Chapter 1. Environmental performance: Trends and recent developments

With fewer than 3 million residents, Lithuania is among the least populous OECD members. It is a relatively flat country with abundant agricultural land, water and forest resources. Since transitioning to a market economy in the 1990s, the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) has grown quickly. GDP per capita is now around 80% of the OECD average, a remarkable increase from just 38% in 2000. Lithuania joined the European Union (EU) in 2004, adopted the euro in 2015 and joined the OECD in 2018. It borders Latvia, Belarus, Poland and the enclave of Kaliningrad in the Russian Federation (hereafter “Russia”). It has a Baltic Sea coastline (Figure 1.1).

Despite a declining labour force, GDP more than doubled over the past 20 years, driven mainly by increased trade in goods and services. This growth has considerably exceeded the OECD average and matched or exceeded that of its fast-growing neighbours (Figure 1.2). Economic growth has not been without setbacks: the economy suffered in the financial crisis of 2009 as foreign investment stopped abruptly and unemployment reached almost 18%. However, recovery from that crisis was relatively rapid. The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been comparatively mild with only a 2% GDP contraction in 2020, far less than the OECD average. A return to growth is projected for 2021 (OECD, 2020a, 2018a).

In common with the other Baltic states and Poland, net migration has long been outward and skewed towards the young. This has resulted in an ageing and declining population – a distinctive social and economic trend in this region. Historically, fewer than half of emigrants return. However, since 2019 net migration has reversed. It is now positive, with more people arriving than leaving (OECD, 2018a; Government of Lithuania, 2020a). Other economic challenges include lower than average labour productivity, high wage inequality and low (but rising) levels of foreign investment (OECD, 2020a). The 2020 National Progress Plan (NPP) highlights a shortage of skilled staff as a particular concern.

Lithuania’s financial position is sound, with manageable levels of public debt. The COVID-19 pandemic is not expected to dramatically stress public finances. According to the New Generation Lithuania recovery plan issued in April 2021, the country intends to use the EU Economic Recovery and Resilience Facility grant of over EUR 2.2 billion for green transition (37% of the total funding), digital transformation, health, social affairs, research and innovation, education and public governance. Green transition and digital transformation are priorities of the entire European Union, to which each member state must allocate at least 37% and 20% of the Fund’s assistance, respectively. In the field of green transition, Lithuania is expected to focus on support for investments in solar and wind power plants, promotion of electric vehicles and renovating public transport, and energy efficiency retrofitting of multi-apartment buildings. Other priorities identified in the national recovery plan are related to implementation of recommendations of the Council of Europe for Lithuania.

Lithuania has a small and open economy with an increasing need for high-skill labour. Lithuania’s trade in goods is diversified, with no particular group or products dominating imports or export. The country’s trade links are also well diversified: its largest trading partners in goods are Russia, Latvia, Poland and Germany. Transportation, travel, professional services and information technology constitute the bulk of traded services by value for imports and exports (UN Comtrade, 2020).

There may be opportunities for Lithuania to benefit from the green transition. It could increase trade in environmental goods and services in areas where it has domestic expertise and resources. Examples include biomass heating and generation technologies, wood-based construction technologies and products, and organic produce.

Lithuanian residents report low well-being. The difference between the most and least satisfied responders to well-being surveys is the highest in the OECD. Low life satisfaction is accompanied by a relatively short life expectancy of 75.8 years compared to the OECD average of 80.5 years. Civic engagement as measured by voter turnout is also low, with around half (51%) of registered voters voting compared to 69% across the OECD. More positively, average household incomes are increasing (although household income inequality is high), housing is more affordable than the OECD average and residents generally feel safe (OECD, 2020b).

A notably high proportion of Lithuania’s adults (43%) and an even higher one of 25-34 year-old people (55%) have tertiary education, one of the best rates in the world. Those who complete university education can expect much better job prospects and pay. The gap between the employment rate for this group and for those with only secondary education is 16%, one of the largest in the OECD. The earnings gap enjoyed by degree holders exceeds that in most countries (OECD, 2019).

