On December 8, as part of the World Forum for Democracy, the Ukrainian School of Political Studies held an online discussion “If the State Fails: Public Participation in Environmental Policy”.
The World Forum for Democracy is an integral part of the USPS program. Every year, in Strasbourg, the Council of Europe holds a large-scale discussion on a particular issue. However, this time, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Forum for Democracy was moved online. But this does not mean that the discussions have stopped and the problems have ended. This time the Forum will last for the next 12 months, during which participants will try to answer one question – can democracy save the environment?
In the online discussion from the Ukrainian School of Political Studies participated civic activists who have created large-scale environmental projects for Ukraine and government officials. Together, they tried to decide how the state and the public should interact to solve environmental problems. The conversation was moderated by Denys Kazanskyi, Journalist and environmental activist.
Experts agreed that today, unfortunately, environmental initiatives in Ukraine replace the functions of the state.
“This is not the job of a civic organization to deal with the disposal of toxic waste. A non-governmental organization should not monitor air quality, nor should it dispose of any, even solid household waste. Nevertheless, these initiatives exist in Ukraine”, – said Olena Maslyukivska, Associate Professor of the Department of Ecology at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and USPS alumna.
According to the speaker, environmental initiatives in Ukraine are similar to startups. Their goal is to create a certain public good. And society must decide how to support these organizations to ensure their sustainability.
In turn, Maksym Borodin, Environmental activist and member of the Mariupol City Council, spoke about his environmental protest experience in the struggle for clean air with industrial enterprises in Mariupol. Due to the pressure, Mariupol residents managed to force large industrial facilities to start modernizing their equipment. However, the speaker is sure that protests are a temporary means of influence.
“NGOs cannot constantly replace the state system of monitoring and control because activists do not have the authority to do this. We monitor and see excess pollution, but there is nothing we can do as activists. Until the legislation changes, there are no opportunities for environmental changes”, – Maksym Borodin explained.
The next speaker, Artem Romanyukov, is USPS alumnus and co-founder of the environmental chatbot Saveecobot, which already has more than 1 million active users. After several years of working to make it easier to breathe in his hometown, Dnipro, the speaker is convinced that environmental activities should start with education.
“We have created a demand for air quality data in Ukraine. But now, the state must intervene in this process. The most logical step should be the state monitoring of emission sources. The state can be our partner here. State monitoring is an important next step. We are ready to help the state in this”, – the speaker said.
Lyubov Kolosovska, co-founder and director of the organization “Batteries, surrender!” (a project that collects batteries and organizes the recycling process) and USPS alumna, noted the importance of the financial component of environmental activism.
“Someone has to pay for environmental sustainability, decisions, and changes. However, many people do not understand this. The first idea in Europe was that the state takes money from polluters and uses it to change the situation for the better. However, this idea is outdated”, – said Lyubov Kolosovska.
According to the expert, if the polluter can simply buy off, it is the avoidance of responsibility because responsibility relies entirely on the state. Instead, the state should delegate responsibility and authority to other entities, such as garbage-producing businesses, so that they can contribute to solving the problem themselves. The state should only control this process.
Head of Ukraine’s state ecological inspection service (2019-2020) and Head of the “Environmental Alternative” political party Yegor Firsov, in contrast, is convinced that neither democracy nor activism can solve environmental issues.
“Activists cannot be relied on to solve, and not just actualize, environmental problems. Activism is like an antibiotic. It only works when there is an acute problem. Professional non-governmental institutions engaged in environmental activities could help. The environmental agenda in the world and in Ukraine is now very complex, especially if it is needed to be synchronized with European legislation. This task also covers the economy, energy, infrastructure. Energy and activism are simply not enough to solve these problems. We need professional people”, – the speaker said.
Lesya Vasylenko, Member of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Environmental Policy and Nature Management and USPS Parliamentary Program alumna, noted that synergy, coordination, and cooperation are needed to solve environmental problems.
“Our task is always to use the opportunities we have at a particular time. There are tasks for the government, for the parliament, and the civil society. Besides, it is necessary to involve local governments, media, business representatives. The latter make money by using resources, and therefore it also depends on them whether the decisions will be implemented. Roles must be clearly assigned. We have to play these roles to the end and ensure, within the limits of our capabilities and responsibilities, the rules and observance of the rules that will allow us to live in a safe environment“, – Lesya Vasylenko explained.
Oleksandr Marikovsky, Deputy Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Environmental Policy and Nature Management and USPS alumnus, also participated in the discussion. According to him, the fight against environmental problems depends on values.
“The vocation to protect the environment is based on values. Through activism and civic organizations, these values can be revived in the population. This is what is happening in Ukraine. With a critical mass of people who share these values, civic participation in environmental policy is a very great force”, – said the MP.
In turn, Oleksiy Ryabchyn, Adviser to the Minister of Environmental Protection, Adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister on European Integration, and USPS alumnus, shared his experience of cooperation between civil society and the state in environmental issues.
“NGOs do not always know how to incorporate their initiatives into the state mechanism properly. If cooperation with civic organizations is successful, great things can happen. However, some aspects, such as environmental externalities, must be tightly controlled by the state. Such questions cannot be left to chance”, – Oleksiy Ryabchyn said.
The discussion participants concluded that it is necessary to look for new ways of interaction between environmental activists and the state to achieve results not only through pressure, protests, demands, and crowdfunding initiatives. The state must provide support to civic environmental organizations and take over the functions of monitoring and control over Ukraine’s environmental situation, as no one else in the country has the authority to do so.
The state should be a partner for civic initiatives. This is not happening yet, but we must strive to share environmental pollution responsibility, not to avoid it. Representatives of civic organizations expressed readiness to assist the state on environmental issues.