The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) is one of five regional commissions of the UN. Its major aim is to promote pan-European economic integration. To do so, it brings together 56 countries in Europe, North America, and Asia, which discuss and co-operate on economic and sectoral issues.
UNECE works to promote sustainable development and economic growth through policy dialogue, negotiation of international legal instruments, development of regulations and norms, exchange and application of best practices, economic and technical expertise, and technical co-operation for countries with economies in transition. It also sets out norms, standards, and conventions to facilitate international co-operation.
UNECE’s work touches on several digital policy issues, ranging from digital standards (in particular in relation to electronic data interchange for administration, commerce, and transport) to the Internet of Things (e.g. intelligent transport systems and automated driving). Its UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) develops trade facilitation recommendations and electronic business standards, covering both commercial and government business processes. UNECE also carries out activities focused on promoting sustainable development, in areas such as sustainable and smart cities for all ages; sustainable mobility and smart connectivity; and measuring and monitoring progress towards the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
UNECE’s work in the field of statistics is also relevant for digital policy issues. For example, the 2019 Guidance on Modernizing Statistical Legislation – which guides countries through the process of reviewing and revising statistical legislation – covers issues such as open data, national and international data exchanges, and government data management.
DIGITAL POLICY ISSUES
E-commerce and trade
UNECE’s subsidiary, CEFACT, serves as a focal point (within the UN Economic and Social Council) for trade facilitation recommendations and electronic business standards, covering both commercial and government business processes. In collaboration with the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standardisation (OASIS), UNECE developed the Electronic Business using eXtensible Markup Language (ebXML). Another output of UNECE is represented by the UN rules for Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport (UN/EDIFACT), which include internationally agreed upon standards, directories, and guidelines for the electronic interchange of structured data between computerised information systems. UNECE has also issued recommendations on issues such as electronic commerce agreements and e-commerce self-regulatory instruments. CEFACT also works on supporting international, regional, and national e-government efforts to improve trade facilitation and e-commerce systems.
- UN rules for Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport (UN/EDIFACT)
- Recommendation 25 – Use of the UN Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport Standard (UN/EDIFACT)
- Recommendation 26 – The Commercial Use of Interchange Agreements for Electronic Data Interchange
- Recommendation 31 – Electronic Commerce Agreement
- Recommendation 32 – E-Commerce Self-Regulatory Instruments (Codes of Conduct)
- Electronic Business using eXtensible Markup Language (ebXML)
- White Paper: Paperless Trade (2018)
- UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT)
UNECE’s subsidiary body CEFACT has developed, together with OASIS, the Electronic Business using eXtensible Markup Language (ebXML) standard (containing specifications which enable enterprises around the world to conduct business over the Internet). UNECE’s standardisation work has also resulted in the development of EDIFACT), as well as other digital standards in areas such as agriculture (e.g. electronic crop reports, electronic animal passports, and fishering languages for universal eXchange), e-tendering, and transfer of digital records.
- XML Schemas
- Various other standards covering areas such as supply chain management, transport and logistics, agriculture, accounting and audit, travel and tourism, and environment
Internet of things (IoT) and Artificial intelligence (AI)
As part of its work in the field on intelligent transport systems, UNECE carries out several activities in the field of automated driving. It hosts multilateral agreements and conventions ruling the requirements and the use of these technologies (such as the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic). Its activities (e.g. facilitating policy dialogue and developing regulations and norms) are aimed at contributing to enabling automated driving functionalities and to ensuring that the benefits of these technologies can be captured without compromising safety and progress achieved in areas such as border crossing and interoperability. It also collaborates with other interested stakeholders, including the automotive and information and communication technology (ICT) industries, consumer organisations, governments, and international organisations.
Another area of work for UNECE is related to harnessing smart technologies and innovation for sustainable and smart cities. In this regard, it promotes the use of ICTs in city planning and service provision and it has developed (together with the ITU) a set of key performance indicators for smart sustainable cities. UNECE also works to facilitate connectivity through sustainable infrastructure. For instance, it assists countries in developing smart grids for more efficient energy distribution, and it administers international e-roads, e-rail, and e-waterway networks.
