in Montenegro

April 1, 2016

The Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism of Montenegro, the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) Secretariat and the Regional Environmental Center coorganised the First High-Level Ministerial Panel on Responding to Climate and Environmental Challenges in South East Europe (SEE), which was held April 1, 2016, in Podgorica, Montenegro. Below is the text of the speech that REC Executive Director Marta Szigeti Bonifert delivered to the event participants.

Minister Gvozdenovic, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a real honour and pleasure for me to be at the opening of this High-Level Ministerial Panel on Responding to Climate and Environmental Challenges in the SEE region.

I would like to begin with four very basic, but essential, notions:

podgNumber one: The environment is central to the economy, meaning that “green economy” is the only sensible approach to growth. Circular economy (which the EU is striving towards), sustainable consumption and production (at the heart of UNEP) and resource efficiency are all keys to solving the challenge of achieving exponential growth on one single planet with limited resources.

Number two: Sustainable resource use lies at the core of our energy security. We have worked intensively with UNEP, OSCE, UNDP and UNECE under the ENVSEC initiative -- as both Goran and Jan* know very well -- on the linkages between water, energy, food and security.

Number three: The 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development is a clear demonstration of the interdependency between poverty eradication, economic development and sustainable resource use, and should therefore be the agenda for all nations, all stakeholders and all citizens.

And number four: The SEE region has huge potential not only to fulfil its INDC pledges under the Paris Agreement, but also to strengthen its commitments in the near future, thus contributing to the below 1.5° Celsius global target and becoming a more resilient region.

The REC has been working for more than 25 years on environmental governance, and focusing especially on CSO support, work at the community level, and participatory governance at the local level. We started in the CEE region, then transferred lessons learned to the SEE region, and are more recently transferring these lessons to the Eastern Partnership countries.

The REC started as a grant programme, then became an international foundation, and after 20 years of operations is now a 100-percent project-funded organisation with no core budget from our 33 country signatories. The REC is a full-fledged international organisation, operating especially in the Central and South European regions, but also in the Eastern Partnership countries and, more recently, in the MENA region.

The REC is a model of flexibility, capable of adapting its content and operations, but always answering to immediate needs and focusing on action on the ground in the most effective manner.

The REC is an honest broker between stakeholders, a science and policy platform, and a catalyser of donors' initiatives at both a project level and a framework level. The REC also operates at other, multiple levels: with communities, schools, countries and regions.

And besides being the environmental dimension coordinator of the SEE2020 Strategy, what is the REC able to offer on these matters to the SEE countries? We are working daily with SEE communities on environmental education, local environmental actions plans, climate-friendly strategies and energy strategies, biodiversity protection, and water management -- to list just few.

Most probably this is not enough for a proper transformation. Therefore, we also support the declaration in its call for “mainstreaming the Environment Dimension of the SEE 2020 Strategy into the programming of the EC assistance in line with our jointly discussed and identified priorities.”

We are indeed convinced that the SEE will benefit from EC programmes and funds targeting areas such as resource efficiency, low carbon development, smart cities, sustainable transport, and circular economy. On one hand we need the heavy infrastructure and hardware to create transport, energy, water and general resource networks. On the other hand our societies need software and reliable data from the EEA, in addition to greater connectivity between people, ideas, initiatives and best practices.

We are convinced that the REC can be a hub for promoting awareness, building capacity, and bridging innovation throughout the region in partnership with other international organisations, especially in the frame of the 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development, and including implementation of the Paris Agreement.

With regard to the Berlin Process, we are helping to provide a perspective of the SEE region within a European context, and we also acknowledge the importance of bringing this ministerial dialogue to the discussion table at the Paris Western Balkans Summit in 2016.

The REC stands ready to start this journey, and will organise each year, with other coordinators of the Environment Dimension of SEE2020, a high-level panel of environment ministers from the SEE region in coordination with the RCC and other relevant partners.

Thank you for your attention.

* Goran Svilanovic,Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council; Jan Dusik, Acting Director, UNEP Regional Office for Europe