intro 052On May 18, 2016 at the news agency Ukrinform the press conference “Reforming environmental governance in Ukraine” was held.

At the press conference, Ukrainian NGOs presented expert opinion on reforming the principles of environmental (ecological) governance and fostering public dialogue.

Anna Golubovska-Onisimova, chair of the Coordination Council of MAMA-86, opened the press conference by drawing attention to the fact that environmental organizations are very concerned that, since the recent change of government, the program for reforming environmental affairs has not been released. At the same time, Ukraine has an urgent need for strategic reform of environmental governance. Anna Golubovska-Onisimovastressed that the essence of the strategic reform of environmental governance in Ukraine now is to develop a modern environmental policy and strengthen institutional capacity where the system is on the brink of collapse and in need of a complete reboot.

Article 365 of Chapter 6 “Environment” of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement contains the obligation to create a comprehensive environmental strategy, including planned institutional reforms (with defined terms) for the enforcement and implementation of environmental legislation; distribution of powers of environmental authorities at national, regional and local levels; decision-making procedures and their implementation; promotion procedures for integration of environmental policy in other areas of state policy; determination of the necessary human and financial resources and mechanisms for their review.

Volodymyr Bilokon, an environmental policy expert with MAMA-86, said that interrelated strategic documents that should form the basis of modern environmental policy in Ukraine are the “Basic principles (strategy) of the State Environmental Policy of Ukraine to 2020” and the National Action plan (NAP) for the same period. Following the adoption of the Strategy in late 2010, there were two significant events — the Revolution of Dignity and Association Agreement with the EU, which along with five years’ experience of their implementation require an appropriate audit of the Strategy. However, the updated edition of the Strategy, which also includes its extension to 2030, has not been considered by Parliament, and the draft second phase of NAP (2016–2020 years) has not been considered by the Cabinet, even though both documents were preliminarily approved by the executive bodies. Unfortunately, as of today, the reforming process in the environmental field has stopped.

Sergiy Kurykin, a state environmental management expert with MAMA-86, stressed that the first step is to strengthen the role of the Ecology and Natural Resources Ministry, which is the cornerstone of the whole system of public administration in the environmental field.

The reform towards strengthening the role of the Ministry within the system of integrated environmental management provides that the Ministry should coordinate the Forest Resources State Agency, State Geodesy, Cartography and Cadaster Service, newly established State Agency for Protected Areas, and CEB State Hydro meteorological service, which had been a part of the Interior Ministry. The State Environmental Inspectorate must be transformed into the State Environmental Protection Agency and coordinated by the Interior Ministry. It should combine its current functions and powers of state inspection with relevant control functions and powers in the areas of fisheries and forestry.

Regional Agencies for Environmental Protection should be created on the basis of the territorial bodies of state inspection with the transfer of some of the functions and staff of the existing specialized departments of regional state administrations.

The Agency and its territorial bodies should do environmental monitoring, public environmental inspection functions and coordination of the national environmental policy at the regional and local levels. Effective environmental protection provides for intensive inter-sectoral and interdepartmental interaction. To coordinate the interaction between all the links in this system, it is recommended to create a position of Deputy Prime Minister for Sustainable Development, which corresponds to the European practice. In order to ensure the supervision of compliance with Article 50 of the Constitution, protecting and preventing violations of environmental rights, it is necessary to introduce an environmental ombudsman.

Sergey Shaparenko, chair of the environmental group Pechenigy and editor-in-chief of the public assessment report on environmental policy in 2014, reported that in 2015–2016 non-governmental experts performed an analysis of stakeholders. Its findings show the absence of any declared partnership among them in the sphere of environmental protection. The state and local governments lobby the interests of business groups. Also, local communities have interests in both the protection of the environment and the excessive exploitation of nature. The environmental protests that have occurred in recent years were aimed at restoring the environment of certain places (protests against over-building, pollution and changes in the hydrological regime, etc.) or maintaining natural sites. In fact, these protests were a reaction to the lack of adequate action taken by the state against the illegal exploitation of natural resources. The lack of real change and the practice of unfair decisions of the government at all levels are forcing citizens to solve problems that are ignored or created by the authorities. These decisions sometimes take the form of mob rule. This response is a result of the state merely simulating dialogue with civil society, in particular on urgent environmental problems. As a result, environmental protection is one of the most painful issues in the relations between the state and citizens. Reducing this social tension is only possible if a real dialogue between the government and the public is established.

Answering the questions of journalists, Anna Golubovska-Onisimova mentioned some positive steps towards European integration in the environmental field, particularly in the disclosure of information of public importance, transparency of public procurement, openness of competitions to fill management positions at national parks and other conservation institutions, and European integration draft laws were developed. However, she stressed that currently NGOs do not see any fundamental change in the approach to environmental affairs by the new government. In this situation, environmental non-governmental organizations should unite their efforts to finally include environmental protection in the reform process. The Ecology Ministry should demonstrate the political will to establish a dialogue with civil society for their involvement in the environmental governance in Ukraine.

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