Address: Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations
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 Central Asia, which discuss and cooperate 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 cooperation for countries with economies in transition. It also sets out norms, standards, and conventions to facilitate international cooperation.
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 (IoT) (e.g. intelligent transport systems). Its activities on connected vehicles and automated driving systems are essential to seize the benefits of technical progress and disruptions in that field and to operationalise new mobility concepts such as Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Its 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.
UNECE carries out extensive work in the area of sustainable transport leading on several UN Conventions. Accession to the conventions continues to increase as more and more member states realise the benefits in the time taken and associated costs in the movement of goods. Numerous digitised systems have been developed, and are maintained, hosted, and administered under the auspices of UNECE. For a number of other tools and mechanisms, work is underway.
Digital policy issues
UNECE’s intergovernmental body UN/CEFACT continues making great strides in the area of digital standards. In a recent collaboration with the International Federation of Freight-Forwarders Associations (FIATA), it developed the electronic FIATA Multimodal Bill of Lading (eFBL) data standard. The basis of the mapping of the Negotiable FIATA Multimodal Transport Bill of Lading (FBL) with the UN/CEFACT Multimodal Transport (MMT) reference data model, allows the exchange of BL data in a standardised way, facilitating interoperability between all modes of transport and industry stakeholders. Similar to other data standards developed by UN/CEFACT, the data standard is offered as open-source for all software providers and industry stakeholders to implement. UNECE’s standardisation work builds on a family of reference data models in alignment with its strategy to become the next generation of global standards for trade and transport information exchange. Other digital standards in the areas of supply chain management, agriculture, and travel and tourism (e.g. Buy Ship Pay Reference Data Model, Textile and Leather Data Model (Part 1 and Part 2), and Travel and Tourism Experience Programme Data Model) are a great step toward paperless trade and benefit all actors of the supply chain by reducing costs, increasing security, and gaining efficiency.
Internet of things and artificial intelligence
As the UN centre for inland transport, UNECE hosts international regulatory platforms in the field of automated driving and intelligent transport systems. It hosts multilateral agreements and conventions ruling the requirements and the use of these technologies (such as the UN agreements on vehicle regulations and the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic). Its activities (e.g. facilitating policy dialogue and developing regulations and norms) contribute to enabling automated driving functionalities and 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 communications 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 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.
UNECE launched the Advisory Group on Advanced Technology in Trade and Logistics (AGAT) in 2020 on topics, such as distributed ledger technologies (DLT) including blockchain, IoT, and AI.
Artificial intelligence for energy
AI and other technologies are inspiring energy suppliers, transmission and distribution companies, and demand sectors (buildings, industry, transport) to establish new business models to generate, deliver, and consume energy in a more sustainable way.
UNECE established a task force on digitalization in energy to offer a platform for cross-industry experts from the energy sector and digital innovation to develop a unified voice on digitalisation in energy.
The group found that AI and digitalisation have the potential to reduce residential and commercial buildings’ energy use by as much as 10% globally by 2040 if applied throughout a building’s value chain and life cycle. In particular, applications of AI may help optimise a building’s orientation for solar heat gain and predict power and heat needs, thus increasing overall energy security and maximising the integration of renewable energy sources.
The group also found that AI and digitalisation could help achieve energy savings of at least 10%–20% in the industrial sector (which consumes around 38% of global final energy and produces 24% of greenhouse gases).
UNECE’s subsidiary body UN/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 UN/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 the 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.
UNECE achieved a transformative milestone with regard to cybersecurity in the broad automotive sector with the adoption of UN Regulation No. 155 (Cyber Security and CSMS) and UN Regulation No. 156 (Software Updates).
Before that, cyber risks related to connected vehicles were apparent but not systematically addressed. Security researchers alerted the public of them by revealing various vulnerabilities. There were only narrow standards and guidelines for securing vehicles, such as standards for secure communication among Electronic Control Units (ECUs) and for hardware encryption.
UNECE’s World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (Working Party on Automated/Autonomous and Connected Vehicles (GRVA) WP.29) adopted two important new regulations on cybersecurity and over-the-air software updates and led to the situation where cybersecurity became non-negotiable for securing market access via type approval for those countries applying this regime. GRVA also developed recommendations on uniform provisions concerning cybersecurity and software updates for countries applying the self-certification regime.
