Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

In 2020, only 4% of Ukraine’s waste was recycled – the lowest rate in Europe.

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Ukraine got the green light this week to start sped-up talks on joining the European Union. It’s a big boost for the war-ravaged country, which applied to join the EU a week after Russia invaded in February 2022.

EU officials had said talks couldn’t officially begin until Ukraine addresses multiple issues including corruption, lobbying concerns, and restrictions that might prevent national minorities from studying and reading in their own language. While officials say Ukraine has made progress on these issues in recent months, it still has a long way to go.

Another concern to add to the list is environmental standards.

With an estimated €52.4 billion of environmental damage inflicted on Ukraine by Russia, can a country in the midst of war be expected to reform its environmental standards? And how realistic are prospects of a green reconstruction?

Assessing Ukraine’s environmental standards

“Decent progress in adapting Ukrainian environmental legislation to the requirements of the EU has been made overall,” Ievgeniia Kopytsia, a visiting research fellow at the University of Oxford tells Euronews Green. 

Although Ukraine only applied for EU candidate status in 2022, the country has been working on EU environmental alignment since 2014, implementing the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.

However, in February 2023 Ukraine received a score of 1 out of 5 points for compliance with European environmental standards – with some arguing that Russia’s invasion has got in the way of green reforms.

“Since the war started, implementing environmental reforms has mostly been put on hold”, says Vladlena Martsynkevych, Head of the Board of Ukrainian NGO Ecoaction.

The war has scarred Ukraine’s nature and environment, with toxic chemicals seeping into its soil, air and water. The country has been collecting evidence of environmental crimes, with the goal of eventually launching a case for ecocide against Russia.

For Martsynkevych, military law being in place has made it difficult for non-governmental actors to scrutinise what the government is doing on the environment.

“Adoption and implementation schedules are being significantly delayed due to martial law. Access to information and tools which are used by civil society organisations has also been limited – this has to be restored as soon as possible”, she adds. 

Progress on waste management and water treatment

One key area of progress has been waste management. While Ukraine has been working on reforming this industry since 2017, new measures were implemented in July. 

A move which garnered praise from Europe, “in the past year Ukraine has adopted significant reforms on waste management and water treatment but there is still a long way to go with further waste management and packaging legislation”, Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for Environment, Ocean and Fisheries tells Euronews Green.

Although Ukrainian authorities are dealing with the immense task of processing wartime waste, this issue predates the war. In 2020 only 4% of waste was recycled across Ukraine – the lowest rate in Europe – with 93% ended up in landfills according to researchers.

On top of this, over 99% of the operating landfills were not compliant with European standards, according to experts. 

Part of the issue is that many of these waste facilities are overloaded – posing grave health and environmental concerns. 

On the climate front, methane is also an issue – with 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide for the first 20 years after entering the atmosphere. 

How realistic is a green reconstruction?

Environmental reforms for Ukraine come with high political stakes.

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“Enough progress has been made, especially for a country at war to say this gives us confidence that they can build further from there”, states Florika Fink-Hoojier, EU Environment Commissioner.

Earlier this year, the Ukrainian government reaffirmed its commitments to phase out state-owned coal power plants by 2035, announcing plans to build a climate neutral energy system by 2050.

For now, international financial support for Ukraine has largely come from national governments and international organisations. Given the scale of devastation -the reconstruction is estimated to necessitate €382 billion over a 10-year period – and private companies are being called upon to invest. 

“We are not just talking about the need for international support, we also need private investors to build new technologies, facilities which align with European standards”, says Ukraine’s Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, Ruslan Strilets. 

“We have the capacity to build new renewable energy facilities in Ukraine, the daily bombing of our electricity network has also highlighted the need to do this. But we need investments to be able to do this”, he adds.

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The need for scrutiny on investment

In June 2023 the EU announced the Ukraine Facility – a €50 billion fund for reconstruction loans and grants for 2024-2027.

But some are worried that the urgent need for investment will lead environmental standards to be lowered.

“Certain areas of EU law are not being enforced in Ukrainian legislation. This is why we expect the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to enforce better standards and ensure required due diligence when they give loans to their clients”, according to Valeriya Izhyk, EU Policy Officer at Bankwatch.

For Izhyk, one of the key areas of concern at risk of insufficient scrutiny is “industrial pollution which needs to be regulated correctly, it is one of the most expensive areas to reform because big manufacturers need to implement costly measures to reduce CO2 emissions”.

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