Moldovans do not have sufficient access to environmental information and their right to participate in decision making is often restricted. The responsibilities of the state authorities are fragmented, and many key pieces of the EU law have not yet been transposed. As a result, the environment does not have enough protection, and the country is lagging behind in fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals according to the latest report (1) published by the environmental non-governmental organizations Arnika (Czechia) and Eco-TIRAS (Moldova). In the fields of implementation of the Aarhus Convention (2) - access to information, public participation, and access to environmental justice - several deficiencies were found and should be fixed by the government to comply with the convention, as summarized in the Recommendations of this report (3).
One of the main problems is insufficient access to environmental information. “The situation has not improved for years. Requests from the public for information are frequently ignored. When the authorities respond, the information provided is incomplete or limited,” explains Dr. Natalia Zamfir, a lawyer, associate professor at Moldova State University, and the lead author of the shadow report on the implementation of the Aarhus Convention - the “convention on environmental democracy”. “Only the minority of information is in electronic format and no interconnection between these databases exists. There are no online information tools,” she adds.
“Public participation in decision making is narrow, as the public consultations of laws and regulations are formal, largely limited to their being published on websites without holding actual discussion and considering the comments of the public. The environmental impacts of the majority of projects are not discussed at public hearings,” Zamfir continues. “In the cases when people want to defend their rights in court, they face a lack of environmental lawyers and too-high court fees.”
“The legislation has serious gaps that make protection of the environment difficult,” says Ilya Trombitsky from Eco-TIRAS. “For example, NGOs and other interested persons permanently have difficulties in accessing environmental information. Thus, 13 years ago the government did not provide NGOs with information on forest state fund renting, but five years ago NGOs met with the governmental agency's request to pay a very high cost for the “historical” information on the state of the environment. But the protected natural areas, contrary to the law, lost financing from the state budget. When it comes together with a lack of information and weak public control, we witness looting of the forests and natural resources.”
“Protection of the environment has clearly not been the priority of the government in recent years. Moldova has even not prepared any report on implementation of the Aarhus Convention since 2014 - the only signatory country to do so,” says Zuzana Vachůnová from Arnika. “The new government declares that it has a European orientation, and we can hope with caution that environmental democracy will get the attention from the state that it deserves.”
(1) The shadow report on implementation of the Aarhus Convention in Moldova: Review of law, policy and practice is available here: https://arnika.org/en/publications/aarhus-convention-shadow-implementation-report
(2) The Aarhus Convention, also known as the Convention on Environmental Democracy, entered into force on 30 October 2001. The Aarhus Convention guarantees the right to environmental information, public participation in decision making, access to justice, and protection of defenders of the environment from persecution. More on the Aarhus Convention: https://aarhusclearinghouse.unece.org/
(3) The recommendations of the report are summarized in the Annex below.
1) The Moldovan government should promote the adoption by the Parliament of relevant environmental laws to fully implement the EU environmental acquis ensuing from the Association Agreement. New approaches in the development of environmental policy and legislation should be used, including convergence with key principles governing the EU framework legislation.
2) An Action Plan on the implementation of the Aarhus Convention until at least 2025 should be elaborated on the basis of a clear methodology analysing the factors which did not allow the realization of the previous 2011–2015 plan.
3) The structure of central environmental authorities should be revised to avoid the overlapping of functions and to make the institutional structure more effective by, in particular, separating the permit and inspection functions and creating an executive agency for monitoring, information exchange, and permits under the Ministry of the Environment.
4) A new law on environmental protection should be enacted that introduces an integrated permit system for installations that have a significant impact on the environment with emission limit values set directly in the legislation, following the approach of the Industrial Emissions Directive. Best available techniques (BAT) need to be introduced as a basis for permits.
5) The legislation on access to information should be amended to formulate and delimit clear provisions regarding categories of information of public interest and the EU directive on open data and the reuse of public sector information should be transposed.
6) A publicly accessible online portal should be created with environmental information and related (interconnected) electronic systems of the environmental authorities, including a database of polluters, an equivalent of the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR).
7) Revise regulations on costs for providing information and to make sure providing information itself is free of charge, while allowing administrative costs (data search, copying) for generating the information to be charged.
8) To ensure open access to information an efficient enforcement mechanism should be introduced (including sanctions) to prevent public authorities from arbitrarily violating legislation on access to information and on petitioning.
9) Amend the Law on Environmental Impact Assessment and the Law on Strategic Environmental Assessment in such a way as to enable the public to participate in the early stages of a decision-making process and not only the last stages when it is no longer possible to make any significant changes.
10) The law on state-guaranteed legal aid should be amended in terms of conditions and principles regarding partial or full compensation of qualified legal assistance. The state compensating even a part of the costs of litigation might encourage people to seek legal assistance and bring environmental matters before the courts.