- Vienna Convention on Road Traffic
- Proposal for a new UN Regulation on uniform provision concerning the approval of vehicles with regards to cyber security and cyber security management system (June 2020)
- Proposal for a new UN Regulation on uniform provisions concerning the approval of vehicles with regards to Automated Lane keeping Systems (April/June 2020)
- Proposal for a new UN Regulation on uniform provisions concerning the approval of vehicles with regard to software update processes and of software update management systems (December 2019)
- Revised Framework document on automated/autonomous vehicles (December 2019)
- Key Performance Indicators for Smart Sustainable Cities (2015)
- Resolution on the deployment of highly and fully automated vehicles in road traffic
- Paper on artificial intelligence and vehicle regulations (2018)
- World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29)
- Working Party on Automated/autonomous and Connected Vehicles
- Global Forum for Road Traffic Safety (WP.1)
- UNECE Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management
- International Telecommunication Union (ITU): UNECE and ITU are co-organising the annual Future Networked cards events. Together, they have developed the Key Performance Indicators for Smart Sustainable Cities.
- United for Smart Sustainable Cities - UNECE is one of the co-ordinators
UNECE’s subsidiary body CEFACT has been exploring the use of blockchain for trade facilitation. For instance, work carried out within the Blockchain White Paper Project has resulted in two white papers: One looking at the impact of blockchain on the technical standards work of CEFACT and another looking at how blockchain could facilitate trade and related business processes. The ongoing Chain Project is focused on developing a framework/mechanism for the development and implementation of blockchain services infrastructure, and creating a whitepaper on strategy for development and implementation of interoperable global blockchain technology infrastructure. Another blockchain-related project looks into the development of a standard on the creation of a cross-border inter customs ledger using blockchain technology.
- White Paper: Technical Applications of Blockchain to UN/CEFACT deliverables (2019)
- White Paper: Blockchain in Trade Facilitation (2019)
- Briefing note on Blockchain for the United Nations SDGs (2018)
- UN/CEFACT Chain Project
- UN/CEFACT Project: Cross Border Inter-ledger Exchange for Preferential COO Using Blockchain
Digital and environment
UNECE’s work in the area of environmental policy covers a broad range of issues, such as the green economy, shared and safe water, environmental monitoring and assessment, and education for sustainable development. Much of this work is carried out by the Committee on Environmental Policy, which, among other tasks, supports countries in their efforts to strengthen their environmental governance and assesses their efforts to reduce their pollution burden, manage natural resources, and integrate environmental and socioeconomic policies. UNECE has put in place an Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Programme to assist member states in working with environmental data and information and enable informed decision-making processes. As part of this programme, it promotes the use of electronic tools for accessing information and knowledge on environmental matters and is developing a Shared Environmental Information System across the UNECE region. The system is intended to enable countries to connect databases and make environmental data more accessible.
UNECE Environmental Conventions (not necessarily covering digital issues directly, but relevant)
- Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution
- Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context
- Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes
- Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents
- Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention)
- Recommendations on electronic information tools aimed to assist Parties, Signatories and other interested States in promoting development, maintaining, enhancing, and using electronic information tools to support the implementation of the Aarhus Convention (2005)
- The Recommendations are under review and a Task force on access to information is working on updating them
- The Pan-European Strategic Framework for Greening the Economy
- The Batumi Initiative on Green Economy (BIG-E)
- UNECE Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment
- Working Group on Environmental Monitoring and Assessment
- Task Force on Environmental Statistics and Indicators
- Task Force on Waste Statistics
- Task Force on access to information
UNECE assists countries in its region to address sustainable development challenges (in areas such as environment, connectivity, and urbanisation) through leveraging its norms, standards and conventions, building capacities, and providing policy assistance. It focuses on driving progress towards the following SDGs: 3 (good health and well-being), 6 (clean water and sanitation), 7 (affordable and clean energy), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), 11 (sustainable cities and communities), 12 (responsible consumption and production), 13 (climate action), and 15 (life on land). SDG 5 (gender equality) and 17 (partnerships) are overarching for all UNECE activities. Activities undertaken by UNECE in relation to these SDGs converge under 4 high-impact areas: sustainable use of natural resources; sustainable and smart cities for all ages; sustainable mobility and smart connectivity; and measuring and monitoring progress towards the SDGs.
