Environmental Reform’s Rap-Sheet
01 December, 2011
Environmental Reform’s Rap-Sheet

Structural and sectoral reforms that overloaded Georgian environmental filed starting this spring, fell under focus of European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) Monitoring Coalition, which organized an in-depth analysis of the issue on November 17-18, 2011.

Georgian Government called 2011 a successful year in terms of implementation of environmental commitments undertaken by the state under the EU-Georgia European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) Action Plan. The restructuring of the Ministry of Environment that embarrassed non-governmental environmentalists for it was carried out in a slap-dash manner

and without inclusion of publicity, served as a main argument for this positive assessment. The main goal of structural changes was to separate the use and protection of natural resources. The LEPL Agency of Natural Resources was established within the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources of Georgia (MENR) that inherited the so called “use” function” including inspection of environmental protection, forestry, licenses and permits as well as investigation from the Ministry of Environment Protection and Natural Resources that remained in charge with protection function alone.

Although the process was developed on the contrary of the policy declared in advance and all functions of natural resource management were accumulated (from establishment of conditions of use to control) under the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, the argument was not changed.

In fall 2011 the main risks of implemented changes – paralyzation of state environmental functions emerged. The Government launched a series of initiatives, including the process of leasing of the whole forest fund. The new Draft Forest Law was developed too.

The following important guidelines required for 100% lease and management of the state forest fund do not exist: forestry policy, strategy and legislation (about 20 nonexistent regulations are referred in the new Draft Forest Law).

The forests are leased without prior inventory under excuse that the inventory is an expensive pleasure and Georgia cannot afford it. The categorization of forests has not been yet implemented that poses risks of improper management.

“Without determination of various forms of management in the forests of different categories the serious damages to the environment, population and economy may be expected. Activated erosive processes and deterioration of soil protective and water regulatory functions of forests due to uncontrolled forest felling lead to increased scales of natural disasters causing economic losses amounting hundreds millions  every year. Human losses increase too. Besides the degraded areas the use of untouched stands and steep slopes is a problem too. In this situation the identification of problematic areas, their exclusion and monitoring have a vital importance,” Rezo Getiashvili, the Environmental projects Coordinator at Caucasus Environmental NGO Network (CENN), told Georgian Journal.

Lease implies the possibility to change the status of forests and use the forested areas for other purposes as well as use of water and mineral resources. The biodiversity included in the list of World Biodiversity Hotspots is threatened. The reform deprives the communities, municipalities and regions of natural resources. This may hamper the development of the regions during coming 49 years [as only 49-year-long lease-terms are introduced] and the process of decentralization in general.

The proposed model of management of the forestry sector excludes the possibility of creation of new protected areas. The state monitoring of forest management is limited mainly to market surveillance, while the government lacks the opportunity and resources for monitoring the important factors such as the management of protected forests.

To check how effective is the real picture of separation of use and protection functions in natural resource CENN sent the request to 4 relevant agencies to provide their vision regarding the planned changes. However, only the Agency of Protected Areas recognized its competence.

CENN believes the declared policy of separation of the use and protection functions in natural resource management requires additional clarifications to be made by the government.

The questioned reforms counter the National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP) for 2011-2015 that is an official communication mean with the EU, and according to which the sequence of the measures planned in forestry sector for 2011-2013 included development of the national policy and long-term strategy of the forestry sector, development of the Forest Code, and creation of the technical and methodological basis.

However Georgian government drastically changed plans and decided to adopt the Forest Code in the current year instead of 2013 without prior development of forestry policy, strategy and relevant regulations.

One of the shortcomings of the reform is its closed nature. Public participation in the process is restricted. The local population gets the information once the forests are already privatized. The main documents of the forest reform (new Draft Law and lease agreement) have developed and disseminated in English. The request of the public sector to include competent sector pundits in the process and provide with Georgian version of the draft was ignored.

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