The FINANCIAL -- Changing the attitude of citizens towards the environment is the longest and most difficult process to carry out, as the experience of various countries has shown. Georgians have to move from a consumer-oriented attitude towards an attitude of care.
Fines for violation of the environmental law and environmental damage in Georgia during 2013 amounted to GEL 6,748,368. The positive news is that the private sector has recently started conducting more activities in environmental protection.
“The practice of developed countries shows that a country’s long-term economic development is impossible without meeting certain environmental standards. It is important to avoid the negative consequences of a degraded environment. This will help to avoid state expenses in the future that will be necessary for restoring a degraded environment,” Khatuna Gogaladze, Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources Protection of Georgia, told The FINANCIAL.
Q. How would you estimate the year 2013 in terms of environment protection in Georgia?
A. The reorganization of the Ministry and its institutional and functional strengthening has been one of the most important steps during 2013. The central office of the Ministry, as well as its subordinated institutions, has strengthened significantly. LEPL - National Forest Agency, LEPL - Basic Sapling Economy, LEPL - Center for Environmental Information and Education and sub-institution the Department of Environment Supervision, were all created / restored under the system of the Ministry. The Ministry started regulating the nuclear and radiation safety measures. Forest policy, land resource protecting and anthropogenic threat managing structural units were implemented in the central office.
This institutional change has been reflected in the state budget law. In accordance, budgetary funds have doubled. The Ministry also strengthened in terms of human resources. There are more than 2,200 employees at the Ministry and LEPLs.
Q. What are the main problems that Georgia faces in regard to environmental protection?
A. The sector has largely been ignored over the years. Its importance has not been estimated accordingly. All this has meant that numerous problems have accumulated, including the legal framework and absence of qualified staff. If we look at the field as a whole, the wrong practice of forest management should be noted. It resulted in the degradation of forest area. Pollution (especially in some particular areas) and insufficiently effective mechanisms of its prevention and mitigation should also be noted. An inadequate observation network and lack of information are also a significant obstacle in making correct decisions. These are just examples. A number of steps have been taken in line with solving these problems and the Ministry continues to work in this direction.
Q. What is the budget of the Ministry for 2014 and what are your priorities?
A. The budget of the Ministry amounted to GEL 31 million. Out of this sum GEL 4,200,000 are grants. In addition we have our own income from various LEPLs. It is hard to talk about priorities. Every field of environmental protection is tightly linked to another. However, I would underline the forest sector, surveillance, waste management, natural disaster prevention and strengthening of monitoring in particular.
Q. During the past year you implemented various preventive measures to avoid negative impacts on the environment. How much did the budget of fines amount to and in which area did we have the most lawbreakers?
A. The Department of Environmental Supervision detected 3,128 cases of environmental law violations during 2013. Out of this, 3,007 cases were of administrative violation, and 121 of criminal offense.
The fines for the violations of administrative law amounted to GEL 1,740,090. The fines for the violation of the environmental law and environmental damage amounted to GEL 6,748,368. In 2013, most of the cases of lawbreaking (about 45%) were observed in wood transportation and illegal forest use.
I must emphasize that penalties and filling the budget with fines is not our goal. Prevention is our primary goal. In this regard we are carrying out a number of measures.
Q. Would you say that citizens violating laws on the environment is due to there being an incorrect attitude in the country, as protecting the environment is not a large part of people’s everyday concerns?
A. Changing the attitude of citizens toward the environment is the longest and most difficult process to carry out, as the experience of various countries has shown. We just have to move from a consumer-oriented attitude towards an attitude of care. Each person must realize their role in this. Unfortunately, the level of environmental awareness is low. Our Ministry is actively conducting educational activities. Such information campaigns should be delivered more actively. Activities enhancing environmental awareness should be implemented with the relevant parties from the earliest stages - at kindergartens, schools and universities. Electronic as well as printed media, NGOs, together with the Ministry, can play an important role in enhancing environmental awareness.
Q. Environment protection is more prioritized for developed countries. Do you think that building an eco-friendly society is less achievable until the economic situation improves in Georgia?
A. The practice of developed countries shows that a country’s long-term economic development is impossible without meeting environmental standards. It is important to avoid the negative consequences of a degraded environment. This will help to avoid state expenses in the future that will be necessary to restore a degraded environment.
If we do not adhere to environmental standards today and pollute the surface waters, damage topsoil, or randomly deforest nature, in the future the state will have to pay a much greater cost for sewage treatment, restoring soil or combating landslides. Therefore, an eco-friendly environment should be conducted in parallel with the country’s economic development.
Q. Many new and existing city parks and squares have been opened and renovated in Georgia recently; however, there is still a lack of green spaces in Tbilisi. What is the number of trees that you plan to plant this year?
A. Under the initiative of the Prime Minister’s “Green Future”, planting is underway all over Georgia. Planting 500,000 saplings all over the country is planned for the end of the year. However, it should be noted that it is very important to then take care of these plants for several years. We are results-oriented.
Accordingly, plants have their own “caretakers” that have the responsibility of looking after them in the future. We are monitoring the whole process, providing recommendations, and this will continue in the future.
Q. How would you assess companies’ activities in terms of environmental protection?
A. In this regard, there has been a certain revival from the private sector, which is most welcomed. Representatives of companies have started to apply to us and offer various environmental events. The support of the private sector is very important. Implementing modern resource-saving technologies and standards in businesses is profitable not only for the environment but also for companies. Hopefully, the private sector will more and more actively realize this. In addition, the introduction of green and clean technologies significantly improves a company’s image, which is also important for them.
Q. You were planning to start developing a list of green companies to encourage environmentally responsible companies. Which steps did you take to develop eco-friendly companies in Georgia in 2013?
A. In 2013 our ministry announced the contest Georgian Green Business. 17 companies applied. On 22 April, Earth Day, an awards ceremony was held. We hope that this will encourage a broader range of businesses, and enhance motivation and competition between companies in terms of environmental awareness.
Being a ‘Green Company’ means being a company that cares about solving environmental problems. It operates energy efficiently, does not pollute the environment, air, water and generally cares about increasing environmental awareness.
The winner of the Georgian Green Business was the hotel Radisson Blu Iveria. It was evaluated by the following criteria: the most innovative, ambitious and effective initiative, aimed at the implementation of an environmental business practice.
Q. What are the main challenges for Georgian environmental protection in 2014?
A. It is very difficult to single out a particular challenge. We are facing a number of important challenges. Improving the quality of the environment, sustainable use of natural resources, creating an equal level for competition, raising public awareness, guaranteeing the confidence and support of higher quality - are significant. The fight against poaching, prevention, detection and suppression of the illegal extraction of natural resources, pollution and strengthening the control of performing terms of licenses and permissions - remain the main direction of our activity in terms of state supervision.