Governments gear up for pan-European meeting

Eastern European countries the focus as officials prepare for 1998 conference

About 100 senior officials from some 50 countries and 50 institutions met in Århus, Denmark, this week in their second preparatory meeting for the Fourth Pan-European Conference of Environment Ministers.

Some 30 individual meetings figured in the week's proceedings, which will culminate in the "Environment for Europe" conference, to be held at Århus in June 1998 under the auspices of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE). About 1,000 participants are expected to attend, representing all UN/ECE member countries.

A top Danish EPA official, who participated this week, told ENDS Daily that the conference would focus on central and eastern European countries, including former republics of the Soviet Union. "It's very important we get them into the stream," Karsten Skov said. "There's no other way to do it but getting them into a bigger forum and discussing the programmes with a number of participants to keep the momentum running."

Also on the agenda for the conference are a European biodiversity and landscape strategy, a phase-out of leaded petrol in Europe and a protocol on energy efficiency. According to Mr Skov, two of the most important discussions will cover environmental financial aid and a convention on public access to environmental information.

NGOs will have their own session at the conference, a "totally new" arrangement in international ministerial gatherings, said Mr Skov. "They'll be running the show. The ministers will be their guests and not vice versa."

Leo Bjørnskov of the Danish environment ministry, and also chairman of an international working group of senior officials preparing for the conference, told ENDS Daily that he expects two air pollution protocols to be signed at the conference. These will cover persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and the reduction of heavy metals, both being negotiated under the 1979 UN convention on long-range transboundary air pollution.

Mr Bjørnskov said the broader political perspective of the conference would be just as important as its immediate environmental implications, as he experienced this week in Århus. "Day by day we have met our colleagues from Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and the Kyrgyz Republic, and they have become our close...friends. It has been fascinating."

Follow Up:
4th Pan-European Conference of Environment Ministers, tel: +45 32 66 01 00; UN/ECE, tel: +41 22 917 1234.

Clarification - Århus preparatory meetingIn the above article, published on Friday 24 October, we said that last week’s preparatory meeting for the1998 Environment for Europe conference comprised 30 individual meetings. This was an editing error - the passage should have indicated that a further 30 preparatory meetings were scheduled before the main conference.

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