Relatively few people live in urban areas: 51% of people live in cities and 23% live in large cities of more than 500 000 (only Vilnius is this large), compared to 70% and 55%, respectively, for the OECD. The country is organised into ten regions: Alytus, Kaunas, Klaipėda, Marijampolė, Panevėžys, Šiauliai, Tauragė, Telšiai, Utena and Vilnius, which are used for geographically-differentiated statistics (OECD, 2018b).

There are considerable differences in prosperity between regions. Vilnius consistently exceeds other regions in GDP per capita and its growth rate, as well as employment and productivity growth. For example, in 2015, GDP per capita in Vilnius was 2.5 times higher than in the worst performing region, Tauragė, and the unemployment rate was 10% lower. While such regional differences seem sizeable, they are not unusually large: regional economic disparities in Lithuania are close to the OECD median (OECD, 2018b).

The NPP acknowledged that Lithuania lags behind neighbouring countries in progress towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the NPP, the country had made significant progress towards Goal 15 (Life on earth). However, indicators for Goal 10 (Reducing inequalities) and Goal 13 (Mitigating the effects of climate change) had been deteriorating.

Energy intensity per unit of GDP has declined from high levels in the early 2000s to below the OECD average (Figure 1.3). The initial steep decline was caused in part by energy-intensive industries being forced to close or switch to alternative energy sources by restrictions on sulphur-containing fuel oils (Government of Lithuania, 2020b). Around twice as much GDP is generated per unit of energy consumed today as 20 years ago. Total final energy consumption began to rise in 2015, driven by transport whose consumption rose from around 1.4 megatonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 2005 to around 2.1 Mtoe in 2019. The National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) sets a target for total final energy consumption of 4.3 Mtoe by 2020 (17% of the 2009 level) and 4.5 Mtoe by 2030. The country has likely missed the 2020 target: in 2019, it stood at 6.62 Mtoe (IEA, 2021).

Renewable energy sources (RES), dominated by biomass, contributed 21% of the total primary energy supply in 2019. This places Lithuania among the top 15 OECD member countries on this indicator (Figure 1.4). Half of renewable energy is used to generate electricity and for district heating (Statistics Lithuania, 2019). The RES share in gross final energy consumption reached the 2020 target of 23% in 2014 and was 25% in 2019. The targets for 2030 and 2050 are much more ambitious – 50% and 90%, respectively. Lithuania plans to pursue them by increasing small- and large-scale generation capacity, converting more district heating to renewables, increasing use of alternative fuels and electricity in transport, and demand-side management.

Oil and natural gas filled the energy gap when the Ignalina nuclear power station closed in 2009. However, while the natural gas share has since declined, the oil share of total energy supply has increased to around 40%, an all-time high, driven mainly by increasing consumption in transport. Lithuania hosts the only operating oil refinery in the Baltic States: the Orlen Lietuva refinery complex near Mažeikiai. The refining capacity exceeds domestic demand, leading to significant exports of refined fuel. Crude oil feedstock (mostly from Russia) is imported by tanker via the Būtingė floating oil terminal in the Baltic Sea. Natural gas is also entirely imported (via pipelines and the Klaipėda sea terminal). Although energy interconnectivity is improving, Lithuania relies on energy imports for almost all fossil fuel energy. This means that increasing the domestic renewable energy share will bring both energy security and environmental benefits.

Lithuania imports about three-quarters of its electricity from Latvia, Sweden and Poland (IEA, 2020). The renewable electricity share in total final electricity consumption was almost 19% in 2019. However, domestically generated electricity is mostly renewable (74% in 2019), generated by onshore wind, hydropower (primarily from one large plant near Kaunas) and solid biofuels. Wind contributes most domestic generation: increases in onshore wind power account for almost all new RES capacity added since 2011 (Figure 1.5). Significant offshore wind capacity in the Baltic Sea is expected to generate up to 3TWh per year, comparable with domestic electricity production.

