National and regional story (Latvia) - Development of Latvian environmental protection policy since the 1990s
Since the 1990s, Latvian environmental protection policy has focused on:
- Laying the foundations for a new legal and institutional system of environmental protection
- Establishing broad international cooperation
- Accession to the European Union on 1 May 2004.
Between 1990 and 2000 radical economic and political changes took place in Latvia. After the restoration of independence in 1991, a new set of political and economic foundations had to be created in accordance with international practices. Latvia had to replace former USSR environmental legislation with regulations meeting the demands of a free market economy and corresponding to modern environmental policy in a democratic society.
The main state institution for environmental protection, the Environmental Protection Committee, developed a new legal framework tailored to the needs of an independent state. Between 1990 and 1993, a decentralised, independent administration system was established for environmental protection.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development of the Republic of Latvia was established in 1993. At the same time, sectoral development programmes and strategies were elaborated for the Latvian economy, taking into account the conclusions of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development and integrating environmental requirements. An important milestone in the process of sustainable development in Latvia was 1995, when the Cabinet of Ministers approved the National Environmental Protection Policy Plan for Latvia.
The Environmental Protection Policy Plan was aligned with principles of global environmental policy and formed the basis for further environmental protection policy development in Latvia. The Plan defined the main priority areas for environmental protection and the required instruments for their implementation. The necessary measures and activities were listed in the Environmental Protection Action Programme. Implementation of this Programme and the efficiency of selected implementation instruments has been monitored and assessed each year.
Latvia’s political movement towards integration into the European Union had a substantial influence on the further development of the environmental sector. In June 1995, Latvia signed an Association Agreement to commence the accession process and on 1 May 2004, Latvia became a fully-fledged member of European Union.
In October 2000, the Cabinet of Ministers approved Latvia’s negotiation position paper on environmental protection. Discussions with Latvia on the environmental chapter were concluded during the Belgian presidency in November 2001.
Initially, Latvia requested transition periods for 23 EU Directives. After additional discussions and consultations with the European Commission, the number of requested transition periods was reduced to eight, as follows:
- waste water treatment;
- drinking water supply;
- control of emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in petrol storage and distribution from oil terminals to petrol service stations;
- the temporary storage of hazardous waste for a period exceeding 12 months in storage installations that do not fully comply with the conditions set out in the Directive on the landfill of waste (including hazardous waste);
- implementation of Chapter 6 of the Directive on packaging and packaging waste;
- Directive concerning integrated pollution prevention and control of requirements for implementation of the best available techniques in enterprises;
- the safe disposal of hazardous waste containing asbestos in appropriate landfill sites for hazardous waste;
- improvements in the protection of human health against the hazards of ionising radiation resulting from medical exposure to radiation.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection produced a detailed financial budget for implementation of EU requirements in the environmental sector. The budget includes EU pre-accession structural funds, national and municipal funds, and credit resources. It anticipates that over LVL 850 million will be required for the period up to 2015, a large part of which will come from EU structural funds. The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development, since 1 February 2003 the Ministry of Environment, has been designated as the institution responsible for implementation of ISPA funds and cohesion funds in the environmental sector.
Latvia has established broad international cooperation with various financial organisations within the UN and Europe for the preparation and implementation of environmental policy, as well working with many countries on a bilateral basis. Latvia has cooperated extensively with the secretariats of UN international conventions; the Global Environmental Facility (GEF); regional structures of the UN (e.g. Economic Commission for Europe (UN ECE); the European Commission (DG Environment); the European Environment Agency; the International Atomic Energy Agency; the Regional Environmental Centre (REC), and with the countries around the Baltic Sea as part of HELCOM and the Baltic Sea Sustainable Development Strategy.
Investments in environmental protection indicate indirect public support for sustainable development. The development of environmental infrastructure has been included as one of the priorities in both the Long-term Economic Strategy of Latvia and the Latvian National Development Plan 2007-2013.
Between 1995 and 2008, LVL
488 15 million were invested in environmental protection projects. Investments
in environmental protection increased significantly from 2005 onwards and
reached their highest level in 2007 (LVL 109 17 million per year).
During this 14-year period, almost 50 % of the investments took the form of foreign financial assistance (bilateral cooperation partners and EU funds and programmes). Contribution from the state budget was approximately 25 % and finance from investment project owners also amounted to around 25 % (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Dynamics of contributions in the environmental sector by financing source, 1995-2008, in LVL million. (1 EUR = LVL 0.7028.)
Source: Investment Department, Ministry of Environment
Between 1995 and 2008, the largest investment (LVL 385 54 million or 80 % of the total) was spent on the development of water services infrastructure, LVL 66 26 million on municipal waste management infrastructure and LVL 13.81 million on hazardous waste management infrastructure.
One of the general principles of Latvia’s environmental policy is the development of improved legislation and action programmes and their implementation. Ongoing assessment of legislation is also necessary to ensure its appropriateness in a rapidly-changing world. It is therefore important that the community at large is involved in democratic process. The main documents for environmental policy planning in Latvia are:
The National Environmental Policy Plan replaced the first Latvian Environmental Protection Policy Plan, approved by the Cabinet of Ministers in 1995. The National Environmental Policy Plan takes into account EU legislation and policy documents (including the 6th EU Environment Action Programme "Environment 2010: Our Future, Our Choice"), as well as binding commitments under UN and other international conventions.
The Strategy describes the existing situation, defines the aims and challenges of environmental policy and explains the main principles and actions.