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Report on the results of drafting the ministerial declaration of the 5th Environment and Health conference, to be held in Parma, Italy 10-12 March 2010

More than 100 representatives of member states, IGOs, NGOs and other organisations came to the final round of negotiations of the draft ministerial declaration in Bonn, on January 13 and 14. 2010

15.01.2010 |Sascha Gabizon

More than 100 representatives of member states, IGOs, NGOs and other organisations came to the final round of negotiations of the draft ministerial declaration in Bonn, on January 13 and 14. 2010.
Shorter, 2-document version of Ministerial Declaration
The chair of the drafting group, Ms. Leen Meulenbergs, presented all member states and other participants with a surprise, a “Christmas presents” as she called it: she proposed to completely skip the first 3 pages of the document with the introduction and challenges, – on which negotiations have been going for almost 2 years  - and instead cut the document in two parts:
  1. a two-page summary with the key points referring to two other documents
  2. the “commitment to act”, the new action plan which lays out specific planned actions by the members states on the CEHAPE, Climate Change and Health, Knowledge Systems, specific situation of the EECCA and NIS countries and youth participation.
Both documents will be signed by the ministers. The third document will explain the future of the process and the new institutional framework. The designated WHO Regional Director for Europe, Mrs Zsuzsana Jacab, gave an introduction in which she strongly expressed her support for a shorter version of the ministerial declaration, a “political” document, with realistic targets.
Short policy declaration
The two-page summary declaration has been entirely agreed upon, with the exception of the paragraph on the future of the process and 2 word in brackets : nano-technology / nano-particles. See the entire text enclosed.
The key parts include that members states commit, paragraph 2, to “intensify our efforts to implement the commitments made through previous ministerial conferences, especially those set out in the Children’s Environmental and Health Action Plan for Europe (CEHAPE). Member states in para.3  “are committed to act upon the key environmental and health challenges of our time. These include:
  • the health and environmental impacts of climate change and related policies
  • the health risks to children posed by poor environmental, living and working conditions, including lack of safe water and sanitation
  • socioeconomic and gender inequalities in the human environment and health, amplified by the financial crisis
  • the burden of noncommunicalbe diseases, in particular to the extend that they are preventable through adequate policies in areas such as urban development, transport, food and nutrition, living and working environments
  • concerns raised by emerging issues such as persistent, endocrine disrupting and bio-accumulative harmful chemicals and nano-(particles/technologies)
  • insufficient resources in parts of the WHO European region

Furthermore member states commit to work across sectors in partnerships and networks (para.4). They commit to intensify efforts to improve and develop better health and environment legislation, in particular in the EECCA and SEE region (para. 5). They commit to ensure youth participation (para. 6). They commit to advocta for environment-friendly and health-promoting technologies, services and green jobs (para. 7). They commit to work on financial mechanisms (para 8), and to strengthen collaboration with the European Commission (para 9). And the endorse and will implement the “Commitment to Act” and the goals and targets included. And finally, to meet again for the 6th Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in (2015). The paragraph 11 on the future of the process still need to be presented and agreed. This might happen during a final negotiation meeting on 9th of March in Parma.
“Commitment to Act” document
The commitment to document counts 6 pages, and has 4 chapters
A)   Protecting Children’s Health
B)   Protecting Health and Environment from Climate Change
C)   Involvement of children, young people and other stakeholders
D)   Knowledge and tools for policy-making and implementation
The only sentence which remains in brackets is the target on banning asbestos by 2015, which Russia – a main producer and exporter of asbestos, opposes, supported by Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine. Russia  - who did not speak on any of the other subjects, and apparently had come only to oppose the asbestos sentence - proposed a complete new paragraph, which was not acceptable to the chair, as the existing text had been negotiated over more than a year and was already without brackets. Kazakhstan stated that asbestos in their country was no problem at all. Ukraine proposed a new text, no longer referring to banning asbestos from building materials and products, but only to work towards eliminating asbestos related diseases.
More than 40 industrialized countries have banned asbestos,- often far too late, after hundred of thousands of deaths had already occurred. Annually, more than 100.000 people die from asbestos, and this figure is supposed to increase as developing countries and countries in the EECCA continue to use asbestos. The WHO member states have approved the plan of action to ban all forms of asbestos, because of the proven carcinogenic effects of both types of asbestos (blue and white - including chrysotile asbestos). International agreed science states that there is no safe use possible of asbestos, and that the only way to protect public health and workers health is to cease all uses of asbestos.
Work by WECF – with support of the European Commission – has shown that countries in the EECCA region seem to have no registers for asbestos related diseases and mortality, and that most countries have no laboratories which can measure exposure of workers and the population to asbestos. The asbestos industry lobby is very powerful. The population in the EECCA region is not informed about the grave health effects of asbestos.
Chapter A contains 5 paragraphs with time-bound targets, where member states commit to strive to improve water and sanitation, indoor air quality, physical activity and green spaces and safe chemicals, - banning asbestos by 2015 – for children settings before either 2015 or 2020.  This makes the “commitments to act”  document a true action plan, by which governments can measure progress. These time-bound targets were aimed at in 2004, when the CEHAPE was adopted at the 4th Ministerial Conference, but was then not achieved.
Future of the Process – bringing the process to a higher level
The document on the future of the process has been discussed but not finalized, and the draft text will probably be negotiated on the 9th of March, before the start of the ministerial conference. The draft document foresees in bringing the process to a high level, with a strategic council of at least 4 ministers, together with the regional directors of WHO , UNECE and UNEP setting strategic direction and being “champions” for the cause of environmental health. They would meet once a year, back to back with a.o. the WHO regional governance conference. The current EEHC would cease to exist. Instead a task force of coordination committee, the “tactical” body, would be open to all member states, and would be supported by a bureau of leading ms senior officials and a number of other organisations e.g. IGOs and/or NGOs.

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