Following a steep decline in the 1990s and a more modest one in 2006-09, total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have recently been flat: reduced emissions from energy (and, to a smaller extent, industry) have been offset by increased emissions from transport. However, the GHG productivity of the economy – how much carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) is emitted per each unit of GDP – has steadily improved. It is now about half the level of the early 2000s. GHG emissions per capita have increased in recent years (as could be expected with the rise in GDP per capita). While GHG emissions per capita remain well below the OECD average, this gap could close if recent trends continue. Transport, agriculture and industry account for two-thirds of total GHG emissions (Figure 1.6).

Transport (primarily road transport) is the biggest and fastest growing source of GHG emissions (Chapter 4). Emissions from agriculture have increased by around 3% since 2005. Emissions from livestock are decreasing due to a steady decline of livestock population. Meanwhile, emissions from crops are increasing, mostly due to the growing use of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers.

Emissions regulated by the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) must be collectively reduced by 43% compared to 2005 levels by 2030 across all EU member states (2003/87/EC). These are emissions of CO2, nitrous oxide (N2O) and perfluorocarbons mainly from combustion power stations, refineries, factories and aircraft. There is no domestic target for ETS-regulated emissions – the market element of the scheme is designed to promote emission reductions where they are most efficient. Lithuania has approximately 90 ETS-regulated installations or operators that collectively account for around 30% of total GHG emissions. Non-ETS sectors such as transport, farms, public sector buildings, smaller district heat suppliers (less than 20 MW) and households account for the remaining 70% of emissions (a large increase from 56% in 2005).

Lithuania affirmed its ambition to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 in its National Climate Change Management Agenda (NCCMA) for 2021-50 that was adopted in June 2021. This goal would supersede the earlier national target of a 70% reduction of total GHG emissions (compared to the 1990 level) by 2040 and an 80% reduction by 2050. To help reach the overall reduction target, Lithuania will be able to offset 6.5 million tonnes of CO2e over 2021-30 by using removals from land use, land-use change and forestry.

Lithuania has achieved its 15% increase target (compared to the 2005 level) for non-ETS emissions for 2020. Achieving the binding 9% reduction target (from the same level) for 2030 will require substantial changes to the status quo. Moreover, the 2030 target is likely to be upgraded to a 25% reduction under the NCCMA.

The policy emphasis will remain on sector-specific goals and measures with a focus on non-ETS sectors where national-level policies are particularly important. The NECP details the implemented and proposed sectoral policies and their anticipated impacts. Among more than 100 policies, the greater strategic focus is on increasing renewables in transport and heating, greater electrification and improved energy efficiency. Notable measures in terms of estimated impacts include a long-running national programme for renovation of energy efficiency retrofitting of multi-apartment housing and public buildings, energy saving agreements with private companies, fuel taxation increases and methane recovery from landfills. The NECP also proposes a roadmap for reducing emissions from transport that represents a considerable challenge without additional measures (Chapter 4).

A European Commission (EC) review of the NECP in late 2020 was broadly positive but called for more effort in the area of research, innovation and competitiveness (EC, 2020a). Lithuania plans to revise the NECP by mid-2023 to make it consistent with the country’s carbon neutrality goal. GHG emission projections make it clear that additional measures will be needed to achieve the national climate change mitigation targets (Figure 1.7).

Lithuania has observed long-term warming of air and soil, increased precipitation and increased incidence of extreme weather events like severe storms. This warming and precipitation increase is expected to continue. Winters in particular are forecast to see the greatest effects. Flooding caused by sea-level rise and sinking terrain in low-level coastal cities is expected to be the most serious climate-related threat. Agriculture, public health, energy, industry, transport and communications, forestry and biodiversity are also sensitive to climate change (Government of Lithuania 2020c, 2020d).

