copy the linklink copied!Chapter 2. Environmental governance and management

Latvia has a strong regulatory framework for environmental management. However, institutional capacity constraints impede more effective implementation of environmental law and use of good regulatory practices, particularly in compliance assurance. The country has well-developed and effectively used mechanisms of environmental democracy. This chapter analyses the environmental governance system, including horizontal and vertical institutional co-ordination and the setting and enforcement of environmental requirements. It also addresses public participation in decision making and access to environmental information, education and justice.

    

“The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.

copy the linklink copied!2.1. Introduction

The 2016 World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators show Latvia having improved most of its scores, including government effectiveness, regulatory quality and rule of law, since 2006 (World Bank, 2017). The stability of the institutional framework is an important factor in this success. Good governance also manifests itself in Latvia’s mature environmental democracy: public participation and access to information and justice. At the same time, trust in public authorities, particularly in the national government, is low, as is citizens’ engagement in decision making (Seimuskane and Vorslava, 2013).

Since joining the European Union (EU) in 2004, Latvia has made its legal framework consistent with the EU environmental acquis. In 2017, it was among the EU countries with the fewest open infringements against EU environmental directives (EC, 2018). However, Latvia would benefit from more actively pursuing good international practices in ensuring compliance with domestic environmental law.

copy the linklink copied!2.2. Institutional framework for environmental governance

Latvia is a unitary state and has a centralised system of environmental governance, with key environment-related functions concentrated in the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development (MEPRD). Local governments are responsible for land-use planning and environmental services. Inter-ministerial and vertical collaboration largely occurs in the framework of development policies.

2.2.1. Central government and horizontal co-ordination

The MEPRD develops and implements Latvia’s environmental policy. It also implements regional development policy and provides methodological support to local governments for implementation of their development policies. In the environmental domain, the MEPRD relies on four key institutions:

  • The State Environmental Service (SES), the main regulatory authority for environmental protection, issues permits and licences and carries out inspections. The SES has eight Regional Environmental Boards (REBs) – based in Riga, Daugavpils, Jelgava, Liepāja, Madona, Rēzekne, Valmiera and Ventspils – to provide easier access to public services. Institutional separation of regulatory powers from policy-making ones (which reside with the ministry) is a good international practice.

  • The Environment State Bureau (ESB) co-ordinates environmental impact assessment (EIA) and strategic environmental assessment (SEA) procedures. The ESB also oversees eco-labelling and provides methodological support to integrated permitting. A special agency for environmental assessment is an arrangement used in several OECD countries, including Canada and Chile.

  • The Nature Conservation Agency (NCA) manages all specially protected natural areas and controls international trade of endangered species (Chapter 5).

  • Latvian Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre (LEGMC) is responsible for environmental monitoring, assessment of environmental quality and natural resources, development of river basin management plans (RBMPs), collection and evaluation of environmental information, management of environmental data and reporting on the state of environment.

Cost-cutting reform of the public sector was undertaken in 2009 to mitigate the consequences of the financial crisis. This had a considerable impact in the environmental field. Since the merger of the environment and regional development ministries in 2011, the institutional structure has been stable, which helped in developing environmental authorities’ human resource capacity. However, financial and staff resources remain below the 2007 levels. REB staff numbers have declined by 40% (EC, 2017), impairing SES compliance monitoring capability: there are only 56 environmental inspector posts across the country, and not all are filled (Section 2.4.1). Furthermore, the MEPRD underwent a 14% staff cut in 2014 (Brizga, 2018).

As is common in other countries, several line ministries have environment-related responsibilities. The Ministry of Economy supervises energy generation and energy efficiency, and plays a key role by overseeing the energy market, including renewables. The Ministry of Agriculture develops policies on agriculture, forestry and fisheries; the State Forest Service, State Plant Protection Service and Food and Veterinary Service operate under its auspices. The Ministry of Transport works with the MEPRD on sustainable transport planning, introduction of cleaner vehicles and management of end-of-life vehicles. The Maritime Administration of Latvia monitors ships’ compliance with environmental protection requirements. The Ministry of Health develops regulations on drinking and bathing water quality and chemical safety, which its State Health Inspectorate enforces.

