Environment and Security Initiative - ENVSEC - at a glance
The OSCE’s year-long Chairmanship of the Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC) is coming to its end in December 2016. On this occasion, we spoke to Esra Buttanri, the Head of Environmental Co-operation Unit and Senior Environmental Affairs Adviser at the Office of the Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities, based in Vienna.
What is ENVSEC?
Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC) is a partnership of the OSCE, UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Environment Programme (UNEP), UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC). By bringing in their specialized mandates, expertise, know-how, and networks, these five organizations jointly aim for reducing environment and security risks and strengthening co-operation on environmental issues among and within countries.
What is the idea behind the initiative?
The ENVSEC Initiative builds on the two-way relationship between environment and security: environmental degradation as a source of conflict, and environmental co-operation as a tool for conflict prevention and confidence building. It was launched in 2003 by the OSCE, UNDP and UNEP. Later on, these three founding ENVSEC partners were joined by UNECE and REC.
In which regions does ENVSEC work?
The ENVSEC Initiative targets primarily the South-Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and the Central Asia regions.
Which areas does the initiative focus on?
ENVSEC currently works in five main thematic areas, namely natural resources, climate change, disasters, hazardous substances, and information and participation.
Under the natural resources theme, the ENVSEC Initiative facilitates co-operation among the neighbouring countries on environmentally sound management of shared natural resources, such as rivers, forests, and land.
Under the climate change theme, the ENVSEC Initiative identifies how climate change affects security and which geographical areas will be affected the most. It also raises awareness on security implications of climate change, and develops climate change adaptation measures, particularly in a transboundary context.
Under the disasters theme, the ENVSEC Initiative strengthens capacities of communities, local administrations and national authorities on disaster risk reduction, and promotes co-operation among neighbouring countries on disaster prevention and preparedness.
Under the hazardous substances theme, the ENVSEC Initiative assesses the risks associated with hazardous practices, such as mining, and hazardous substances, such as pesticides and toxic chemicals, and it develops measures to prevent and overcome such risks.
Under the information and participation theme, the ENVSEC Initiative increases public awareness on linkages between environment and security and enables citizens and civil society organizations to be informed of and involved in the relevant environmental decision-making processes.
How does ENVSEC work? How does the initiative reach its goals?
Over the years, the ENVSEC Initiative has developed and applied an effective methodology for dealing with environment and security challenges. Its four main steps include the assessment of the situation on the ground and mapping of the environment and security risks; ensuring stakeholder ownership and political endorsement; developing work programmes to address the identified risks; and implementing projects that encourage transboundary co-operation.
The Initiative delivers vulnerability assessments of environment and security risks. It strengthens the capacities of national institutions for more effective environment and security policies. It provides technical expertise for clean up and remediation. It also increases knowledge and awareness of the linkages between environment and security risks and promotes participation of interested actors in activities that aim at preventing and reducing these risks.
How does the ENVSEC Initiative function?
The ENVSEC Management Board is the key decision-making body. It is composed of high-level representatives from the five partner organizations with an annually rotating Chairmanship. This year, the Initiative is being chaired by us, the OSCE.
Day to day activities of the Initiative are co-ordinated by the ENVSEC Secretariat, consisting of a Co-ordination Unit and four Regional Desk Officers, appointed by the partner agencies to manage the regional work programmes. The Regional Desk Office function for Central Asia is performed by UNDP, for Eastern Europe by UNEP, for South Eastern Europe by REC, and for the South Caucasus by the OSCE. In the OSCE, I have been performing this function since 2010.
What would you highlight as the main strength of the Initiative?
The primary strength of the ENVSEC Initiative is its strong interaction with the national authorities in its beneficiary countries. The ENVSEC National Focal Points representing the Ministries of Environment and Ministries of Foreign Affairs, in each of the target countries are the backbones of the Initiative.
National and regional consultations that are organized in each region enable ENVSEC to respond effectively to the needs and priorities of the beneficiary countries. These regional meetings bring together representatives of line ministries, civil society and academia to discuss existing and emerging environment and security issues and planning and implementation of the ENVSEC work programme.
The field operations and country offices of the ENVSEC partner organizations are also among the most important players in the implementation and monitoring of the ENVSEC regional work programmes, and in securing the interest and ownership of national stakeholders .
Let me also highlight the important role of our donors. We are grateful to Austria, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and the European Union who have been ENVSEC’s major donors, along with Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and the United States of America.
Which projects/progress are you extremely proud of?
There are numerous best practices led by each of the ENVSEC partner organizations. Let me name some of the OSCE-led projects in this context:
I will start with Aarhus Centres, which serve as ENVSEC’s public outreach facilities. Scattered at first as individual projects, now, there is a sizeable network of 60 Aarhus Centres in 14 OSCE participating States. These Centres address environment and security challenges primarily at community level and also in a transboundary context in some of the target regions. Another best practice example is the co-operation on the Dniester River Basin shared by Moldova and Ukraine. Since 2004, the OSCE in co-operation with UNECE and UNEP has been supporting transboundary co-operation in the Dniester river basin through a series of projects. Another example is from the South Caucasus region where the OSCE, together with the Global Fire Monitoring Center has been supporting Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia for the reduction of wildfire risks since 2009. ENVSEC has also made significant steps in prevention of illegal trafficking of hazardous waste. Over the past eight years the OSCE has worked closely with customs and border guard authorities in Eastern Europe to help them detect and prevent illegal shipments of hazardous waste across borders.
Which are the biggest environment and security challenges that we have to face nowadays?
The answer is climate change. It is a threat multiplier, also exacerbating existing risks to security. The OSCE, together with ENVSEC partners, embarked on a partnership in 2013 with the European Union Instrument for Stability. This multi-year programme aims to identify “climate change-induced security risks” in Eastern Europe, South Caucasus and Central Asia regions and map geographical areas as well as sectors where these risks are most likely to happen.
Which projects are going to be implemented next?
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development affirms explicitly "there can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development”. The ENVSEC Initiative, with its primary focus on the interlinkages between peace and environment, has a lot to offer to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in Eastern Europe, South Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia. The ENVSEC Work Programmes in these regions can contribute particularly to the SDGs on water, energy, sustainable cities, sustainable consumption and production patterns, climate change, seas and marine resources, forests, peaceful societies, and partnerships.
Esra Buttanri is the Head of Environmental Co-operation Unit and the Senior Environmental Affairs Adviser at the Office of the Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities in Vienna. She has been working in the environment and sustainable development fields for the last 25 years.