UNECE has developed a series of tools and standards to support countries in measuring and monitoring progress towards the SDGs. It has also put in place an Innovation Policy Outlook which assesses the scope, quality, and performance of policies, institutions and instruments promoting innovation for sustainable development.
- Towards Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the UNECE Region (report, March 2020)
Legal and regulatory basket
UNECE carries out multiple activities of relevance for the area of data governance. To start with, its work on trade facilitation also covers data management issues. For example, it has issued a White Paper on a data pipeline concept for improving data quality in the supply chain and a set of Reference Data Model Guidelines. Several projects carried out in the framework of UNECE’s subsidiary CEFACT also cover data-related issues. Examples include the Cross-border Management Reference Data Model Project (aimed to provide a regulatory reference data model within the CEFACT semantic library in order to assist authorities to link this information to the standards of other organisations) and the Accounting and Audit Reference Data Model Project.
Secondly, UNECE has a Statistical Division which coordinates international statistical activities between UNECE countries and helps to strengthen, modernise, and harmonise statistical systems, under the guidance of the Conference of European Statisticians. Its activities in this area are guided by the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, adopted in 1992 and later endorsed by the UN Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly. Areas of work include: economic statistics, statistics on population, gender and society, statistics related to sustainable development and the environment, and modernisation of official statistics. In 2019, UNECE published a Guidance on Modernizing Statistical Legislation to guide countries through the process of reviewing and revising statistical legislation. The guidance covers issues such as open data, national and international data exchanges, and government data management.White Paper: Data Pipeline (2018)
- Reference Data Model Guidelines (2016)
- Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics (1992)
- Guidance on Modernizing Statistical Legislation (2019)
- Conference of European Statisticians
- High-Level Group for the Modernisation of Official Statistics (HLG-MOS)
- UN/CEFACT Project: Cross-border Management Reference Data Model
- UN/CEFACT Project: Accounting and Audit Reference Data Model Project
UNECE digital tools facilitating access to statistical information:
UNECE online platforms and observatories gathering updates and policy resources to help member states respond to the COVID-19 crisis:
- Platform for National Statistical offices
- Food Outlook
- Observatory on Border Crossings Status
- Data Sources on Coronavirus impact on Transport
- COVID-19: the role of the Water Convention and the Protocol on Water and Health
Future of meetings
Any reference to online or remote meetings?
Yes, UNECE Executive Committee – Special procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic (adopted in April 2020 and extended in July 2020 authorise the Chair of the Commission to convene remote informal meetings of the members of the Executive Committee. It also encourages UNECE subsidiary bodies to explore innovative formats to conduct business remotely. The Executive Committee held a remote informal meeting of members on 20 May 2020. Subsequently, its 110th meeting was also held online, on 10 July 2020.
- The Conference of European Statisticians held its 68th plenary as a hybrid meeting on 22 June and as an informal virtual meeting on 23–24 June 2020.
- Several UNECE groups have been holding online meetings. For instance, the 118th session of the Working Party on General Safety Provisions (GRSG) (15–17 July) was held via Webex, without interpretation, and is considered an informal meeting
Any reference to deliberation or decision making online?
Proceedings of the 118th session of GRSG: ‘Decisions taken during the informal virtual meeting will be circulated after the meeting in the three ECE official languages to the delegations of Contracting Parties via their missions in Geneva for final approval under silence procedure of 10 days.’