The NECP proposes sector-specific adaptation measures for 2021-30, mostly focused on improvements to monitoring, measuring, forecasting and planning capacity in the transport, infrastructure, forestry, agriculture and water management sectors. The National Strategy for Climate Change Management Policy identifies lack of political will and information (particularly in agriculture and transport) as the main barriers to implementing effective climate adaptation measures.

The European Union’s approach to improving air quality rests on three pillars. The first pillar comprises ambient air quality standards set out in the Ambient Air Quality Directives for ground-level ozone, particulate matter (PM10), nitrogen oxides (NOx), dangerous heavy metals and a number of other pollutants (Directives 2004/107/EC and 2008/50/EC). If the limit values are exceeded, member states are required to adopt air quality plans (AQPs) detailing measures to keep the exceedance period as short as possible. Two Lithuanian cities – Kaunas and Šiauliai – have set up an AQP that aims in both cases to reduce nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and PM10 pollution from transport.

The second pillar consists of national emission reduction commitments (ERCs) set by the National Emission reduction Commitments Directive (NECD) for the most important transboundary air pollutants: sulphur dioxides (SO2), NOx, ammonia (NH3), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and, since 2017, fine particulate matter (PM2.5). The third pillar comprises emission standards for key sources of pollution, laid out in dedicated EU legislation.

First adopted in 2001, the NECD set national emission ceilings to be achieved until the end of 2019. With the entry into force of the new NECD in 2017, the ERCs (percentage reduction compared to 2005) replaced the emission ceilings (annual maximum amount) and a fifth pollutant, PM2.5, was added. Two ERCs are set for each pollutant, one for 2020-29 and one for 2030 and beyond.

Emissions of most air pollutants are trending down (Figure 1.8). However, with the exception of SO2, the decline has been slower than the EU average.

In 2017, Lithuania reported emissions below the respective ceilings set for SO2, NOx, NH3 and NMVOCs (EEA, 2019a). It was one of only a handful of member states to attain the emission ceilings applicable until 2018 across all relevant pollutants. In recent years, emissions of heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants have also been below the ceilings adopted in the two 1998 Aarhus Protocols.

The new NECD requires member states to develop a national air pollution control plan (NAPCP) presenting measures to comply with their 2020-29 and 2030 ERCs. Lithuania submitted its NAPCP to the European Commission in 2019. The NAPCP was then attached to the NECP to foster synergies between air and climate policies (EC, 2020a). According to recent projections (Figure 1.9), Lithuania is likely to meet its 2020-29 and 2030 ERCs for SO2 and PM2.5. However, reducing NMVOC, NOx and NH3 emissions to meet these targets would require additional efforts. Compared to 2018 levels, Lithuania is one of only two EU member states to still require a greater than 10% improvement in NH3 emissions to reach the 2020-29 goal. It is the only country that still needs to reduce NOx emissions by more than 30% (EEA, 2020c).

Agriculture is the highest contributor to NH3 emissions (Figure 1.9). According to estimates (Amann et al., 2017), NH3 emission reductions required to meet the 2030 ERC target could be achieved by improved manure management. This would include extending the grazing period, treatment of exhaust air from pig and poultry houses, covered manure storage, manure injection into the soil and slurry acidification. However, side effects of these practices in generating NOx and nitrates must be considered. For example, injecting manure into the soil increases the risk of nitrate leaching into groundwater.

Road transport is the principal source of NOx emissions, contributing about half of total emissions in 2019 (Figure 1.9). Road transport emissions have decreased by 12% in 2019 compared to 2005 primarily due to introduction of stringent vehicle standards. However, more wide-ranging policies are required, as discussed in Chapter 4.

Inorganic fertiliser use is the second largest source of NOx at around 13%. Nitric oxide (NO) from agriculture has been included in the NECD reporting of NOx emissions since 2017. This should encourage the agricultural sector to move towards integrated nitrogen management to reduce its NH3, NO and N2O (a GHG) emissions at the same time.