The Cross-Sectoral Coordination Centre (CSCC), a permanent body of civil servants created in 2010 under the Prime Minister’s Office, oversees implementation of Latvia’s Sustainable Development Strategy until 2030 (Latvia 2030) and the national development plan. Since 2015, the centre has also been the focal point for implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 2030 Agenda. The CSCC issues non-binding opinions on draft policies that may be discussed by the Cabinet of Ministers. The National Development Council, set up in 2014 as a political advisory body, also focuses on long-term development priorities. It comprises key ministers but does not meet often. Instead, ministerial state secretaries meet regularly to co-ordinate on key policy issues. There are also development councils in the planning regions (Section 2.3.4).

Several permanent and ad hoc inter-ministerial working groups deal with environmental issues. Data sharing is done through multilateral or bilateral co-operation agreements between public authorities (EC, 2017). The MEPRD emphasises paperless co-ordination and data sharing across the public administration, as well as better data management systems (OECD, 2018b). However, these mechanisms appear insufficient to ensure integration of environmental aspects into sectoral policies (forestry is a particular challenge; Chapter 5) or implementation of cross-sectoral policies such as those concerning transition to a circular economy (Chapter 4).

2.2.2. Municipalities

Latvia has 119 local governments: 9 “republic cities” and 110 municipalities. Municipal governments are responsible for developing and implementing spatial plans (and issuing building permits in line with them), and for delivering water supply, wastewater and waste management, and public transport services. There is a growing number of inter-municipal water and wastewater utilities and joint waste management service providers. Coastal municipalities have established an association to share experiences on coastal zone management and tourism development.

Every municipality has adopted a sustainable development strategy, often as part of a territorial development plan. However, many local strategies are only declarative. Small local governments have low implementation capacity, with priorities determined by availability of EU and central government funding.

Vertical oversight occurs primarily in the framework of spatial and development planning. The MEPRD checks procedural aspects of local land-use plans and compliance of local ordinances with legal requirements, but seldom intervenes on substantive issues. Municipalities rarely co-ordinate their water supply and sanitation investment with RBMPs. National guidelines on land use being developed by the MEPRD will help address the lack of central government guidance to municipalities on environmental issues.

copy the linklink copied!2.3. Setting of regulatory requirements

Article 115 of the Constitution requires the government to protect the environment and provide information about environmental conditions. The Constitutional Court has put these fundamental guarantees into effect (Section 2.5.3). Key environmental laws are the Environmental Protection Law (2006, last amended 2018), Law on Pollution (2001, last amended 2018), Spatial Development Planning Law (2011) and Law on Environmental Impact Assessment (1998, last amended 2018). The Environmental Protection Law requires an environmental policy strategy to be drawn up; the current strategy (2014-20) lays out guidelines for government action in environmental protection, including targets (notably regarding climate change and biodiversity) and performance indicators.

EU integration has resulted in important environmental regulatory reforms, particularly in waste management (Chapter 4) and nature protection (Chapter 5). Regulatory provisions have become much more detailed, and voluntary approaches are being introduced. The ongoing development of electronic permitting will reduce the administrative burden on businesses.

2.3.1. Regulatory and policy evaluation

The obligation to conduct regulatory impact analysis (RIA) is set out in a 2009 government instruction. The RIA procedure was last amended in 2017 to include, among other things, analysis of environmental impact of regulations already in the initial phase (OECD, 2018b). The procedure mentions cost-benefit analysis, but such analysis is done only qualitatively. Assessment quality largely depends on the competence of individual experts. Generally, there is a lack of research capacity to support policy development. Latvia ranks last in the OECD on RIA quality (OECD, 2018a).

SEA is performed for all planning documents in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, energy, industry, transport, waste and water resource management, telecommunications, tourism, mineral resource extraction, and land use and territorial planning. This is in line with the EU SEA Directive (2001/42/EC). The ESB reviews and issues an opinion on SEA documents. SEA conclusions and recommendations must be integrated into the planning document by the competent authority. However, the quality of SEAs is uneven: as many government agencies lack analytical capacity for SEA, the assessments are frequently outsourced.

