From: Erblin Vukaj
EC Criticise Government on Hydropower Plants, Incinerators, and Tourist Resorts

The country progress report, based on which the European Commission recommended the opening of accession negotiations with Albania last week, includes some harsh criticism on environmental issues. Government initiatives to construct hydropower plants, waste incinerators and tourist resorts, particularly in protected areas, as well as lack of legislation and administrative capacities has drawn the European Commission’s disapproval.

The EC raises concerns regarding permits awarded by the Albanian government to construct potentially highly damaging structures in protected areas. It adds that proper procedures were not followed in awarding such permits, including impact assessment and public consultations. Furthermore, proper environmental legislation has not been approved and culprits of illegal activities have not been held accountable.

Nature protection

The European Commission progress report on Albania recognizes the positive changes in the law on protected areas which was amended in 2018.

However, the Strategic Investment Law raises concerns for the EC, as it can allow large tourism and industrial investments in protected areas. The report specifically mentions protected areas in Divjaka / Karavasta (also here) and Vjosa (also here), on which we have written before on Exit. The report underlines that the law is in contradiction with Albania’s and international laws. It further criticizes procedures followed by government in awarding permits to build hydropower plants in protected areas. The EC calls on the government to comply with national and international nature protection and water management obligations, ensure public participation and consultation, and guarantee projects’ impact assessment on nature and biodiversity. The report also noted that culprits engaged in deforestation need to be prosecuted.  Its criticism is in a similar line with earlier articles published on on the Strategic Investment Law (also here), hydropower plants and deforestation.

Air quality

The report urges the government to further align Albania’s legislation on air quality with the acquis. It points out that the government has not passed a national strategy for air quality, and that it has not enforced the legislation on air quality. Albania and its capital Tirana are among the most polluted areas in Europe. For more on air quality in Albania read here, here, and here.

Waste management

The report points out that the draft National Strategy for Integrated Waste Management is in the consultation phase. It urges for further efforts to close the over 199 non-compliant landfills and dumpsites, and to start implementing separate collection of waste streams, increase recycling and reuse, and start composting bio-waste. It estimates that only 65% of waste is collected in Albania and there is no recycling of demolition waste. The EC criticizes the government for the planned construction of three incinerators (in Elbasan, Tirana and Fier), which don’t comply with the EU Directives on Waste and with the EU targets for recycling. It further adds that incinerators are the least preferred waste management option. Despite protests and continued criticism, the Albanian at government has pushed these projects forward. You can find more about waste management in Albania here, here, here, here, and here, here, and here.

Water quality

The report underlines the fact that the government has not made efforts to align the national legislation with the EU directives. It states that there is a “strong need’ to build sewage networks treatment plants, particularly in urban, coastal and touristic areas. The report also urges the government to “urgently” strengthen the National Environmental Agency for a better monitoring of water quality. In 2017, the Municipality of Tirana raised the water price by 40 per cent. To date, no substantial investment has been made to improve water quality of management.

Climate change

The report notes that Albania’s alignment with the EU acquis is still limited. It has not adopted a national strategy on climate change consistent with the EU legislation, and it has no administrative structure for handling related issues. The government should enforce measures on emission standards for new cars, greenhouse gas emissions, and strengthen administrative capacities of related institutions. For more on climate change issues in Albania read here, here, and here.

The report notes that in the coming year, Albania should in particular:

– Align with key water directives and accelerate the capacity development of the related national agencies;

– Take immediate measures to review and improve environmental and strategic impact assessments on existing and planned projects, especially in the hydropower, construction, tourism, and mining sectors;

– Start implementing the Paris Agreement by adopting a national strategy and legislation on climate change.