Air and water pollution, extinction of plants and animals, nuclear wastes… For today’s resolution of ecological problems OCA spoke with the Head of General Directorate on Environmental Issues of the European Commission, George Kremlis in a special interview.
OCA: George, myself as well as many other people are very much worried by the condition of our environment. Tell us, which ecological problems are faced by the humanity?
George Kremlis: Today’s major ecological problem is climate change or “global warming”, which not only leads to the raising of temperature all around the world, but causes extreme weather conditions: floods, droughts and storms, which are accompanied by desertification, water deficits and a change of the global environment in general. One more problem- is ecological crime, which is connected with dangerous and toxic wastes, and also sometimes nuclear waste. It is perhaps one of the most significant forms of crimes around the world, after illegal trade of weapons and drugs.
OCA: How do you solve existing ecological problems in the world today?
GK: Ecological problems should be solved where they happen, according to the principle: “polluter pays by repair of the damage”. Here start to work universal, ecological principles together with protective and preventive measures. There are various international conventions in the world, for example, in relation to protected species of plants and animals, in accordance with CITES Convention and many other legal documents on such problems. However, today these norms are often violated in the world. It is connected to fragile development of local and national legislation in some countries or sometimes even its absence. The European Union is a pioneer in the fight against climate change and has developed complicated legislation for environmental protection not only in frames of its 28 member-states, but also in a larger scale.
For example, if there is a violation, then according to the conventions, the violating participants, they can be brought before the committees responsible for international treaties’ execution. Then sanctions can be taken or this violation may be reviewed in specific ecological sessions. There are certain mechanisms of legal enforcement in the European Union, as stated before, which can lead to financial sanctions.
OCA: Where do you receive financing for the solution of ecological problems?
GK: In relation to financial issues, we need to say that for the protection of the environment ecological infrastructure is needed. Solid and hazardous waste management, cleaning of drains, drinking water supply – these are the projects, which need corresponding sponsors. They should be developed in accordance with the economics conceptions of the European Union and with the established “STG” 2030 agenda goals for sustainable international platform development, adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 25, 2015. They represent a comprehensive action plan, which is shared by EU with all of its partners and fully integrates social, economic and ecological aspects of sustainable development.
In the European Union, financing of the environment is also accomplished through consolidation and other financial instruments, such as programs like “LIFE” and “Horizon 2020”. Beyond the EU, financing is provided in the frames of a document on accession for candidate countries. Besides, credits may be provided by international financial institutes- such as the European Investment Bank or European Bank on Reconstruction and Development. Partnership relations between state and private sectors may secure ecological projects financing as well, including those, which may be used by banks and bring income or secure cost returns. For instance, water sector projects, accomplished by sufficient water pricing or waste sector through corresponding commission charges.
OCA: Why, in your point of view, is there a growth of different diseases in the world, including oncological? What is this connected with, in your opinion?
GK: It is obvious that globalisation of our economy and production model are not perfect throughout the world. Some developing countries grow very fast economically, not taking into account the protection of the environment. Only upon realisation that life in some towns is becoming impossible do they start to take measures, often expensive ones and not very effective ones. The EU is the pioneer in the protection of climate and environment in the world. Due to its humanitarian and donor activity, it protects not only people, but also our common value – nature! At the present time the European Union promotes its economic concepts beyond its borders. Adoption of the international platform, SDG 17 sustainable goals, at UN level, has played a significant role in the protection of our planet and people from poverty, lack of drinking water and compliance with basic principles and values, which provide security of the Earth and its citizens. Every one of the goals has their own concrete tasks, which should be achieved during the next 15 years, starting from the government and ending with every individual personally.
OCA: Tell us, which major challenged ecologists will face over the next 5 years?
GK: Poverty, solving the hunger problem, good health and prosperity, clean water and sanitary, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and produce, climate change, life beneath the water and on land surface. This list is, unfortunately, endless and all of these are priority directions on international, European and national levels, which due to existing legal documents and SDG platform should improve the condition of our planet. We hope to increase the level of awareness of the environment not only of citizens and interested parties, but also those, who manage us. We are awaiting the USA to involve itself more in cooperation for the fight against climate change.
OCA: How did you find Belarus and Minsk during your stay at the June international Espoo Convention on the Meetings of Parties and what is the situation with the Ostrovets nuclear power plant?
GK: Belarus- is a country with wide biodiversity and green infrastructure, which are needed to save and to promote a better lifestyle. The city environment in Minsk is actually well managed and protected. Meeting of the Parties to the Espoo Convention and the Protocol on International Environment Assessment were well organised and contributed to the formation of the country’s image as a host country. Regarding the Ostrovets question, it was postponed to the next Meeting of the Parties together with other questions, which will be held in Geneva at the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019.
The complexity of nuclear issues did not allow us to make a decision, as there was not enough time for reflection and proper negotiation. Therefore, it is still premature to say anything in this regard.
It is only possible to say, that stress tests and expert evaluation in the margins of The European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG) will start at the end of the year in relation to NPP in Ostrovets. This double process will clarify many problems, related to this NPP and the significant concerns of Lithuania against it.
OCA: What would you recommend people do to make world better?
GK: We definitely need a common vision, understanding and early ecological education at school for the proper preparation of fully informed citizens, who will individually and collectively support our common goal of better conditions and quality of life for all. We only have one lanet, and we need to protect and save it for the future generations.