Ex post assessment of planning documents is mandated by a 2014 government regulation. Such assessment is to be prepared no more than two years after the end of the planning term. For example, in 2017 the CSCC prepared a midterm report on implementation of the 2014-20 national development plan and progress towards goals of Latvia 2030. Policy assessment is also carried out within the framework of the Environmental Policy Strategy (2014-20); its midterm evaluation was conducted in 2017.

Latvia has not yet introduced systematic ex post review of regulations. In 2016, the government adopted a conceptual report on implementation of ex post evaluation aimed at improving oversight of regulatory effectiveness and efficiency. The State Chancellery is expected to elaborate a methodology for post-implementation regulatory reviews in 2019 (OECD, 2018b). Few OECD countries have used ex post evaluation of regulations systematically. Estonia is one example: it mandates such evaluation of all major new primary laws, although methodology remains a challenge (OECD, 2017).

2.3.2. Environmental impact assessment

EIA is governed by the Law on Environmental Impact Assessment and a 2015 procedural regulation. Projects in certain categories specified in the law must undergo EIA, while a few others require an initial assessment (screening) conducted by the SES. (In 2017, screening responsibility was moved from REBs to the SES central office to avoid possible local conflicts of interest.) As a result of screening, EIA is deemed unnecessary in all but 10% of cases, on average. If the SES determines that no EIA is necessary, it issues technical regulations with environmental requirements for the pre-operation phase of the proposed activity.

The EIA procedure is overseen by the ESB, which provides an opinion on the EIA report developed by the project proponent. On the basis of this opinion, the competent authority (usually the local government) decides whether to issue a consent for the project (e.g. a building permit). Consideration of alternative solutions regarding activity location and types of technology used are expected in the EIA process. There is a special EIA procedure for intended activities in protected Natura 2000 areas, which involves the NCA (Chapter 5). Latvia is a party to the Espoo Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context.

2.3.3. Permitting

The Law on Pollution and its 2010 implementing regulation classify polluting activities into Category A, B or C, depending on the level of their environmental impact. Category A installations, defined in line with the EU Industrial Emissions Directive (IED, 2010/75/EU), are required to use best available techniques (BAT), in accordance with government regulations or BAT reference documents,1 and receive an integrated permit. As of March 2018, Latvia had 98 Category A installations. Category B installations fall below the IED threshold but still have a significant environmental impact and require a permit. There were almost 2 600 such installations as of June 2018, over 550 of them in the energy sector. Category C installations (numbering about 8 300) do not require a permit, but must submit notification to the REB and monitor and report their emissions.

Following good international practice, the government has adopted general binding rules for several cross-sectoral industrial activities that usually fall into Category B: emissions of volatile organic compounds from paints and varnishes (2007) and from installations using organic solvents (2013), and emissions from petrol stations, oil depots and tank containers (2012) (Pierhuroviča and Grantiņš, 2017). The rules establish uniform environmental conditions and good practices, taking BAT into account.

In addition to integrated environmental permits, there are several issue-specific ones. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emission permits require monitoring and annual reporting of GHG emissions. The MEPRD allocates GHG emission allowances to permit holders. Water use permits for abstraction of surface water and groundwater as well as for operation of hydro-technical structures (dams, locks, canals, etc.) are issued if the activity does not fall into Category A or B (otherwise, these conditions are covered in the integrated permit). Waste management permits are required for collection, transport, storage, treatment and disposal of hazardous waste and municipal solid waste. There are also permits and licences for various uses of natural resources (extraction, logging, fishing, etc.).

REBs issue integrated permits for Category A and B installations, as well as permits for GHG emissions, water use, waste management and natural resource use. The SES national office issues permits for transboundary movements of waste. In issuing permits to operators that have undergone an EIA, the SES and REBs must consider the EIA report and comply with the ESB opinion on it. Permits have unlimited validity but are reviewed if the activity undergoes significant expansion or other change. The SES is developing an electronic permitting service and information system called TULPE, which will facilitate permitting and reduce the administrative burden on businesses.

Operators of all categories of installations must report self-monitoring results annually to their REB and local government. These reports are available to the public.

