EIAs do not ensure protection of the environment

Since the Law on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) has been passed in 2008, a large number of development plans, programs and projects which have significant impacts on Montenegro’s environment have been made. Based on experiences so far, the question arises as to whether the impact assessments in practice are indeed instruments for environmental protection envisioned in the applicable laws.

With low GDP growth rates, the tendency to encourage investment and create new jobs is set as a priority. Potential investors are often glorified by public administrations, and development and spatial plans are often adapted to their interests. Excellent examples are spatial planning and construction along coastal areas. In public institutions, especially coming from political leaders, one can hear statements that view impact assessment and planning processes as a business barrier. In addition, supporting environmental protection is only declarative and there is no real willingness to consistently implement advanced legal solutions and strategies that are often connected to the process of coordinating domestic choices with EU policies and international standards. It has been shown that EIAs are often the "victim" of such circumstances, and that EIAs have being used to enable and realize certain investments, plans, programs or projects; losing their primary function of recognizing and controlling significant negative impacts to the environment and ensuring sustainable development.

Positive examples exist - where comprehensive studies of relevant environmental segments have been made when preparing and implementating certain plans and projects with detailed impacts of a plan or a project on the existing situation. However, even in cases of quality assessments in which adequate mitigation measures have been established, the implementation of these measures and environmental monitoring that follows is generally not satisfactory.

Another circumstance that does not go hand in hand with a consistent and effective implementation of impact assessments is widespread corruption. As recent investigations and court processes have shown, spatial planning and management of natural resources, that is, the issuing of permits and approvals for the execution of projects, represent a furtile ground for corruption; especially in areas that are attractive for development. Apart from corrupt actions, private interests of individuals are placed above sustainability requirements, and hence the space for the quality application of impact assessments narrows.

There are numerous factors that negatively affect the implementation of EIAs. Namely, at the decision making level, there is no readiness for the declared principles and established goals to be actually implemented and supported by the necessary financial and human resources. Nor is there a readiness for objective assessment of the results of EIAs and accountability for such results. Under these circumstances, many procedures, and even impact assessments, are implemented only to satisfy the form. Not to substantially examine problems and determine solutions that guarantee the best outcomes for the environment. Such conditions form the work of public administration employees and also of private sector representatives, investors and professional companies, which act as EIA and SEA processors. The capacity of the administration that implement the EIA and the SEA is limited, especially at the local level. This is primarily with regard to the number of employees, but also in terms of the key competencies required for the implementation of procedures. In some municipalities, for example, there is only one person involved in environmental protection and there are cases where this person has other duties besides this set of tasks.

Improving the conduct of EIA, and their ultimate implementation, requires the joint work and synergy of all participants in the process. Therefore, NGO Green Home will organize a round table on "Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Environmental Assessment as Environmental Instruments" to discuss the problems that exist in this area with the aim of finding the best solutions for using environmental impact assessments as a proper environmental protection instrument. The mentioned round table will be organized on Wednesday, February 7, 2018 in Hotel Podgorica.

Milija Čabarkapa,

NGO Green Home