Environment Ministers of the V4 countries, Romania and Bulgaria met in Lednice. They discussed nature conservation, waste management and problems associated with drought
The Czech Republic is currently chairing the so-called Visegrad Group whose Environment Ministers met in Lednice on 12 and 13 May at a joint official meeting. The Czech Republic was represented at the 23rd meeting of Environment Ministers of the V4 states, Bulgaria and Romania by the Minister of the Environment, Richard Brabec. The agenda of the meeting of the representatives of 6 states and invited representatives of the European Commission included the policy of the use of waste as a resource, or the topic of biological diversity protection across Europe. The Ministers discussed, for example, their experience with expanding the national lists of sites of Community importance and bird areas protected under the European Natura 2000 network. The last key topic of the joint meeting was drought, which has been plaguing in recent years not only Europe and so has become a new world fright for national economies and the security of citizens.
The Czech Republic was affected by drought in 2015. As a result of high temperatures, low total rainfall and the mild winter of 2015/2016, the current stocks of surface and groundwater are significantly below average for early May, and so the starting position before the summer period is not favorable. Whether drought will be a threat also in 2016 will be determined by the development of precipitation and air temperatures in the upcoming period, but the first predictions of the development are not optimistic . Drought affects not only the population directly in the form of loss of water in wells or possible restrictions on water use in households, but it is also a great fright for the economy, especially for the agriculture sector. Thanks to the initiative of the Minister of the Environment, Richard Brabec, the Czech Republic began last year to adopt the first measures that will help retain water in the landscape, will ensure supplies of drinking water for the dry periods and will prepare the Czech Republic for possible crisis situations arising from water losses.
For example, the MoE announced a grant programme for economical water management in municipalities. The call is open until 30 June 2016 . The municipalities which will propose the most sophisticated systems leading to economical water management can obtain a subsidy of up to CZK 5 million. The supported actions are e.g. systems for the reuse of rain and grey water, wastewater treatment projects including sustainable endings (e.g. further treatment of the WWTP effluent, further use of the sludge), implementation of vegetation roofs and vegetation covers of facades.
"For the citizens, we are preparing a programme for households focusing on the management of rain water. Already this year, hundreds of millions of Czech crowns could head directly to the citizens on purchasing retention tanks for rain water usable for watering and regular housework. As for today's meeting, it was very beneficial to exchange experience on drought prevention measures with the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe, which have many common features," Minister Brabec comments on the debate over the topic.
The Ministers of all states discussed together the future of waste management in Europe in the form of so-called circular economy, in other words, the increasing demands on the use of waste as a resource, reducing landfilling and increasing the recycling of waste. Waste re-use can produce countless jobs, after the introduction of the so-called circular economy, 40 thousand new jobs would be created in the Czech Republic. At the same time, recycling and material recovery of waste reduces the material demands of the economy and saves the primary sources. A part of implementing the so-called circular economy is the use of specific tools e.g. to increase recycling and to reduce landfill. Examples of such tools include increasing the fee for depositing waste in landfills, as well as the introduction of payments for waste by citizens in the form of "Pay as you throw" (PAYT). "This system will allow people to pay the municipality for municipal waste according to the weight or the volume or frequency of the collection from garbage cans, or according to the number and volume of the waste bags. It is a great motivation to prevent waste and to recycle waste consistently,” says Minister Brabec.
Currently, the Ministry is settling comments under the legislative process concerning a new Act on waste that will enable municipalities to a large extent to introduce such system and it will enact it. For example, Romania is currently preparing new legislation for the so-called PAYT. In the South Moravian Region, the waste management system in Mikulov is a good example of the benefits of the PAYT system both for the municipality and for the citizens. "We also talked with the Ministers about other tools such as the introduction of a reduced VAT on recycled products, about the need for new technologies and their financing, and, of course, about the recycling targets of all the EU States, which are a hot topic in the context of the preparation of the new European legislation," the Minister continued.
The agenda of the two-day meeting included discussion on experience with expanding the national lists of sites of Community importance and bird areas protected under the European Natura 2000 network. "The experience with nature protection through Natura 2000 is very similar in all the participating countries. Interests in nature protection are often in conflict with public interests of the economy and development, and so are generally a challenge for all the Environment Ministers," said Minister Brabec. Despite that, most countries managed to meet the requirements of the European habitats directive already several years ago. For example in Bulgaria, the Natura 2000 network covers over 34% of the territory. In the Czech Republic, the list was last expanded this year after over 50 new sites throughout the country were included on the list and the Natura 2000 network now covers 10.1% of the territory .
The Visegrad Group represents, in the long term, a significant platform for the formulation of common views and the above mentioned exchange of knowledge and experience. The joint meeting was attended, apart from Environment Minister Richard Brabec, by the State Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture V. Németh Zsolt. on behalf of Hungary, the Polish Environment Minister Jan Szyszko, Slovak Environment Minister László Solymos, Bulgarian Minister of the Environment and Water Ivelina Vassileva, and on behalf of Romania by the State Secretary of the Ministry of the Environment, Water and Forests, Olimpia Negru. From 1 July 2016, the Presidency of the Visegrad Group will be handed over to Poland.
 Report on the 2015 drought on the website of the CHMI: http://portal.chmi.cz/files/portal/docs/meteo/ok/SUCHO/zpravy/Sucho_2015_prosinec_2015.pdf
 More on the topic here: http://www.mzp.cz/cz/news_160318_EVL_rozsireni
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