2.3.4. Land-use planning

The 2011 Spatial Development Planning Law introduced several types of planning documents at three levels (all these documents are subject to SEA, Section 2.3.1):

  • Latvia 2030 (sustainable development strategy), the national development plan (a medium-term instrument linked to EU structural fund appropriation) and a maritime spatial plan (adopted in 2019)

  • regional sustainable development strategy and development programme of a planning region (there are five such regions but they are not administrative jurisdictions, so the plans are produced by the central government)

  • local sustainable development strategy and development programme, and several types of local spatial plans that specify zoning and regulate land use and public infrastructure.

Spatial (land-use) plans, which are exclusively local, are predominantly influenced by development programmes and very little by sustainable development strategies. A sustainable development strategy is often just a declarative chapter of the development plan. Spatial plans define zones devoted to environmental protection: nature and greenery territory, forest territory, water territory. Some environmental conditions are also attached to other functional zones, such as those dedicated to buildings, industry, transport or agriculture. Spatial plans contain rules on noise protection, wastewater and storm water collection, waste collection, energy supply and landscape protection. These rules are considered in EIA of individual projects.

All levels of spatial and development plans are not sufficiently co-ordinated. National and regional development plans are fairly general and rarely have implications for local ones. Local governments are not obliged to involve the MEPRD in their development and spatial planning. However, the minister has a right to suspend a plan or part thereof if procedural or legal infringements have been identified. Enhanced MEPRD oversight and guidance could ensure better integration of environmental aspects into land-use planning. Spatial plans are available to the public on the Spatial Development Planning Information System (TAPIS), linked to Latvia’s geospatial information portal (Section 2.5.2). They may be, and sometimes are, challenged in the Constitutional Court.

copy the linklink copied!2.4. Compliance assurance

Latvia has been slow to adopt good international practices in compliance assurance, which includes promotion, monitoring and enforcement of compliance, as well as liability for environmental damage. That is particularly true with regard to administrative enforcement and liability, where good international practices co-exist with historic approaches common in East European countries.

2.4.1. Environmental inspections

The SES has developed a risk-based planning tool for inspections of industrial installations. It determines inspection frequency for different categories of installations. Factors determining inspection frequency include the installation’s level of environmental impact and location, the operator’s compliance history, the permit expiration date and the timeliness of self-monitoring reports (IMPEL, 2011). The tool generates a score that determines whether inspections should be at minimum frequency (once every two years for Category A and B installations), increased frequency (two or more inspections per year), or annual.

Inspections are mostly planned, which is generally considered good international practice (proactively planned inspections tend to reduce the number of accidents). However, only 80% of planned inspections were carried out in 2017 due to a high load of unplanned inspections responding to accidents and complaints (Brizga, 2018). The SES wants to increase resources dedicated to unplanned inspections. Indeed, the share of planned inspections (aside from fishery controls) decreased from 85% in 2014 to 65% in 2017. In addition to comprehensive site visits to permitted installations, REBs conduct “thematic inspections” (inspection campaigns), usually focused on compliance with a specific regulation or on small enterprises in a given sector. The annual number of thematic controls consistently exceeds that of integrated inspections of Category A, B and C installations. Inspection campaigns are sometimes used in other OECD countries, such as the UK, but should not take more resources than targeted inspections.

The number of inspections for all categories of installations (excluding thematic inspections) has been declining since 2009 (Figure 2.1). This is likely explained by the shortage of resources (Section 2.2.1) rather than more effective risk-based planning: detection of non-compliance (as evidenced by the number of administrative fines imposed) did not improve over the period.2 The number of fines imposed as a result of inspections of Category A, B and C installations decreased from 295 in 2008 to 173 in 2015 and only 71 in 2017. The latest drop may be due to a recent SES policy of using fines only for major offences.

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Figure 2.1. The number of inspections has steadily declined in recent years
Number of inspections by installation category, 2008-17
Figure 2.1. The number of inspections has steadily declined in recent years

 StatLink http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888933969335

The SES publishes an environmental inspection plan (updated at least every six months) on its website. It also manages an electronic database of inspection reports, but they are available to the public only with regard to Category A installations. There is a need for more meaningful and better-quality statistics on inspection results.