As in most OECD member countries, SO2 emission reduction has been remarkable: total emissions decreased by more than half from 2005 to 2019. Public electricity and heat production, petroleum refining and fugitive emissions from petroleum refining and storage are the principal sources of remaining SO2 emissions, contributing over 70% of the total in 2019.

Air quality is generally good. This is partly due to a low population density, modestly sized cities and deconcentrated industry. Lithuania complies with legally binding limits for concentrations of outdoor air pollutants set in EU ambient air quality directives.

Concentrations of particulate matter have been long declining but in Vilnius and Klaipėda are close to thresholds and not improving. PM2.5 pollution is a public health concern. The OECD estimates the 2019 population exposure in Lithuania at 10.6 microgrammes per cubic metre (μg/m3) (Figure 1.10). The European Environment Agency puts the 2018 exposure slightly higher, at 12.8 μg/m3. Both estimates meet the EU limit value of 20 μg/m3. However, they exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline value of 10 μg/m3 – the annual exposure at which cardiopulmonary harm can be conclusively shown (WHO, 2018; EEA, 2020a).

Even at current levels, PM2.5 pollution has costly consequences in terms of premature mortality (mostly via heart disease and stroke) and welfare costs of these deaths. EEA (2020a) estimated 2 700 premature deaths in Lithuania attributed to PM2.5. The country’s mortality burden per 100 000 people is slightly higher than the EU average.1

Residential fuel burning (mostly wood) accounts for more than 40% of total PM2.5 emissions in Lithuania. Two additional measures would help reduce PM2.5 emissions significantly: energy renovation of buildings to reduce domestic heating needs; and dissemination of small-scale combustion facilities (wood chip boilers and wood stoves) with low emissions and high energy efficiency.

Concentrations of NO2 are often difficult to manage in large cities with dense traffic. In Lithuania, annual mean NO2 concentrations have been within limits, with no stations exceeding the annual limit value of 40 µg/m3 since 2005. However, concentrations in some areas of Vilnius are persistently close to this limit and show little sign of improvement.

Levels of other air pollutants, including ground-level ozone and heavy metals, are mostly low. One exception is benzo[a]pyrene (BaP) – a carcinogen associated with residential solid fuel burning. Its concentrations have exceeded the EU annual mean target value of 1 nanogramme per cubic metre (ng/m³) in at least one of the last ten years in all cities where it is monitored (EEA, 2020a). Annual average concentrations of BaP are substantially above the WHO “safe” reference level of 0.12 ng/m³, as is often the case in other European countries.

Lithuania’s material productivity (GDP generated per kilogramme of materials used) remained largely unchanged over 2010-19 (Figure 1.11). Material consumption increased by 36% from 12.4 to 19.4 tonnes of materials per person over the same period. It is now much higher than the OECD Europe average of around 13 tonnes. This means that productivity rose steadily in line with GDP growth but was not accompanied by improved resource efficiency. The 2011 National Strategy for Sustainable Development aimed to ensure that growth of natural resource consumption was twice as slow as growth of production and services. However, Lithuania did not achieve this goal.

Material productivity of Lithuania’s economy is comparable to that of neighbouring countries. However, it is about 40% lower than the OECD average and has been growing more slowly. The slow growth is partly due to a service sector that is smaller than the OECD average, less material-intensive and focused more on construction and infrastructure projects. Another factor is that GDP and incomes have risen rapidly, leading to greater consumption.

Construction minerals (55%), biomass (33%) and fossil energy carriers (11%) accounted for almost all Lithuania’s material consumption in 2019. Consumption of construction minerals grew the fastest over 2010-19 – by more than 50%. Fossil energy carriers dominate material imports, accounting for almost half the total by mass in 2019 and reflecting the country’s high reliance on energy imports.

Lithuania generated 6.02 million tonnes of primary waste in 2018, a volume similar to that generated in 2005. This corresponds to around 2 tonnes per capita per year, which is average-to-low among OECD member countries. Chemical and pharmaceutical industries, rubber and plastics production, and mining and quarrying generated the considerable majority of all primary waste.

