Chapter 2. Environmental governance and management

Lithuania has come a long way since its independence in 1991 and membership in the European Union (EU) in 2004 in improving its regulatory framework and governance practices. In the last decade, the country improved substantially its government effectiveness, rule of law and accountability, which has had positive implications on environmental management. However, it remains below the OECD average on all these indicators (World Bank, 2019).

Lithuania is a small unitary state with the territory divided into 60 municipalities. Lithuania is highly centralised: local governments have little capacity to develop and implement their own policies. De jure municipalities are given numerous autonomous functions, but de facto local governments have few tax revenues of their own and rely heavily on transfers from the central government. The regional administrative level (ten counties) was abolished in 2010. Regional Development Councils as platforms for inter-municipal co-operation were established in 2020.They co-ordinate implementation of economic development policies and provision of public services in the region.

The Ministry of Environment (MoE) is responsible for policy making and regulation on the entire spectrum of environmental matters. Its institutional capacity, including staff competency, has grown over the last decade. Under the 2021-24 government programme, the MoE has declared an ambitious goal for Lithuania to become a carbon-neutral country with an established circular economy by 2050. The ministry has a large number of subordinated institutions with regulatory, compliance assurance and issue-specific management functions:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the main authority for environmental impact assessment (EIA) and environmental permitting. The EPA monitors air quality, status of surface water bodies, wildlife and ecosystems. It also collects, maintains and provides information on the state of the environment and pollution releases.

  • The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) under the MoE carries out compliance assurance functions with regard to environmental regulations. It was created as a result of a 2018 merger of eight regional EPDs into a central department. The EPD has four territorial environmental quality control divisions and four territorial accounting and tax control divisions. As of July 2021, the EPD expanded its remit to cover forests and protected areas.

  • The State Territorial Planning and Construction Inspectorate verifies compliance with spatial plans.

  • The State Service for Protected Areas manages national and regional parks and reserves.

  • The State Forest Service implements state policy on forest management and protection but does not have enforcement functions. The ministry also oversees the State Forest Enterprise, which manages the country’s state-owned forests.

These subordinated institutions often suffer from a shortage of qualified, experienced staff. Furthermore, the funding for the central government’s environmental activities was 8% lower in 2019 than in 2015. Furthermore, the share of used budget allocation is declining: in 2019, only 60% of appropriations were used, 32% less than in 2015. One of the main reasons for the accumulation of unused funds of targeted programmes (EUR 191.5 million in early 2020) was a delay in defining their policy objectives (NAO, 2020). Most of the funding is project-based, which does not always ensure the continuity of programmatic efforts.

Several other ministries have environment-related responsibilities. Environmental measures are incorporated into strategic sectoral development documents drawn up by the Ministries of Energy; Economy and Innovation; Agriculture; Transport and Communications; Health; and Education, Science and Sport. The Ministry of Energy has a dedicated Climate Change Management Policy Group; the Ministry of Transport and Communications – a Future Mobility Policy Group.

To ensure co-ordination between these ministries on environment-related matters, Lithuania has established a consultative National Commission on Sustainable Development chaired by the prime minister. Members of the Commission are high-level representatives of the Ministries of Environment; Economy and Innovation; Finance; Social Security and Labour; Energy; Agriculture; Education, Science and Sport; Transport and Communications; Interior; Culture; Health; Foreign Affairs; the Statistics Department; the Association of Local Authorities; scientists; and representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and business associations. In addition, the National Committee on Climate Change was set up in 2001 and renewed in 2018. It also includes representatives of relevant ministries, municipalities, NGOs and academia.

Inter-institutional working groups collaborate on legislation and strategic documents (e.g. a working group to prepare an Environment Protection and Climate Change Management Plan), as well as on joint initiatives such as the National Plan for Decreasing Ambient Air Pollution and the State Plan for Waste Management. One such working group has been set up at the level of vice ministers. In 2020, the prime minister established a government working group to better co-ordinate the implementation of the National Energy and Climate Plan and address topics on the EU’s Green Deal agenda (Chapter 3). In addition, there are many inter-institutional advisory expert groups, including the Co-ordination Council for Forest Sanitary Protection, the Fisheries Board, the Hunting Advisory Board and the working group on food waste.

However, these co-ordination bodies do not ensure a whole-of-government approach to environmental protection and sustainable development. In the new government’s programme, the chapter on the Lithuanian Green Deal is not closely linked to the chapter on economic development. There are some positive examples of nascent inter-ministerial collaboration on issues such as climate change and sustainable mobility. However, the lack of policy co-ordination between the environment and agriculture ministries is of particular concern.

Municipalities are in charge of waste management and operation of water supply and wastewater management infrastructure. They also adopt and implement long- and short-term municipal environmental protection programmes; set up and manage local protected areas; monitor air quality, surface water and groundwater, noise and biodiversity; and develop and implement land-use plans. Upon agreement from the national government, municipalities may adopt stricter environmental standards than those of the state, but this does not happen in practice. Environmental expenditures account on average for only 5% of the municipality’s total budget. Several cities and towns have developed Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (Chapter 4). However, municipalities are rarely proactive in key environmental policy areas such as climate change mitigation and adaptation, and circular economy.

