ENVSEC responds to environment and security challenges

May 6, 2010

The REC, as Regional Desk Office, focuses on SEE regional activities

By Nathan Johnson

The Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) has been an active participant in the Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC) since 2006. Thus far, REC contributions to ENVSEC include overall strategy development, project management, and communications and networking activities. After chairing the ENVSEC Initiative in 2008, the REC now assumes Regional Desk Office (RDO) responsibilities for the South-Eastern European region, as of January 2010.

As RDO, the REC will attempt to transform the ENVSEC vision into tangible results throughout the SEE region via operational activities. By growing national ENVSEC capacities in programme countries, the REC acts as a source of support for programme and programme-definition processes at both national and regional levels.

Mission goals and partner organisations

The ENVSEC mission derives from a belief that the best way to address environmental and security concerns is through international dialogue and neighbourly cooperation. ENVSEC was launched in 2003 by three international organisations active in 'transition countries' in Eastern Europe, South-East Europe, the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia in response to a growing awareness of close links between environmental degradation, natural resource scarcity/depletion and conflict.

The founding organisations were the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Some years after the establishment of ENVSEC, the REC and the United National Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) joined the Initiative, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) became an associate member.

A COMPLEX WEB: Wetlands, such as this forested glade along the Sava River in Bosnia & Herzegovina, are home to much biodiversity. Photo: R. Kranjc

Experience has shown that environment and security factors interact in both positive and negative ways: that is, environment and resource-related issues are sometimes the result or source of conflict, but that they can also provide unique openings for cooperation. Responding to such a complex web of threats and opportunities requires an integrated approach, including environmental, economic, social and political expertise. Just a few years ago, there was a lack of such integrated experience and expertise at either the national or regional level.

Acting upon this need, ENVSEC was created as a partnership of international institutions with specialised but complementary mandates and skill sets in order to jointly provide an integrated response to environment and security challenges which could contribute to the building of additional capacities within programme countries.

ENVSEC pursues its mission "to contribute to reduction of environment and security risks and strengthened cooperation among and within countries" by promoting national and regional-level activities within an interrelated four-pillar structure: 1) in-depth vulnerability assessment, 'early warning' and monitoring of environment and security risks; 2) improving awareness of the interrelation between environment and security, and strengthening environmental policies; 3) improving capacities and the expanding the roles of environmental institutions, and; 4) providing technical expertise and mobilising financial support for clean-up and remediation activities.

How and where does ENVSEC work?

ENVSEC's approach and methodology advocate multi-stakeholder participation at different work stages, and are based on the principles of local ownership, integration of cooperative services, and harmonisation of donor policies and activities. With support in the field from OSCE, UNDP and the REC, ENVSEC operates in 20 countries, from the Balkans to, Central Asia, in close cooperation with national experts from various ministries and national agencies, as well as with NGOs and research institutes.

Work is carried out in a two-stage process in which partner organisations first conduct assessments of environment and security risks, and then develop work programmes to address the identified concerns. ENVSEC has emerged as a pioneering experiment in the tradition of the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda.

SCARS RUN DEEP: Run-off from a mine in Bor, Serbia, contributes to heavy pollution of the Timok River. Photo: Jovanka Igjnatovic
Many of the 20 countries in which ENVSEC operates are experiencing economic transition difficulties and/or political stress, and are therefore particularly vulnerable to environmental damage competition for and plunder of natural resources. In 2008 alone, the ENVSEC Initiative launched or implemented over 50 projects in the four beneficiary regions with a total budget of USD 33.4 million. All of these activities are financed by contributions from donors and partner organisations. To date, the Initiative has received generous financial contributions from Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States.

ENVSEC's work in South-Eastern Europe

In South-Eastern Europe, the ENVSEC Initiative focuses on two main environment and security aspects: the first is to improve regional cooperation with regard to risk management and pollution 'hot spots'; the second is to achieve shared management of natural resources extending across borders.

An ENVSEC SEE regional consultation in 2004, which took place in Skopje, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, endorsed the following regional priorities:

  • managing and reducing transboundary risks from hazardous activities;
  • managing transboundary natural resources;
  • commitment to cross-cutting issues such as awareness, information, education, etc.)
  • and, adapting to impacts of climate change to reduce security risks.
Addressing transboundary risks and hazardous activities
HOW MUCH LONGER? Mining activity exacts a heavy environmental toll in Bor and vicinity. Photo: Jovanka Ignjatovic

Badly operated or abandoned mining sites have already caused severe pollution in the Balkans. Heavy metal spills and various other releases (including cyanide) into watercourses are principle vectors of transboundary accidental pollution. Such incidents create heightened political tensions at a time when peace and cooperation are top priorities. Furthermore, chronic and acute pollution associated with accidents have had serious impacts on human health in the past, and pose considerable risks in the future. These and other problems create - besides direct environmental harm - a negative climate for economic investments, which are desperately needed in the region.

