EU funds to make Latvia the greenest country in the world? A vision still on paper
Bankwatch Mail | 8 October 2012
This summer Latvia’s minister for environment and regional development, along with some other like-minded politicians, appeared to kick-start a green revolution by proposing to set a ‘green vision’ for the small Baltic country’s National Development Plan (NDP) for the 2014-2020 period.
This article is from Issue 53 of our quarterly newsletter Bankwatch Mail
The NDP will set priorities for Latvia’s EU funds investments, and since EU funds make up around 70 percent of all public investment in Latvia, the plan is considered to be a key document. After several rounds of public consultations on various drafts, the final draft of the NDP is expected to be approved by the Cabinet in the second half of October.
The appearance of a ‘Green vision’ document, to complement the ‘real’ NDP, was seen by many in Latvia as a green alternative, bringing green issues into the spotlight as well as sparking high level political debate. Above all, the green vision suggests that green development is feasible, and it stresses the importance of energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources for Latvia’s future.
What the country should not do, though, is fall into the trap of continuing with ‘business as usual’, namely depleting the environment in the cause of securing economic growth, and only thinking about how to clean it up at some date in the future.
This unsustainable way forward, in fact, is what the NDP appears to be all about. The European Commission for one has expressed its disappointment due to the environment being largely absent in the draft versions of the NDP.
Latvian NGOs initially welcomed the process involved in the NDP drafting as it was open, transparent and participatory from the beginning. As the process proceeded, however, transparency decreased, especially when politicians started playing a more prominent role in drafting the plan.
Alongside these concerns are the lack of environmental safeguards contained in the NDP. NGOs have been calling for the plan to follow the EU’s 2020 targets and to consider meaningful ways to achieve green and low carbon development.
Official responses have tended to stress that Latvia has no environment-related problems and instead there needs to be a focus on economic growth and demographic issues. This view ignores the increasing pressure on biodiversity protection outside nature protection areas, such as Latvia’s valuable forests and meadows, as well as growing concerns over waste management practices that feature low rates of recycling and processing of raw materials.
Although some NGO comments were taken on board during the NDP consultations – the NDP’s objective refers to sustainable development – substantial improvements and changes that would green the plan failed to appear. This was the spur for the environment minister, Edmunds Sprūdžs, to release the green vision document.
Public consultation on both documents ended on September 21 and whether or not public comments have made it into the final plans remains to be seen.
Sprūdžs remains convinced that there is public demand for a common development vision and that the green vision should be the one.