Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence



  The central problem of Soviet industries can be summed up as "high consumption of resources and low efficiency of technologies"—with predictable consequences for the environment. There are, therefore, large areas of Russia and Ukraine blighted by industrial, chemical and radioactive waste causing air, water and soil pollution. The cost of cleaning up this pollution and restoring the damaged land would be enormous.

  The other key difficulty is the ability of the authorities to protect some of the most important ecological areas in the world. Large areas of Russia are under some form of protection but methods have become out-dated and the authorities do not have enough money for the work.

  Although much of the general environmental legislation is good, the environmental institutions (and therefore implementation of the laws) are weak. The Russian Ministry of Environmental Protection was downgraded to a State Committee a couple of years ago and lost responsibility for natural resources, which are now covered by a separate Ministry more interested in the exploitation than the protection of natural resources. The Presidential Ecological Committee was abolished. Within the Government structure this has left the chronically weak Chairman of the State Committee as pretty much a lone voice, although there are regular rumours that a new ecological committee will be created within the presidential structure.

  The consequence of this weakness is that powerful commercial interests and other Ministries can ignore environmental regulations. On a positive note, the courts have recently become a useful vehicle for challenging these interests and upholding the law, and some minor cases have been won by NGO supported by ecological lawyers. But in general the regulations can be comfortably evaded.

  In Ukraine, the green movement became much stronger after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; many people joined the movement, which allowed them to participate in a kind of "opposition" which was safer than human rights or independence movements. The first rally in Kiev held independently from the Communist Party was an anti-Chernobyl rally organised by "Green World" in autumn 1988. In 1989-90, when other political movements and parties began to appear, the green movement lost more than half of its activists to these new groups.

  Green NGOs are still the most numerous in Ukraine (more than 300). There are also several hundred ecological groups, especially educational organisations. Some foreign donors like ISAR (USAID-funded) or Milieukontakt Oost Europa (Netherlands) support networking and provide funding for Ukrainian NGOs, although co-operation between Ukrainian NGOs is limited. There is one umbrella NGO, with about 100 branches: the Ukrainian Environmental Association "Zeleny Svit" (Green World). Some local authorities support local initiatives—usually as a result of good contacts between the NGO leaders and the local administration, but this dependence on personal relations makes the NGOs very vulnerable.

  There is hardly any environmental policy in Ukraine. It took the Ministry for Environmental Protection and Nuclear Safety (MEPNS) more than 3 years to prepare (with OECD and other donor support) a Concept of Environmental Protection. The National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP) has yet to be developed in the framework of Environment for Europe. Participation of NGOs in all these processes has been negligible. The Commission on Ecological Policy of the Parliament of Ukraine does not have any mechanisms to involve NGOs in its work, although some green activists have contacts with parliamentarians and may be able to influence decisions.

  The most promising area for policy co-operation is found between NGOs and local authorities. NGOs tend to be seen as important during election campaigns, and occasionally NGOs can influence decisions by organising rallies and campaigns. There are only a few cases of court cases having been filed and won by NGOs.

  NGOs in Ukraine may be provided with a unique opportunity for influencing the environmental agenda by the presence in Parliament of the Ukrainian Green Party, with 19 seats. The Party has some connections with environmental NGOs, although it does not speak for them, and during the 1998 election campaign the green NGOs protested against "the use of the image and authority of the green movement by the Green Party". Despite this, it is possible that the Party will establish a working relationship with the NGOs.

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