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Regional environmental problems and co-operative approaches to solving them - The case of the Baltic Region, Warnemünde, 26-27 April 1999, Chairman's Summary

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On 26-27 April 1999, the OSCE held in Warnemünde, with the support of the Government of Germany, the final sub-regional Seminar in the series of four designed to prepare participating States for this year's Economic Forum. Representatives of 16 OSCE participating States, as well as many international organizations and NGOs from throughout the Baltic Region, took part in the Seminar. The meeting was addressed by Mr. Ralph Horleman, the Federal Foreign Ministry of the Government of Germany and then by H.E. Dr. Wolfgang Methling, Minister for the Environment of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, who gave an interesting and insightful statement on regional cooperation in the economic and environmental sphere and on the importance of the OSCE's role in that field. The Plenary was also addressed by Mr. Carl P. Salicath, Representative of the Chairman-in-Office, and Mr. Tom Price, Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental activities. They both stressed the importance of implementation of existing agreements and existing cooperation within the region. This theme was also emphasized recently in Riga at the seminar on "Regional Energy Cooperation in the Baltic Sea Area and the Role of Trans-European Energy Networks, "jointly organized by the European Commission, the OSCE, and the Governments of Finland and Latvia. The Baltic Region offers many excellent examples of co-operative approaches to solving regional problems, with many success stories; however, there remain several serious challenges and problems which still need to be addressed. One such problem is full implementation of the many environmental agreements and conventions which have the potential of reducing the risk of conflict. In that context the issue of non-compliance with a variety of important provisions of such agreements was discussed, and participants emphasized that full implementation of existing agreements, such as the UNECE's Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (The Århus Convention), might be even more important than creating new agreements. The Århus Convention was regarded as an important step towards ensuring public participation in the environmental matters. The environmental aspects of security were emphasized, especially in terms of the role of the OSCE in conflict prevention. In that context, the importance of "the prevention principle" -as applied both to political and to environmental problems -- was discussed. Participants all agreed that, in both areas, an "ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," and that it is cheaper both financially and in terms of avoiding environmental degradation on the one hand. and human suffering and loss of life on the other, to prevent problems rather than to try to clean up after the damage is done. An overall environmental program includes community based strategies and NGO's at all levels. In this context, it was also noted that cooperation among NGO's across boundaries can help to strengthen overall security. The importance of participation of NGO's, not only in OSCE events like this, but also in discussions within governments and between governments, was emphasized. Furthermore the important role of NGO's in promoting public awareness on environmental issues, as foreseen in the Charter of Paris and other fundamental OSCE documents, was stressed. NGO's also noted the importance of recognition and "a place at the table" in enabling them to play their proper role. With regard to the various actors and structures dealing with environmental concerns, it was noted that in certain areas of cooperation (such as energy and infrastructure) a greater degree of co-ordination/centralization of efforts is desirable, as long as all stake-holders, including NGO's, businesses, and other representatives of civil society are included. However, in other cases, such as public education efforts, a multiplicity of small-scale efforts - even if they sometimes duplicate each other or seem to compete with one another - might be beneficial. With regard to countries in transition, the absence of legal frameworks of variety of subjects was noted, ranging from certain types of GMO's to public access to information and public support for NGO activity. As some of these countries move quickly toward EU membership and/or other forms of greater integration with the international community, it is important that they be given the wherewithal to make their commitments in these areas a reality, lest respect for law be sacrificed; it is equally important that the countries moving less quickly in this direction not be left without the necessary legal structures. There was broad agreement that the OSCE should consider Follow-up activities aiming transferring positive experiences from the Baltic Region to other OSCE sub-regions.


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