Under the 1958 Agreement (binding to 54 countries)
UNECE carries out multiple activities of relevance for the area of data governance.
First, 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 UN/CEFACT also cover data-related issues. Examples include the Buy-Ship-Pay Reference Data Model (BSP-RDM), the Supply Chain Reference Data Model (SCRDM), the Multi-Modal Transport Reference Data Model (MMT-RDM), the Cross-border Management Reference Data Model Project (to provide a regulatory reference data model within the UN/CEFACT semantic library in order to assist authorities to link this information to the standards of other organisations), the Sustainable Development and Circular Economy Reference Data Model Project, and the Accounting and Audit Reference Data Model Project.
Second, 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 ECOSOC and the UNGA. 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.
Third, UNECE keeps abreast of external developments, (e.g. in Europe or an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country), related to challenges related to AI, privacy, and human rights. This is the case for example with the activities on transport and automated vehicles. The GRVA is reflecting on the impact of general AI policies in its activities and developed possible ways to add layers in its multi-pillar approach to validate the performance of the Automated Driving System, and therefore to integrate considerations on data management in the context of AI agent training, support features, and functions of automated driving, and collaborate with the automotive sector on this matter.
E-commerce and trade
UNECE’s subsidiary, UN/CEFACT, serves as a focal point (within ECOSOC) 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 Standards (OASIS), UNECE developed the Electronic business using eXtensible Mark-up 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 Single Window, electronic commerce agreements, and e-commerce self-regulatory instruments. In addition, UN/CEFACT works on supporting international, regional, and national e-government efforts to improve trade facilitation and e-commerce systems.
Recommendation 33 – Single Window Recommendation
UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) Trade facilitation recommendations | UNECE
Digital and environment
UNECE’s work in the area of environmental policy covers a broad range of issues, such as air pollution, transboundary water cooperation, industrial safety, environmental democracy, the green economy, environmental monitoring and impact 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 socio-economic 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 supporting the continued development of 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.
The INForest database offers the most up-to-date source of information about the size of the forest area in the UNECE region, how it has changed over decades, the structure of forests, the goods and services forests provide, as well as their contribution to the economy, society and the environment.
UNECE has developed policy guidance to support the digital inclusion of older people. In the Rome Ministerial Declaration on Ageing, adopted in June 2022, Ministers pledged to ‘promote age-friendly digitalisation, products and services, and support innovation for the silver economy’.
Recognising the importance of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) traceability in achieving SDG 12 and considering the rich body of expertise and standards already available through UNECE, UNECE broadened the focus of the Team of Specialists (ToS) on sustainable fisheries to (ESG) traceability of sustainable value chains in the circular economy.
UNECE Environmental Conventions and Protocols (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)
- Updated recommendations on the more effective use of electronic information tools aim to assist Parties, Signatories and other interested States in promoting development, maintaining, enhancing, and using electronic information tools and applying modern digital technologies (blockchain, AI, digital twins, augmented reality, etc.) to support the implementation of the Aarhus Convention (2021)
- Consultation on the Recommendations on Electronic Information Tools
- Protocol on Pollutant Release and TransferRegisters to the Aarhus Convention
- Final Review Report on the Establishment of the Shared Environmental Information System (report, March 2021)
- Pan-European Strategic Framework for Greening the Economy
- Batumi Initiative on Green Economy (BIG-E)
- UNECE Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment
- InForest – your data and knowledge platform for forests in the UNECE region
- Policy Brief on Ageing in the Digital Era (2021)
- Ministerial Declaration: A Sustainable World for All Ages: Joining Forces for Solidarity and Equal Opportunities Throughout Life (2022)
- Working Group on Environmental Monitoring and Assessment
- Task Force on Environmental Statistics and Indicators
- Task Force on Waste Statistics
- Aarhus Convention Task Force on Access to Information
- UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section
- ToS on ESG Traceability of Sustainable Value Chains in the Circular Economy
UNECE assists countries in its region to address sustainable development challenges (in areas such as environment, connectivity, and urbanisation) through offering policy advice; leveraging its norms, standards, and conventions; and building capacities. It focuses on driving progress towards the following SDGs: good health and well-being (SDG 3), clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), responsible consumption and production (SDG 12), climate action (SDG 13), and life on land (SDG 15). Gender equality (SDG 5) and partnerships (SDG 17) are overarching for all UNECE activities. Activities undertaken by UNECE concerning these SDGs converge under four 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.