Mining hot spots with potential transboundary risks were highlighted in an ENVSEC assessment launched at a ministerial meeting in May 2005, held in Cluj, Romania. Based on the 'Mining for Closure' concept, ENVSEC is implementing several demonstration projects for rehabilitating mining legacies and building local capacities.

Management of transboundary natural resources
AIMING HIGH: Pristine wilderness areas, such as Albania's Bjeshqet and Nemuna range, will hopefully benefit in the long term from transboundary support. Photo: Peter Fend'a
Some of Europe's most beautiful and untouched wilderness areas are the mountain ranges stretched along the borders of many SEE countries. However, economically unsustainable agricultural activities, forest mismanagement (e.g. illegal logging), illegal hunting and husbandry, biodiversity loss (unauthorised harvesting of medicinal plants) and unregulated construction are all factors that pose real and potential security threats to these areas. On the other hand, good technical cooperation in the field of natural resource management can contribute to stability and sustainable development practices in the region.


ENVSEC activities include support for transboundary cooperation in mountain areas, such as the scenic Prokletije/Bjeshket and Nemuna, and the Shara/Sharr Mountains. Longer-term objectives in SEE include creating a protocol for conservation and sustainable development for Balkan mountain regions, as well as the Adriatic Sea Partnership to act as a common platform for regional cooperation.

Cross-cutting issues (awareness, information, education, etc.)

The activities within this cluster focus generally on the third pillar of the Aarhus Convention (Access to Justice and Public Environmental Information Centres), and on enhancing implementation of multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), as well as on ensuring public participation in decision making and fostering transboundary environmental governance in SEE.

Adapting to impacts from climate change

With this newly identified priority, ENVSEC SEE intends to reduce environmental and security risks related to climate change through an enhanced knowledge base of climate change impacts and their interrelation with security, a regionally consolidated approach to adaptation, and applied guidance on adaptation in river basins and shared water resources of the region against extreme climate change impacts.

Completed project example: Adriatic Sea Partnership

Slovenia, with REC support, developed the Adriatic Sea Parnership (ASP) based on the success of the Sava River Basin Initiative in which four countries joined together to establish new institutional arrangements, including a river basin commission to ensure joint management and protection of the basin via guided sustainable development practices.

Through comprehensive umbrella partnership and platform for joint actions based on commitments by littoral states and stakeholders, the relevant countries and partners have begun to facilitate project preparation and implementation aimed at protecting and supporting sustainable development practices in the Adriatic region.

Ongoing projects

Bilateral arrangement for transboundary management of water resources: Timok River

The Timok River, which flows between Serbia and Bulgaria, has been seriously degraded and deforested through uncontrolled mining activities which now pose a serious threat to the livelihoods of people living on either side of the border.

This project aims to support the development of a legal framework and/or other arrangements for joint management of the Timok, primarily by facilitating dialogue and cooperation between the two countries.

Promotion and development of 'Governance Principles for FDI in Hazardous Activities'

The REC is leading a dialogue about improved governance over foreign direct investment (FDI) in hazardous activities, taking into account the complex root causes of mining and other disasters, and acknowledging a lack of appropriate controls. The is to ensure trial application of 'transboundary governance principles' in order to reduce the risk of international tensions and to promote more socially and environmentally responsible norms of corporate behaviour through a coordinated and strategic approach to new investments and operation of high-risk sites.

The project seeks to promote the use of the FDI governing principles in deliberations pertaining to one or more large-scale investment projects in the region involving activities potentially hazardous transboundary effects. At the same time, governance principles will be further elaborated through dialogue with investors, stakeholders, authorities and others to ensure balance, applicability and effectiveness.

Illegal logging in South-Eastern Europe

Forestry is an importance economic sector in South-Eastern Europe. Economic instability, conflict and the breakdown of institutional structures have led to a sharp increase in illegal logging activity, particularly in countries of the former Yugoslavia. Illegal logging can involve organised crime, breakdowns in institutional control and ineffective institutions, thus sparking tensions across borders and within the global community. The effects of illegal logging are wide-ranging, from loss of habitat and biodiversity to erosion and land degradation, from desertification and climate change to social disruption, economic disruption and weakened governance structures.

This project aims at assessing the state of play of the forest industries in the target countries, together with screening of the legal, institutional and policy environment, with a view toward formulating conclusions and eventual actions to address current situations. The project encompasses Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Kosovo (as defined under UNSCR 1244).

Regional meeting in Hungary

An ENVSEC regional meeting takes place on May 20-21 in Szentendre, Hungary, headquarters of the Regional Environmental Center. The primary objective of the two-day meeting is to discuss priorities and opportunities for further ENVSEC work in the SEE region, specifically in contributing to reduction of environment and security risks and strengthening cooperation between and within countries.

Since being launched in 2003, ENVSEC has enjoyed remarkable growth, both institutionally and operationally. At the Szentendre meeting, participants will be brought up to date with new developments and be briefed on progress being made with regard to the ENVSEC Work Programme, with special emphasis on the SEE region.