Rectifying the situation is currently an important task for Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Andrii Mokhnyk. His team, though, has been working so slowly that it has left Ukraine in breach of international environmental treaties. A meeting of the parties to the Espoo Convention, held in Geneva in early June, stated that all of them had to implement a system of industrial facilities’ environmental impact assessment. Ukraine was scheduled to launch such a system back in January 2013. Our country was found in breach of the convention for the second time, with violations including the fact that there is still no environmental impact assessment of two units of the Rivne Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) which have had their lifetimes extended.
“Ukraine currently has no effective environmental impact assessment of projects,” expert of the National Ecological Centre of Ukraine Iryna Holovko explained. “We do not have a legal framework that regulates this issue. In addition, the Institute of Environmental Expertise that actually did such assessments has been disbanded. We are currently the only European country where there is no such a mechanism. No agency, neither the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MENR) nor its departments, controls now decisions taken when building thermal power plants or industrial facilities, and the environmental acceptability of these decisions is equally outside any control. This is part of the environmental commitments that we have to implement according to the Association Agreement with the EU. Failure to meet these requirements will limit Ukraine’s rights as a member of international treaties as well as make impossible getting loans from European donors, for example, the well-known EBRD loan for the modernization of NPPs.”
The practical implementation of these rules would allow this country to reduce the environmental impact of enterprises under construction or in a state of reconstruction, for nothing can be done with legacy facilities. Holovko explained that it meant that if the city of Kyiv was to build new combined heat and power plants, all such projects were to be discussed with the public: “The MENR or the municipal authorities will have the right to make changes to the project, so that there would be less of an adverse environmental impact; they also will be able to declare any new facility unfeasible. Say, gas stations will also be subject to these procedures, while now they are totally free of them. It will also be used to evaluate plans and programs, for example the master plan of Kyiv.”
While the ministry is silent on this issue, experts have prepared a bill on their own dealing with environmental impact assessment. It has been submitted to the Verkhovna Rada and is pending consideration in the environmental committee. The bill was accompanied by a statement of support, signed by over 30 environmental NGOs.
One of the bill’s authors Taras Tretiak commented that it would bring us closer to the European legislation. It will simplify the system of permits and approvals for the operation of industrial facilities, and the public will have the right to intervene in the decision-making process on starting construction or reconstruction of a facility. The public also will have the right to appeal to the courts for cancelation of a decision which does not properly take into account its views.
The remaining task ahead is to press the MPs into providing the signatures necessary to table the bill without delay. After all, a conference of the parties to the Aarhus Convention will be held this July, which will consider the issue again.