C O V E R S T O R Y
BY SARAH ROE
The event, which was held on June 22-25, brought together ministers, policymakers, experts and environmental organisations from all over Europe. Ministers signed a Convention on Public Participation in environmental decisionmaking (known as the Aarhus Convention), as well as protocols on energy efficiency and phase-out of lead in petrol and 16 persistent organic pollutants (POPs), like those found in pesticides and paints. For the first time, CSOs addressed delegates during their own session within the conference agenda. Over the next couple of years, countries must ratify the agreements made in Aarhus and then follow up with implementation plans. Training professionals must be ready to meet that need.
CSOs will be a fundamental part of that process too. "What's really going to make a difference between this convention and others is the fact that the public and the CSOs themselves have a lot to gain from it being ratified and implemented and so I think it's going to get public interest," noted Jeremy Wates of the European Environment Bureau.
While CSOs welcomed the Convention, representatives warned that there were many loopholes in its language. "The word 'appropriate' appears no less than 22 times in the draft convention, and references to 'national legislation' abound, giving excessive discretion to governments in the implementation process," Wates argued in his speech to conference delegates. He added that the document failed to force the private sector to give information on emissions and gave no real impetus for countries to develop pollutant release and transfer registers. Germany, Turkey, Russia, the US and Canada were the most significant non-signatories to the Convention.
Many Central and East European countries and Newly Independent States (NIS) have a long way to go to implement the concept of public participation in environmental decisionmaking. That has been adequately illustrated by the issue of nuclear power stations, which continue to be built, with little or no consultation with the public. Environment ministers from the Czech Republic and Ukraine both put their names to the agreement, despite growing public pressure about nuclear power stations being built in their countries.
"I am quite sceptical that (the Convention) will work in Ukraine immediately," said Petr Hlobil of the CEE Bankwatch Network, an environmental CSO watchdog for multilateral banks. He added that 37 Ukrainian CSOs signed a letter to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, protesting it's potential funding of the project. "So far they tried to avoid real public participation, so for the Ukranian population it is really necessary that there is international CSO support," Hlobil said.
To give the Aarhus Convention any real punch in Central and East Europe, a sea change in attitude will be required. Training professionals can step in to fill that gap. From informing the bureaucrats of new legislation how to deal directly with the public, to helping CSOs promote public interest and criticism in a professional manner, there is a niche for trainers. Courses instructing people how to use the new law in a practical way - such as conducting information campaigns or legal workshops to inform environmental professionals of their rights, will be particularly valuable.
Information technology is one area which remains underdeveloped. During the conference's CSO session, Mary Taylor of Friends of the Earth illustrated how dry data could become relevant to the public, through the internet. The UK-based organisation created a website using information from the Chemical Release Inventory, which enabled the public to find out what emissions polluted their areas. Taylor emphasised that without such user-friendly information, the public is less likely to exercise its right of access to data since most people find the format too complicated and difficult to digest.
At the meeting, West European governments pledged their commitment to getting Central and East European countries on the reform track. Training would be one of the key areas that grants would go to, Danish Environment Minister Svend Auken said. Those countries which consistently disregarded the concepts agreed upon at Aarhus will lose out on funding.
The protocols particularly aim to reduce airborne pollution of the heavy metals lead, cadmium and mercury, as well as 16 POPs from the categories of industrial chemicals, pesticides and their by-products and contaminants. Heavy metals are known to cause blood disorders and affect vital organs such as the liver and kidneys. Accumulation of heavy metals threatens forest ecosystems and can reduce bird and mammal reproductivity. More than three decades ago Rachel Carlson's "Silent Spring" first highlighted the dangers of POPs. Her image of a spring without birds, due to the effects of DDT and other pesticides, caught considerable media attention and several governments banned or severely restricted the use of DDT in the early 1970s.
Nevertheless, POPs continue to circulate, as several countries - particularly in less developed regions like Central and East Europe - do not ban their use. Moreover, since the collapse of cooperative farming systems, which employed experts for pesticide application, farmers are often unprofessional in their use of chemicals.
To implement the protocol, countries will have to work with both chemicals companies and the agricultural sector. Training farmers on alternatives to strong pesticides is essential - particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.
"Some countries should introduce environmental protection measures into agricultural practice, not only in broad terms but in very concrete ways, so there will be benefits for farmers not using chemicals," suggested Danish MP Steen Gade. "Today the system benefits farmers who produce a lot and use a lot of pesticides; therefore you have to introduce a new way of thinking in relation to quality and combine quality with the environment," he adds.
Workshops addressing the benefits and the problems of organic farming techniques, cour-ses on controlled use of pesticides, explaining the different composition and functions of each product and training on soil and water management issues, will all be relevant.
But the protocol was too vague for some organisations. A spokeswoman for Greenpeace International noted that governments only committed themselves to wiping out some POPs, while other key pollutants were not included on the phase-out list. "It is appaling that dangerous POPs, such as chlorinated paraffins, pentachlorophenol, hexachloro-cyclohexanes have failed to make it yet onto the the Annex I list for elimination," she said.
Tuesday, June 23
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Experts said that energy efficiency could be increased by 20-30 percent over the next two or three decades and gains could be even higher in Central and East Europe. Government subsidies mean energy prices are not realistic. In a St Petersburg flat it was cheaper for residents to keep four gas burners going than to turn them off, said World Bank Vice President for Europe and Central Asia region Johannes Linn. He stressed that the strategy will require a huge public information campaign to train people and businesses to adopt less wasteful attitudes to energy. "People have to realise that this stuff isn't free," Linn said. The "win-win" concept will need to target three main groups: the consumer, businesses and the power stations themselves. Old, inefficient district heating systems must be improved and homes insulated, power plants modernised and industries encouraged to become more energy efficient.
That's easier said than done. According to Peter Hobson, senior banker in energy efficiency at the EBRD, the strategy is over ambitious and vague.
"It's all very well to have a policy at one level but when it's not matched up with actions that a municipality or a company take up at their own level then it's pointless," he told Insight. "Energy efficiency can't be pinned down too easily - it's everything .... there are very few laws or regulations which require people to do anything, nothing which makes you go out and buy an energy efficient light bulb or an efficient heating system - you do whatever is easier to do," Hobson said. He recommended financial incentives to companies investing in energy efficient projects, labelling of energy efficient appliances and budgeting for energy efficient schemes within the local municipality.
During the debates, CSOs pointed out that governments, particularly in Central and East European countries, continue to support and build nuclear power stations, which are not only a long-term threat to the environment but work through a highly centralised power grid system, unlike the localised power supplies advocated by energy efficiency experts. In fact the EBRD itself has approved the first phase of funding for a nuclear power plant in Ukraine. It underlines the short-term approach of both governments and banks to solving the problem.
"A lot of money would be required to set up energy efficiency schemes and at least a decade would be needed to set them up," conceded CEE Bankwatch's Hlobil.
Industries and CSOs must have the capacity to promote energy efficiency to the public and help highlight the disadvantages and the dangers of less efficient energy sources. Managers can learn how to run an energy efficient business, incorporating such programmes as the ISO14001 management training system or the Eco-Management Auditing Scheme (EMAS) into their operations. Trainers are able to help CSOs present professional and useful arguments to the public, while helping them deal with legal issues which might arise from CSOs challenging companies and power stations.
* Countries that did not sign the convention are as follows: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Russian Federation, San Marino, Slovakia, Turkey, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United States, Uzbekistan, Yugoslavia