Back in 2017, Kaja Peterson from SEI Tallinn went to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where she was a member of a group of international experts carrying out the UN environmental performance review for the country. In this Q&A she explains why these reviews are carried out and shares her experience of being part of the process.

Q. You have just been to Bosnia and Herzegovina as a member of the UN environmental performance review team for the country. What is the environmental performance review about?

KP. Environmental performance reviews or EPRs are performed periodically by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) for partner countries that are not OECD members. The impulse comes from the countries themselves, who approach the UN and forge a bilateral agreement.

The reviews are carried out by an external expert team, who look at a selection of sectors (agreed between the country’s government and the UN). In the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina transposition of EU environmental legislation was a priority.

This makes each EPR report unique to some extent; though the reviews, and the reports, have a standard structure, such as a chapter on policy, on enforcement, on the state of different areas of the environment. Recently climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have also been added.

The main questions asked in the review are: What has changed since the previous review (which in this case was in 2010)? What steps has the country taken to address the recommendations in the previous report?

Q. Why it this review process important?

KP. Like any external audit process, it gives the country in question an outsider’s perspective on what they are doing in the environmental sphere.

Q. What was your role in the review team?

KP. Each member of the team is assigned responsibility for a part of the review report. I was invited take on the chapter on environmental permitting, environmental assessment and environmental enforcement.

Q. How did the review process look in practice?

The field mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina lasted 10 days and included interviews with many officials in different parts of the country. We drove around a lot to meet people in the ministries, in subsidiary agencies and inspectorates.

The job was complicated by the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of three entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska and the small Brcko District. All three have their own political leaderships and different administrative and legal systems.

We had to consider the differences between the regions, in particular their legislation and the different institutions to enforce it.

Q. You are very active in work on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Estonia. How were the SDGs reflected in the review process?

KP. As an example, in my chapter, the UNECE asked me to pay particular attention to SDG 12, on sustainable consumption and production. This meant assessing which institutions in the country are responsible for eco-labelling or EU Environmental Management Audit Scheme (EMAS) labelling. All in all, this meant looking at the mechanisms for implementing the SDGs from an institutional point of view.

Q. What are the next steps?

KP. The UNECE will check the expert group’s findings, and coherence and consistency between the chapters. The draft will then be sent back to us for review, and then to the country to amend or correct mistakes. All in all, it’s a long process. Once the final document is ready, there will be a press conference in Bosnia and Herzegovina to present the conclusions of the review. The report will also be added to the UNECE website.

Q. What can you learn from participating in the review?

KP. It’s always very interesting to see how the environmental issues evolve in a country. It’s natural to compare the situation to your own country or to the EU, where environmental issues are often very similar between countries, unlike social and tax issues, for example.

In the review process, officials also reported to us regarding the transposition of EU environmental legislation into their system, as part of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s path to EU accession. Overall, I think this is the major driver of making the environmental issues a priority issue in the country. But then again, there is still a long way to go, especially given the complexity of the administration of the country.

Written by
Helen Saarniit