Eastern European countries, which disproportionately produce greenhouse gas emissions , have taken a small but very significant step in tackling the problem thanks to a United Nations-backed project, a new report released today says.

With only 6 per cent of the world's population, the countries of Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) produce approximately 12 per cent of all greenhouse gases.

But experts say this problem also contains the seeds of change. "Opportunities to cut CO2 emissions can come from the vast potential for cost-effective energy efficiency investments in economies in transition," said the UN Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) in a news release. With the support of the UN Foundation and co-financing partners, including the UN Environment Programme /Global Environment Facility, an energy efficiency project aimed at mitigating climate change has demonstrated the link between renewable energy investment projects and a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in Eastern Europe and the CIS.

The final report on the project says there is up to $10 billion in investment potential in Eastern Europe for energy efficiency projects with a payback period of less than five years. It calls private sector participation essential, and advocates the formation of a favourable market for investors.

The World Bank and other investors have approved financing for eighteen investment projects in Belarus, Bulgaria, Russian Federation and Ukraine for a total of $14.9 million. These investments would reduce CO 2 emissions by an estimated 136,000 tonnes per year, the equivalent of cutting back outputs from 68,000 cars. A new project for eastern and south-eastern Europe starts this year with co-financing from the UN Foundation, Fonds Français pour l'Environnement Mondial (FFEM), and the United Nations Environment Programme / Global Environment Facility (UNEP-GEF). It will promote energy efficiency more projects to be financed with larger carbon emissions reductions through technical assistance in the recipient countries coupled with the development of an Investment Fund.