In 1970, American cities were choking. Smog in the U.S. had become so severe that Congress established the basic structure of the Clean Air Act to tackle air pollution. Some decried this move at the time, in the belief that environmental protection would cost jobs and economic growth. History, however, has proven otherwise. While the Clean Air Act has reduced key air pollutants by more than 70%, saving hundreds of thousands of lives, the U.S. economy has more than tripled in size, demonstrating the role strong environmental governance plays not only in realizing a healthy environment, but in realizing a healthy economy too.
Today, faced with the realities of climate change, environmental issues are more pressing than ever, and tackling them in our interconnected world requires joint effort. Therefore, we welcomed the OSCE German Chairmanship’s decision to focus the first preparatory meeting of the 2016 Economic and Environmental Forum (EEF) on good environmental governance in its effort to foster international cooperation in this field.
The meeting, held January 25th and 26th in Vienna, brought together policymakers, technical experts, and private sector participants from across the OSCE region to explore how the organization can enhance international cooperation on good environmental governance as a means to strengthen our common security.
Speaking at the event, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Deputy General Counsel Ethan Shenkman outlined some of his agency’s collaborative efforts in the international sphere. Working with the United Nations Environmental Program and others, for example, the EPA engages in information exchange and capacity building to support efforts to cut air pollution, which is still responsible for some seven million premature deaths worldwide each year. The EPA is also active in the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint, a public-private initiative working to prevent the exposure of children and workers to lead in paint, and through which the industry itself has put forward solutions that are “ripe for the taking,” according to Shenkman.
Shenkman was not alone in underscoring the importance of private sector engagement in good environmental governance. This was also reflected in the German Chairmanship’s decision to include at least one business-world expert on each of the event’s panels, and echoed by Raffi Balian, Director of the U.S. Regional Environmental, Science & Technology, and Health (ESTH) Hub for Central and Eastern Europe. Balian, who also represented the U.S. at the event, called on the OSCE to help bring more focus on good governance at the citizen level by providing education on sustainability, rights, and responsibilities, and by providing concrete opportunities for civic participation at the local level.
“We are on the cusp of a global economic transformation, and the countries that embrace the possibilities of this new reality will help prepare their citizens to compete in the new marketplace,” said Balian, adding that the OSCE can help its participating States with this transformation, so they can compete effectively.
The EEF cycle will continue throughout the year, including meetings in Berlin in May on the importance of good governance for business interaction, better investment conditions, the fight against corruption, and economic aspects of migration, and a concluding meeting in Prague in September, with the goal of reaching collective political commitments on good governance at this year’s OSCE Ministerial Council in Hamburg in December.