The SES co-operates with state and municipal police in detecting and pursuing criminal offences. The police investigate environmental crimes, then refer cases to the public prosecutor’s office. In 2017, about a quarter of criminal proceedings initiated by the SES were referred for prosecution (Brizga, 2018). In addition, about one-third of administrative enforcement cases are based on police protocols.

To better handle environmental complaints from the public, in 2015 the SES introduced an interactive website, Environment SOS (www.videssos.lv), where anyone can submit information on potential environmental offences. It allows tracking of follow-up to the complaint, consistent with good international practices. In 2017, over 1 500 complaints were received through this platform. In addition, a network of “public environmental inspectors”, created in 2007 and comprising about 70 citizen volunteers as of 2018, assists SES inspectors in detecting minor offences (e.g. illegal fishing, littering).

2.4.2. Enforcement tools

Administrative fines are too low to deter future environmental offences. Their upper limits are set in the Code of Administrative Offences and reach EUR 1 400 for legal entities. If certain violations recur within a year, the fine can be increased by a factor of five, up to EUR 7 100. However, the average fine for legal entities and natural persons was only EUR 149 in 2017. For comparison, in neighbouring Estonia the average fine was EUR 248 in 2014 – likely still too low to have a deterrence effect – while the upper limit is EUR 400 000 per offence for legal entities (OECD, 2017).

As in most OECD countries, fines do not reflect the economic benefit the offender receives from non-compliance behaviour. That is contrary to the best practice introduced by the United States Environmental Protection Agency over 30 years ago. The SES-issued environmental inspector handbook does not include criteria for determining a proportionate response to various types of non-compliance (aside from fishery-related violations). Fines are determined by the SES legal team without formally established criteria. This is typical of the law enforcement tradition of Latvia’s neighbouring countries. The SES indicates that there are problems with non-payment of imposed fines, with operators sometimes closing down the business rather than paying. Only 80% of fines imposed on enterprises are paid voluntarily or after a first warning – a rather low share by international standards; the rest have to be collected coercively. REBs do not collect data to evaluate the effectiveness of enforcement tools (EC, 2017).

Criminal enforcement focuses primarily on nature conservation offences covered by the criminal code, which are easier to prosecute than personal responsibility for pollution. The Criminal Code establishes fines and imprisonment for environmental crimes. Courts received 447 environmental criminal cases in 2017 (about 1% of all criminal cases). However, only 10-12% of the environmental cases resulted in convictions. In addition, 87% of criminal environmental offences in 2017 involved intentional damage to trees, while just 1% were related to pollution. Enforcement of pollution-related crimes should be improved.

2.4.3. Environmental liability

Liability for damage to the environment

The Environmental Protection Law declares strict liability for environmental damage caused by Category A and B installations and several other defined types of hazardous activities. The SES is entitled to recover compensation from the operator of a hazardous activity that has caused environmental damage. However, for other activities, liability is fault-based: the operator does not cover costs of remediation measures if the damage did not result from an intentional or negligent violation of the law.

The 2007 regulation transposing the EU Environmental Liability Directive (ELD, 2004/35/EC) gives precedence to assessing damage based on actual remediation costs. However, it contains an important loophole: if elimination of the damage is judged impossible, it is to be calculated according to fixed rates (in euros per tonne of specific water pollutants or a multiple of minimum monthly wages per unit of protected species). Provisions on liability and compensation for damage to forests and fisheries are specified in respective special laws. The calculated compensation goes to the state budget. Monetary compensation to the state for environmental damage is a regulatory tradition in many East European countries.

The system of fixed rates does not reflect real damage to the environment or encourage remediation. A 2010 State Audit Office report concluded that Latvia’s system of liability for environmental damage was insufficiently effective because it did not ensure that monetary compensation paid for damage to the environment was used to remediate the damage (Pierhuroviča and Grantiņš, 2017). Indeed, the remediation-focused regime has rarely been used: over 2007-13, Latvia reported only 16 cases of environmental damage under the ELD. More methodological support may be needed to enable assessment and remediation of environmental damage.