A relatively small share of generated waste is identified as hazardous (2.8% of total waste compared to 4.7% for the EU-27 average in 2018). Chemical waste, contaminated soil and batteries are among the largest constituents of hazardous waste by mass (Eurostat, 2021a). The government acknowledges under-identification of hazardous waste as a potential reason for its low share. Efforts are underway to better identify and separate hazardous waste.

Generation of municipal solid waste (MSW) was 478 kg per capita in 2019, slightly lower than the OECD average of 538 kg. This indicator increased by 17% compared to 2005, reflecting a population decline, as the total volume of municipal waste remained roughly the same.

In 2005, virtually all MSW (98%) was disposed in landfills. Since then, Lithuania’s waste management practices have shifted dramatically in favour of recovery. Recycling and composting have become dominant treatment methods, followed by landfilling and incineration with energy recovery (Figure 1.12). This has been a result of separate waste collection, construction of sorting facilities, improved labelling requirements, education and awareness campaigns, and expanded deposit-refund schemes for beverage containers. Substantial financing from the European Union has enabled improvements to waste management. The country has also achieved near-total coverage of the population by municipal waste management services.

The government expects to have narrowly achieved the requirements of the EU Waste Framework Directive by 2020. This would entail recycling half of household waste (paper, metal, plastic and glass) and reusing 70% of construction waste. In 2018, Lithuania recycled about 48% of its household waste and reused about 68% of construction materials, with both rates trending up.

Other national priorities on waste include reducing biodegradable (food) waste through public awareness campaigns to promote behaviour change. The government plans to install food waste sorting and collection infrastructure for households.

Lithuania is a flat and low-lying country with a maximum elevation of just 300 metres above sea level. It is predominantly agricultural with almost 60% of the territory covered by agricultural land, a high proportion compared to EU-27 countries (EC, 2020b). A third of the country is forested. Wetlands and water bodies occupy 3% of the country, which is also high for Europe. Urbanisation pressure (“land take”) is modest (EEA, 2019b). Arable area and forest area have increased over the last 15 years, while grassland has declined (Figure 1.13). Lithuania is home to a large number of threatened European species and has an important responsibility to protect them on its territory. It has 3% of the coastline of the Baltic Sea, one of the most polluted seas in the world.2

The EU biodiversity strategy to 2030, released in 2020, calls for the legal protection of at least 30% of the European Union’s land and sea area; 10% of this must be strictly protected, including all remaining primary and old growth forests.3 The aim is to help increase biodiversity, mitigate and adapt to climate change, and prevent and reduce the impacts of natural disasters. By 2030, as part of its responsibilities to the biodiversity strategy, Lithuania must ensure no further deterioration in any habitats and species listed in the Birds and Habitats directives, and a positive strong trend for at least 30% of those in poor or bad state.

There are fewer threatened species in Lithuania than in other OECD member countries. However, of the 44 non-bird species that are in poor or bad conservation status, more than half have seen their conservation status deteriorate over the past decade. Only 22% of the 54 habitats assessed (12 of 54) have a good conservation status, while the others are ranked as poor or bad (Table 1.1). Regarding habitats, the unknowns on conservation status trends are too high to draw conclusions; Lithuania’s knowledge gap in this area is the highest in the European Union (EEA, 2020b). There is little surveillance of biodiversity status outside protected areas.

Most of the commonly identified anthropogenic threats to biodiversity such as agriculture, development and alien invasive species are also the leading pressures at the European level. Pesticide sales per square kilometre of agricultural land have risen since 2005. However, they remain low by OECD standards (FAO, 2021). Lithuania has made significant efforts to implement the EU directive on sustainable use of pesticides, but more remains to be done (Eurostat, 2021b). Lithuania’s Farmland Bird Index, an indicator of the quality of farmed environments, has been reduced by a third since 2005 (Figure 1.13). Lithuania also identifies forestry operations as a pressure on around three-quarters of habitats, reflecting the relatively high forest coverage and forestry use.

