Over the next 10 years, Croatia, as a new Member State of the EU, faces significant obligations in the area of environmental protection. We can easily say that it is in this area that Croatia will have the most difficult task in meeting its EU requirements, even though many Croatian citizens believe that Croatia is more environmentally preserved in comparison to other, more industrially developed, European countries. In financial terms, the most difficult obligations are found in the areas of waste management, wastewater treatment, and the reduction of emissions and pollution by industry.
At present, Croatia does not possess a waste management system. The majority of local authorities discard non-processed communal waste in landfills. A primary selection of useful waste is almost non-existent, there exists no plant for the thermal processing of either communal or dangerous waste, and no centre for waste management has been built as of yet. Finally, there exist no market principles in the management of the so-called special categories of waste, as the system is financed through the Environmental Protection and Energy Efficiency Fund, whose non-transparent and corrupt operations have been the subject of an increasing number of investigations by the State Attorney’s Office for several years now.
Even though in Croatia we can enjoy high quality tap water on a daily basis , being one of the small number of water rich countries (relevant research shows that in terms of accessibility and richness of water sources we hold the fifth best place in Europe), we behave irresponsibly and with little respect towards this resource. This lack of respect towards water resources has manifold manifestations – open wounds in the aquifers through uncontrolled and reckless gravel extraction, the non-existence of a sewage system, the lack of wastewater treatment, the wasting of water due to losses within the water supply network (of more than 40% in bigger cities and municipalities), communal and industrial pollution of surface and underground water, unsustainable usage of water in everyday life, and the lack of implementation of active and passive measures of water protection.
In spite of the fact that water resources are at this moment not a limiting factor for the development of the Croatian economy, it does not absolve the state from taking all necessary measures to not only maintain this status, but further advance it. It is unacceptable that in 2013, less than 50% of the Croatian population is connected to a sewage system, and only 64% of those connected are connected to a communal wastewater treatment plant. Hence, in this area at the least, Croatia cannot be seen as part of the developed Europe.
The potential from protection
Due to the current state, the obligations that Croatia has undertaken in the process of negotiations in the area of environmental and nature protection will contribute to improvements in the quality of life of Croatian citizens, as they ensure a higher level of environmental protection.
The advancement of environmental quality will surely contribute to the protection of health of Croatians, thus leading to savings in the health system. Additionally, higher environmental standards can contribute to the economic prosperity of the state through creating possibilities for the development of a “green” economy and employment, as their implementation will require the introduction of new technologies. Significant investments will be needed for some of the measures, while others, such as the increase in energy efficiency, will ultimately result in savings, thus not creating an increase in costs.
- In the field of waste management, Croatia has undertaken the obligation to establish a complete waste management system, for which it has a transitional period up until 2018. The establishment of a complete waste management system is closely related to the regulation of existing landfills. In parallel, by the end of 2020, we are obliged to gradually decrease the percentage of biodegradable waste which is discarded in landfills, aiming to reduce levels to a maximum of 35 % of waste. The first deadline Croatia has to meet in the area of waste management comes at the end of 2013, when the level of biodegradable waste being discarded on landfills should have decreased by 25 %, in comparison to 1997 figures.
- In the field of water quality, a transitional period is ensured up to 2023, which is the final deadline for building the drainage system and the communal wastewater treatment system. In terms of drinking water, the transitional period during which a prescribed quality of water in terms of microbiological markers must be ensured lasts until 2018. As a Member State, Croatia will ask for an additional prolongation of the deadline related to reaching the prescribed chemical parameters for an additional three years from the date of accession to the EU. When it comes to the protection of underground and surface water from pollution due to nitrates resulting from agriculture, a 4 year action plan was agreed for the construction of manure basins on agricultural estates. Through implementation of this action program gradual usage of manure will be allowed on agricultural fields, while application of Nitrate Directive starts following the accession to the EU.
- 67 industrial installations have been granted a transitional period lasting until the end of 2018 for upgrading their performance and ensuring the best available technology so as to be granted the “environmental work permit“, in striving to decrease industrial pollution. The end of 2017 is the deadline for ensuring emission reductions of air pollutants from large facilities of thermal power above 50 MW, which are also obliged to acquire an environmental permit. By the end of 2015 at the latest, it is necessary to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds which are the result of the usage of organic solvents in certain processes and certain installations, such as coating, chemical cleaning, colour production, pharmaceutical production etc. All granted transitional periods in the field of industrial pollution reduction have the above listed deadlines (2015 through to 2017) as the very latest dates to ensure compliance with regulations in the fields. However, for every installation an individual deadline has been set in joint agreement.
- In the field of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions Croatia has been part of the EU Emissions Trading System since the 1st of January 2013. 73 Croatian installations from the energy and industry sectors are part of the system. The aviation industry, which includes flights inside of Croatia and flights towards countries outside of the European Economic Area will be included in the emissions trading starting from January 1st 2014. As a result of negotiations, an increase of 26 % in the sales of emission units has been granted to Croatia in relation to the base quotas defined for each Member State. The financial resources collected through the auction will be used for the project aimed at greenhouse gas emission mitigation (like renewable energy, energy efficiency, projects of cleaner production) as well as climate change adjustments. The negotiations related to the emission from other sectors, such as agriculture, transport, waste management, public expenditure and similar which resulted in an agreed increase in emissions of up to 11 % in 2020 relative to the 2005 levels.
- In the field of chemicals, due to harmonisation with the regulation on the registration of chemicals, Croatia has been granted three 6 month transitional periods through the regulation on the safe management of chemicals, starting from the date of accession to the EU. The above-mentioned extended period for the regulation of registration will allow the Croatian chemical industry to find itself in an equal position to the chemical industries of other member states, starting with the date of accession, all with the aim of ensuring higher competitiveness on the European Union single market.
- In the field of nature protection, we need to draft a proposal for the sites which are to form part of the European ecological network NATURA 2000, contributing to the conservation of threatened species and habitats. NATURA 2000 supports the principles of sustainable development; its goal is not to exclude all human activities but to define parameters according to which they can be conducted in a way that does not threaten the preservation of biological diversity. NATURA 2000 ensures the preconditions and supplements the demands of ecological (rural) tourism and ecological agriculture. The realisations of the aims of NATURA 2000 are accompanied by the strong European policy and the financial support of EU funds.
The clock is ticking
Adjustments to the European standards of environmental protection will not be an easy task for Croatia, neither in terms of finances nor in terms of its administrative capacity. The human resources dealing with these issues are presently not sufficiently prepared or sufficient in number. Furthermore, in certain fields (like those of waste and water management) there are reasonable suspicions indicating a connection between public administration (the Ministry for Environment and Nature Protection and the Environmental Protection and Energy Efficiency Fund) and particular “waste” lobbies. Additionally, a general feeling among the public is that there is a lack of political will to introduce order and transparency in the financing of these projects. Due to all of the above-stated, there are serious indications that Croatia will join individual Member States in paying financial penalties, due to its non-fulfilment of the EU environment Directives and obligations taken on. There isn’t much time left, commitments and obligations are demanding, and environmental issues are still not considered a priority political issue in Croatia.