Latvia does not require financial security for potential environmental damage from particularly hazardous activities (waste management, chemical industry, etc.), unlike many other European countries, including Sweden, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Operators may use financial guarantees, but there is no information on whether they actually do (EC, 2017). The lack of financial security from private operators imposes a significant burden on the state for environmental remediation in case of insolvency of the responsible party.

Contaminated sites

The LEGMC maintains a register of about 3 500 contaminated sites, made public in May 2018. Many are a legacy of the Soviet period, and their cleanup poses a significant challenge in the absence of a responsible party. Due to the lack of budget financing, only 83 old dump sites were decontaminated over 2007-13, using EU and other donor funding.

Aside from military sites, which the Ministry of Defence assesses, potentially contaminated sites must be assessed by a local government in co-operation with the relevant REB, in line with a 2010 regulation. The results are available to the public. Expenses related to investigation and remediation are covered by the operator of the responsible polluting activity or the landowner. If the responsible party cannot be identified or is financially insolvent, the REB or local government may apply to the MEPRD or Ministry of Defence for funds to cover investigation and/or remediation. REBs approve investigation and remediation programmes and supervise remediation, except on military sites.

2.4.4. Promotion of compliance and green practices

Compliance promotion has recently started to get the attention it deserves from the SES. REBs increasingly recognise the need to provide consultation and advisory support to operators. However, guidance on good environmental practices is largely lacking. For example, the Farm Advisory System provided by the Rural Support Service does not offer such information (Brizga, 2018).

Voluntary business initiatives

The Environmental Protection Law provides for voluntary agreements to be concluded between a public authority and enterprises (or their associations) willing to go beyond compliance with legal requirements. This provision has only been used by the Ministry of Economy, which signed five-year agreements on energy efficiency improvement with two district heating companies in 2016. This is a good practice that could be extended.

A sustainability index initiative has been managed since 2010 by the Institute for Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility in collaboration with the Employers’ Confederation of Latvia and the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia. It allows enterprises to perform a self-assessment and calculate their sustainability index. So far, over 200 enterprises have participated in the initiative.

Environmental management system certifications and awards

The number of new environmental management system certifications to the ISO 14001 standard in Latvia grew more than ninefold between 2007 and 2017 (Figure 2.2). That is almost three times faster than in neighbouring Estonia, though the latter had 50% more new certifications in 2017 (ISO, 2018). These certifications are driven entirely by market demand, in the absence of regulatory or economic incentives (such as lower inspection frequency or reduced pollution taxes) from the government. The European Eco-Management and Audit Scheme is, in theory, administered by the ESB. In practice, no Latvian enterprises have signed up to it due to the high certification costs and absence of market demand for it.

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Figure 2.2. The number of ISO 14001 certifications has been rising
Number of ISO 14001 certifications, 2005-17
Figure 2.2. The number of ISO 14001 certifications has been rising

 StatLink http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888933969354

There are a few environmental award programmes in the country. Since 2015, the SES has granted Green Excellence Awards to enterprises and local governments that fully comply with regulatory requirements and implement voluntary environmental protection measures. Since 2000, the Latvian Association of Rural Tourism has awarded green certificates to sustainable rural guest houses. More than 70 establishments have been certified.

Greening public procurement

The Public Procurement Law (2016) defines green public procurement (GPP), while a 2017 government regulation lays out GPP requirements and implementation procedures. The Green Procurement Support Plan (2015-17) set a target of a 30% share of GPP in the total value of procurement contracts for 2017 (EC, 2017), less ambitious than the EC target of 50% of all public tendering procedures following green criteria by 2010. GPP criteria, which were developed for 21 product categories, are mandatory for 7 categories. The GPP share in total procurement in Latvia was 18.3% in 2018 (Figure 2.3),3 making it feasible to reach the government’s target of 20% by 2020.

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Figure 2.3. Green public procurement is on track to reach the 20% policy target
Figure 2.3. Green public procurement is on track to reach the 20% policy target

 StatLink http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888933969373

copy the linklink copied!2.5. Promoting environmental democracy

Latvia ranks second on the 70-country Environmental Democracy Index (WRI, 2018). It has a particularly high score on access to information. It has been party to the Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision making and access to justice in environmental matters since 2002.