Lithuania designates 17% of its land area and 23% of its exclusive economic zone as a protected area. This meets the Aichi 17% target for terrestrial area (Figure 1.14) and exceeds the Aichi and SDG 14.5 10% target for marine and coastal area. The terrestrial network, established in the 1970s, was significantly expanded in the early 1990s. It made further smaller designations in the early 2000s. Changes since 2010 have been relatively minor in terms of total area, but Lithuania plans to expand the terrestrial network of protected areas to 20% of land area by 2024. High-profile and particularly significant protected areas include the oldest national park (Aukštaitija) in the country’s northeast, the large Dzūkija National Park in the south and the more recently designated Žuvintas UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Most protected areas are mixed-use landscapes (common with many European countries) and resource management areas (for sustainable forest management). Strict nature reserves are uncommon (Figure 1.14). Most sites are small because the landscape is relatively heterogeneous and fragmented – large areas of continuous natural habitats are rare.

Dunes are relatively well covered by the Natura 2000 network. However, grasslands and forests are less extensively protected: Lithuania’s fifth and most recent report to the Convention on Biodiversity singled out the limited protection of grasslands (Government of Lithuania, 2015; EEA, 2020b). Further, none of the grassland habitats of European importance is in a good state of conservation (Table 1.1).

Protected area designation and management plays a dominant role in biodiversity policy. Protected areas are managed by 35 different administrations. Not all such administrations report to the Ministry of Environment; some are the responsibility of the Ministry of Culture or municipalities. This has led to fragmented regulations and difficulty in communicating which activities are permitted in different areas. This results in inconsistencies in nature protection. A harmonisation of protected area management under a single nature protection agency, similar to that in other countries, is under consideration.

Biodiversity protection relies in large part on project-based financial support from the European Union. More should be done to ensure financial sustainability of nature conservation efforts. There is no widespread use of payments for ecosystem services or voluntary agreements with the private sector on biodiversity conservation.

Recent years have seen growing public awareness regarding biodiversity and habitat loss. This is partly due to improved access to nature in protected areas, as well as high-profile media coverage of destruction of urban green spaces and logging in natural forest areas. This has increased awareness and has also led to greater public participation in decision making. However, people in Lithuania are less concerned about threats to biodiversity than on average in the European Union. Only 6% of survey respondents had heard of the Natura 2000 network, compared to an already very low 11% in the European Union as a whole (EC 2019a, 2019b).

Forestry and forest products are a significant part of the Lithuanian economy, although they play a relatively smaller role than in other countries in the region like Latvia, Estonia and Finland (Figure 1.15). Forest land covers one-third of Lithuania’s territory: a proportion that has slightly increased since 2005 and is expected to continue increasing slowly over coming decades.

Forestry acts as a net GHG sink in Lithuania (Figure 1.6). In recent years, the removals (“negative emissions”) from the sector have declined slightly. This decreasing trend is likely to continue until 2035-40 but is then expected to reverse as more stocks in converted forest land approach peak growth.

National plans recognise the potential of multifunctional forest management to remove CO2 and protect biodiversity, while providing wood for construction and biomass for energy. In particular, the National Environmental Protection Strategy (adopted in 2015) and the NPP 2021-30 (adopted in 2020) specify forestry-related targets. One target is for forest cover to reach 35% of the total territory by 2030 (from 33.7% in 2018). The plan also seeks to ensure that volume growth in forest stocks exceeds extractions. Forestry legislation aims to prevent reduction of forestland through land-use changes. In areas where forest area is reduced, all forest owners must plant compensatory new forest on their own land or pay compensation, which is used to plant and maintain new forests.

Lithuania has a dense network of rivers that drain into the Baltic Sea directly, via the Curonian Lagoon or the Gulf of Riga. Many of these rivers are shared with neighbouring countries. For example, inflow from Belarus represents 38% of Lithuania’s renewable water.

The EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) aims to achieve good ecological status (in terms of aquatic life and hydro-morphology) and good chemical status (regarding priority pollutants) for all waters by 2021, with a possible extension until 2027 under certain conditions. Member states must develop river basin management plans (RBMPs), including measures to achieve good ecological and chemical status. Lithuania has published two RBMPs covering 2009-15 and 2016-21.

The NPP sets targets to improve the share of water bodies achieving good ecological status to 85% by 2025 and to 100% by 2030 (the 2015 level was 53%). The 2017-23 Water Sector Development Programme (WSDP) complements these targets with objectives to reduce pollution from specific sources. For surface water and groundwater, the aim is to reduce the number of water bodies affected by diffuse pollution by 85%.

According to EEA data, almost half of rivers and 60% of lakes have a high or good ecological status. This remains below the national target of 85% by 2025. Transitional and coastal waters are of particular concern: they all have poor or bad ecological status. The good chemical status of rivers and lakes contrasts sharply with the appalling performance of transitional and coastal waters (Table 1.2).

The main pressure on surface water bodies is nutrient pollution from diffuse sources. River monitoring station data also reveal worsening nitrogen levels across Lithuania: more than half of rivers monitored in agricultural areas have not achieved good status in recent years. The WSDP addresses eutrophication pressure on coastal areas.4 Lithuania plans to reduce input of nutrients in the Baltic Sea and the Curonian Lagoon by 19% for nitrogen and by 56% for phosphorus compared to the 1997-2003 reference period.

These objectives also contribute to Lithuania’s commitments under the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area (Helsinki Convention) for which the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) provides the secretariat. The HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan aims to achieve a Baltic Sea in good environmental status by 20215 through a system of allowed nutrient inputs per country and sub-basin, called nutrient input ceilings (NICs). Lithuania is one of the few convention parties to have exceeded its NICs in all sub-basins (Svendsen et al., 2018).

The most significant driver of nutrient pollution in Lithuania is the increased use of mineral fertilisers (Figure 1.16). A shift from mixed crop-livestock farming to intensive crop cultivation may have resulted in nitrogen surpluses at the farm level. To address this issue, Lithuania promotes nutrient-friendly farming practices, such as use of catch crops and precision farming. The whole country has been designated a nitrate vulnerable zone. However, the imposition of strict nitrogen regulations throughout the territory creates a competitive disadvantage for Lithuanian farmers compared to their neighbours. As previously suggested (Section 1.5), an integrated approach to nitrogen management would be more cost-effective. Such an approach would seek synergies between policies related to air (NH3, NO), water (nitrates) and climate (N2O).

The NPP aims to increase the share of the population connected to public water supply from 82% in 2018 (Eurostat, 2021c) to 86% in 2025 and 90% in 2030. The government also plans to increase the share of population connected to public wastewater treatment from 77% in 2019 to 85% in 2025 and to 95% in 2030. Some agglomerations between 2 000 and 10 000 population equivalents do not have secondary treatment of their wastewater, which makes Lithuania non-compliant with the EU Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive. On average, 25% of the drinking water produced by water companies is non-revenue water, reflecting pipe leaks, theft or metering inaccuracies. These two indicators highlight the need for Lithuania to invest in water supply and sanitation infrastructure. The WSDP plans to build or rehabilitate 12 wastewater treatment plants by 2023 to comply with the directive.


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← 1. Demographics and differing incidences of other diseases play a dominant role in attributing mortalities. Therefore, it is not unusual for countries with lower than average exposure to have greater attributed mortality.

← 2. 97% of the Baltic Sea suffers from eutrophication (HELCOM, 2018).

← 3. The European Commission will put forward a proposal for legally binding EU nature restoration targets in 2021.

← 4. The Baltic Sea is considered the marine water body most severely affected by eutrophication within Europe. Due to its limited water exchange, nutrients have a particularly long residence time in the sea.

← 5. The action plan is being updated as the Baltic Sea will not have achieved good environmental status by 2021.

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