Privacy and data protection
The World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations has included guidelines on cybersecurity and data protection in its consolidated resolution on the construction of vehicles, including principles of lawful, fair, and transparent processing of personal data: (1) respecting the identity and privacy of the data subject; (2) not discriminating against data subjects based on their personal data; (3) paying attention to the reasonable expectations of the data subjects with regard to the transparency and context of the data processing; (4) maintaining the integrity and trustworthiness of information technology systems and in particular not secretly manipulating data processing; (5) taking into account the benefit of data processing depending on the free flow of data, communication and innovation, as far as data subjects have to respect the processing of personal data with regard to the overriding general public interest; and (6) ensuring the preservation of individual mobility data according to necessity and purpose.
These guidelines were referred to in the Resolution on Data Protection in Automated and Connected Vehicles adopted during the 39th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners Hong Kong, 25–29 September 2017.
UNECE hosts several portals, applications, and digitalised conventions.
The Customs Convention on the International Transport of Goods under Cover of TIR (Transports Internationaux Routiers) Carnets (TIR Convention, 1975) is one of the most successful international transport conventions. It is the only universal customs transit system in existence.
The TIR system, used by over 34,000 transport and logistics companies in its 77 contracting parties, has already reduced cross-border transport time by up to 80%, and costs by up to 38%. The eTIR international system aims to ensure the secure exchange of data between national customs systems related to the international transit of goods, vehicles, or containers according to the provisions of the TIR Convention and to allow customs to manage the data on guarantees, issued by guarantee chains to holders authorised to use the TIR system.
The ITDB is an international online repository of information for all those authorised by contracting parties to use the TIR procedure. It is an integral part of the eTIR International system since only users approved in ITDB can use the eTIR system. The main goal of the ITDB is to foster the exchange of information between competent authorities of contracting parties and national associations.
The Carnet de Passages en Douane (CPD) system (i.e. a passport card for your vehicle) facilitates the temporary importation of private and commercial vehicles. The CPD system is based on two international conventions: the 1954 Customs Convention on the Temporary Importation of Private Road Vehicles and the 1956 Customs Convention on the Temporary Importation of Commercial Road Vehicles. Hosted by UNECE, the conventions combined have 96 contracting parties. Work has started to prepare the appropriate amendments to the 1954 and 1956 conventions describing the eCPD; prepare the high-level architecture including the concepts and functional and technical specifications of the future eCPD application; and develop the eCPD system based on these specifications.
The eCMR is based on the provisions of the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR) (1956) and especially on the provisions of the Additional Protocol to CMR Concerning the Electronic Consignment Note (2008). UNECE, which administers the CMR Convention, has been mandated by governments to administer the eCMR protocol and to establish a formal group of experts on the operationalisation of the eCMR procedure.
The observatory will be developed on a geographic information systems (GIS) platform with three main pillars of services: it offers an electronic repository of UNECE inland transport conventions, an innovative tool to finance transport infrastructure, and a way to promote sustainable regional and interregional connectivity.
The ITIO GIS platform assists in the analysis of possible future impacts of climate change on transport networks. The tool enables experts to identify sections of transport networks potentially exposed to the effects of climate change.
The SITCIN tool allows countries to measure their degree of transport connectivity, both domestically and bilaterally/sub-regionally, as well as in terms of soft and hard infrastructure.
UNECE digital tools facilitating access to statistical information:
UNECE online platforms and observatories gather updates and policy resources to help member states respond to the COVID-19 crisis:
Future of meetings
Guided by the assessments of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the host country authorities, UNECE’s respective governing bodies and partner organisations amended the format and conduct of meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure business continuity and delivery of support to its member states.
Hybrid and online meeting formats continue to be used.
UNECE Executive Committee – Special procedures during the COVID-19 period (adopted in April 2020 and extended in July 2020)
- Use of the silence procedure for decision-making;