2.4.5. Public participation in environmental decision making

The law provides opportunities for the public to take part at an early stage in most decisions affecting the environment. Environmental authorities have a legal obligation to encourage public participation. The public can participate in the permitting process by submitting written comments to the REB. Development of spatial plans is also open to public participation: a 2013 government regulation allows public involvement at an early drafting stage. In addition, the public can provide input during EIA, SEA and environmental permitting processes. However, the real level of citizen engagement in decision making is low, primarily due to insufficient public environmental awareness (Section 2.5.4).

The MEPRD enjoys a positive and constructive relationship with environmental non-government organisations (NGOs), which is not always the case with other ministries. The MEPRD has established 12 consultative bodies to engage professional associations, NGOs, businesses and academia in various policy areas. One of the most prominent, the Environment Consultative Council, brings together representatives of environmental NGOs to participate in development of policies and legislation. The council has 20 members, rotated annually, and meetings are open to other NGOs as well. NGOs receive project-based funding from the Environmental Protection Fund (Chapter 3). However, NGO funding is a growing challenge, as a new tax regime recently removed incentives for private business donations to NGOs.

2.4.6. Access to environmental information

Every environmental authority has an officer dedicated to providing information to the public. According to the Freedom of Information Law (2003, last amended 2015), failure by a public institution to provide full environmental information may be appealed to the ESB and then to an administrative court. There are clear requirements for immediate release of information in cases of imminent threat to human health or the environment. The Public Administration Services Portal (www.latvija.lv) has a special section on environment-related local government services4 to keep the public informed and offer opportunities for feedback.

The public has access to permit applications of Category A and some Category B installations, and well as all issued permits and monitoring results related to them. Inspection reports are publicly available only for Category A installations (Section 2.4.1).

Most data held by the LEGMC as part of the State Environmental Information System are free, with unlimited access. However, these data are not always user friendly. The LEGMC publishes a national state of the environment report every four years; the last one was issued in 2016. It has also established a pollutant release and transfer register (PRTR) in accordance with a 2010 government regulation. The PRTR contains pollutant release data for all Category A and B installations.

The NCA maintains the Ozols (Oak) online information system, linked to Latvia’s unified geospatial information portal. The geoportal is part of Latvia’s implementation of the EU INSPIRE Directive (2007/2/EC). However, not all spatial information needed for implementation of EU environmental law has been made available (EC, 2017).

2.4.7. Access to justice

The Environmental Protection Law entitles any physical or legal person, or an association, to appeal any environment-related action of any public authority, whether or not they have suffered direct damage, to a superior administrative institution and then to an administrative court. The ESB is the body of first instance for appeal of administrative decisions on environmental matters. Over 2005-17, it reviewed 668 appeals and resolved three-quarters of them; the rest were brought to court.

Environmental matters considered by administrative courts include spatial planning documents, building permits issued by local governments, permits issued by environmental authorities, EIA decisions and SEA. The court can verify information on the planned activity, facility characteristics and data on environmental conditions. It cannot decide on the environmental impact of the activity in lieu of the competent environmental authority, but it can look for factual and consideration errors that might have led to a misguided final decision (European e-Justice Portal, 2018). Administrative court judges follow an environmental course offered by the Latvian Judicial Training Centre.

Administrative court appeals are widely used: about 5% of cases in the Supreme Administrative Court are environment-related. Rules for appealing environmental decisions are often more favourable to the public than general administrative appeal procedures. For example, citizens can appeal conditions of an environmental permit during the entire period of its validity, whereas the general procedure would allow appeals only within one month of the decision coming into effect (European e-Justice Portal, 2018). There is only a small fee for administrative court appeals. However, appeal procedures can be quite lengthy.

A constitutional complaint may be submitted by an individual or an environmental NGO in case of infringement of fundamental environmental rights. A 2007 interpretation of environmental rights by the Constitutional Court, the nation’s highest, opened the possibility of the public appealing local government land-use planning decisions to this court.

