‘There is no Plan B — but we have a Plan A’

REC Executive Director Marta Szigeti Bonifert addressed delegates on the opening day of the Eighth Ministerial Conference “Environment for Europe”, now taking place in Batumi, Georgia. Bonifert is a member of a high-level panel focusing on the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in a pan-European regional context. Below is the full text of her address.

June 8, 2016

Thank you very much Mr Chairman, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentleman.

We all know that we cannot go on as we are doing. There is no Plan B, which is the bad news. The good news is that we have a Plan A, which are the SDGs. The SDGs provide us with a vision for a different type of world that is very inclusive, prosperous, fair, peaceful and sustainable — but it is a world that cannot be reached in isolation. We have to start working together a little bit more, and we have to promote ownership at all levels and in all sectors. And what I see here is really pointing out that kind of cooperation and partnership for the future — participation and adherence to the principles of subsidiarity. Can it be achieved? Not without coming out from the silos, informing the general public and all stakeholders, and building capacity and knowledge. These are extremely important elements in order to achieve successful implementation [of the SDGs].

Science–policy cooperation needs to be institutionalised and upheld throughout the 15 years of implementation. Policies and programmes must be evidence based and transparent, with proper monitoring to ensure accountability. Actors, including governments, must be ambitious and push beyond the limits with sustained efforts.

Environment for Europe is an excellent process that has really shaped the past years, and I think that the UNECE should take up responsibility for implementation: leading by example, offering experience in fields covered by the respective MEAs, working in partnership and learning from each other through exchanges. And the recent transition in Central and Eastern Europe could be a very good model for sharing things.

So, talking about education — education for sustainable development — in many of the countries where we operate we have been working on the Green Pack tools (available in 20 languages in 19 countries and reaching 5 million children and 50,000 teachers since 2001). They are all helping with transformation and transition at the educational level. The most recent REC project, “SEEDLING”, aims to promote the UN SDGs in secondary schools through ESD reforms in all Western Balkan countries, to develop an ESD multimedia tool, and to provide teacher training and a small grants programme. The programme “ESD in the Western Balkans: Education for Sustainable Futures” has led to curriculum reforms in national school systems through the comprehensive implementation of the UNECE Strategy on ESD in Kosovo*, Serbia and Montenegro.

The new programme that we are working together on, in partnership with Western Balkan countries, enables this, and I think together, with other regional environmental centres, and with the donor community, we can achieve a fairer Europe and pan-European initiatives.

Let me express our gratitude for the hospitality of the Georgian Government, and to the organisers. To conclude: We should be very ambitious for the future, and in partnership!

* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.