2.4.8. Environmental education

Courses on environmental protection and sustainable development are a mandatory part of the higher education curriculum, which is a common international practice. The secondary education curriculum does not contain separate environmental courses but integrates environmental awareness in a range of natural and social science subjects. However, a unified approach to formal environmental education is lacking, despite the priority given to it by the National Environmental Policy Strategy for 2014-20. It would be advisable to have a government body oversee implementation of environmental education initiatives.

Outside the standard curriculum, the National Centre for Education launched the See, Discover, Conserve project in 2016 to involve students in nature conservation. The project, implemented in co-operation with the NCA, had been joined by 43 schools by the end of 2017. The Eco-school programme, carried out by the Foundation for Environmental Education, has engaged over 200 Latvian schools, 69 of which had an eco-school certificate in 2017. The Children Environmental School, an NGO, runs projects supporting teachers with methodological guidance on environmental and sustainability education.

Partly as a result of these government and NGO efforts, environmental awareness among 15-year-old Latvians increased between 2006 and 2015 at a rate higher than the OECD average (Echazarra, 2018). One example is the Nature Concert Hall initiative, a biodiversity-focused outdoor educational multimedia performance held annually since 2006. It was named best European environmental campaign in 2012 by the EU Green Spider Network.

However, adult environmental education is not well developed, apart from energy efficiency promotion by the state electricity company and good household practice awareness raising by water utilities and waste management companies. To address this gap, the Latvian Environmental Protection Fund, in co-operation with the Natural History Museum, National Botanic Garden of Latvia and Riga National Zoo, plans to set up three information centres to promote environmental education and awareness as part of a four-year project running to late 2021. It is important to ensure that higher awareness of the public translates into better behavioural choices and more active participation in environmental decisions.

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Recommendations on environmental governance and management

Strengthening the institutional and regulatory framework

  • Reinforce the role of the Cross-Sectoral Co-ordination Centre in inter-ministerial collaboration to promote coherence of sectoral policies with the country’s sustainable development objectives; enhance the central government’s oversight of municipal land-use planning and environmental service delivery.

  • Strengthen environmental aspects of regulatory impact assessment; ensure that environmental and social costs of proposed laws and regulations are appropriately quantified; enhance the use of ex post regulatory and policy evaluation.

Improving enforcement and compliance

  • Expand the use of risk-based planning of environmental inspections to improve detection and deterrence of non-compliance.

  • Reform the system of enforcement sanctions by adopting sound methodology for determination of administrative fines, based on the gravity of the offence and economic benefit of non-compliance; develop an enforcement policy with clear guidance on proportionate use of administrative and criminal sanctions and evaluate their effectiveness.

  • Facilitate full implementation of environmental liability regulations to ensure remediation of damage to the environment at the expense of the responsible party; require financial guarantees for potential environmental damage from hazardous activities.

  • Accelerate the clean-up of old contaminated sites by securing adequate financial resources.

  • Enhance efforts to promote environmental compliance and green business practices by using information-based tools and regulatory incentives as well as by expanding green public procurement; support voluntary business initiatives.

Enhancing environmental democracy

  • Expand environmental awareness raising and adult education, and more actively engage the general public in local environmental decision making.

References

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Echazarra, A. (2018), “Have 15-year-olds become ‘greener’ over the years?”, PISA in Focus, No. 87, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/6534cd38-en.

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Notes

← 1. The government has adopted regulations with BAT requirements for several industrial sectors: glass and glass fibre production (2013), iron and steel production (2014), cement, lime and magnesium oxide production (2014) and chemical protection of wood (2004). The ESB maintains a BAT information system.

← 2. Effective risk-based inspection planning usually manifests itself in a downward trend in the number of inspections combined with an upward trend in detection of non-compliance. If inspections are not targeted based on risk, the ratio between the numbers of detected violations and inspections can be used as a surrogate indicator for a non-compliance rate.

← 3. The drop in the value and share of GPP contracts from 2012 to 2013 is due to tightening of GPP criteria in 2013.

← 4. The portal does not cover environmental permitting services of the central government, which have separate electronic systems.

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Chapter 2. Environmental governance and management