The central government uses the Special Programme to Support the Protection of the Environment by Municipalities and other mechanisms to fund selected local initiatives under the MoE’s supervision. However, this funding is relatively small (EUR 13 million in 2020, which amounted to 8% of the total municipal environmental expenditure). Moreover, the funding is most often not associated with measurable targets.

Lithuania’s legislation has been significantly strengthened through the transposition of EU directives, particularly in the areas of waste management and nature protection. Lithuania had 9 open infringements against EU directives in 2020 (mostly related to waste and wastewater management), significantly below the average of 16 (EC, 2021). However, more can be done to strengthen environmental assessment of non-environmental laws, regulations, plans and programmes.

Impacts of any legislative draft are required to be assessed in line with a 2003 regulatory impact assessment (RIA) methodology. However, RIA largely remains a formal exercise to justify choices already made. It is rarely based on data or analysis of alternative options. Environmental aspects are included in the RIA “explanatory note”, but the focus is usually on reducing the administrative burden for businesses (OECD, 2018).

In April 2020, amendments to the Law on Legislative Framework introduced ex post assessment of the impact of existing laws and regulations. An ex post assessment will be conducted only for regulatory acts that have been in force for at least two years without substantial changes. A methodology for such assessment is under development.

Lithuania has established a general framework for evaluating strategic plans and programmes. The 2011 Methodology on Programme Evaluation establishes criteria and indicators for the identification and evaluation of impacts and requires detailed reporting of evaluation results. The methodology can be used for both ex ante and ex post evaluations. It does not, however, include elements of cost-benefit analysis. Before approving a new policy, the government carries out an ex post evaluation of the impact of the previous one.

Strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is carried out for plans and programmes prepared by governmental or municipal institutions that are likely to have a significant impact on the environment. Recent SEAs at the national level include those of the National Air Pollution Reduction Plan in 2019 and of the National Comprehensive Plan of the Territory of Lithuania in 2019-20.

Pursuant to the Law on Territorial Planning, there is a complex set of obligatory plans: the national Comprehensive Plan, which covers both terrestrial and maritime territories; regional comprehensive plans, municipal comprehensive plans and detailed local plans. Comprehensive spatial plans are binding for all sector-specific planning. All of them are subject to SEA. Detailed local spatial plans for areas under 10 square kilometres undergo SEA screening and are assessed only if they have clear significant environmental implications.

There is not enough control over the quality of spatial planning to ensure it adequately integrates environmental considerations. The State Territorial Planning and Construction Inspectorate must check territorial planning documents. MoE and municipalities are required to monitor implementation of spatial plans. However, both the control and the monitoring rarely happen in practice (NAO, 2019). Co-ordination between transport and land-use planning must also be improved (Chapter 4).

The EPA co-ordinates the EIA process, screens projects for potential significant environmental impact (that requires an EIA), evaluates EIA reports and makes decisions on the feasibility of the proposed economic activity. State institutions in charge of health care, fire protection and protection of cultural properties, as well as municipal institutions, participate in the EIA, examine EIA reports and submit conclusions to the EPA. The MoE co-ordinates transboundary EIA procedures.

An EIA decision is mandatory before institutions can issue permits to applicants for activities such as construction, exploration or exploitation. Competent authorities issuing permits must consider and follow the conditions defined in the EIA decision. However, not all restrictions of activities and specific mitigating measures established during the EIA are transferred into permits (NAO, 2020). The link between EIA and permitting was strengthened in 2021, when EIA-determined mitigation measures were required to have concrete timeframes. This made it easier to translate them into pre-operational, operational and post-operational (decommissioning) permit conditions.

The EPA also issues integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) permits and simplified permits that set limits for specific pollution impacts of non-IPPC installations. In addition, it issues other environment-related authorisations: licences for hazardous waste management, permits for import and export of protected species of flora and fauna, permits for special and commercial fishing, etc.

The permitting process has become more efficient thanks to electronic submission of applications and permit issuance through the Lithuanian e-government gateway. However, Lithuania does not have activity-specific standard requirements (general binding rules) for installations with low environmental impact. Such requirements, similar to those used in neighbouring Latvia (OECD, 2019), would further improve regulatory efficiency and reduce the administrative burden on small businesses. As another way to optimise the permitting regime, Lithuania could allow registration or notification instead of permitting for the least significant polluters. Several OECD member countries such as Finland and France have adopted this practice.

The 2018 merger of eight regional EPDs has improved the efficiency and co-ordination of environmental policy implementation. This reform also harmonised the interpretation of regulatory requirements across the country and established common competence standards for compliance monitoring and enforcement, reducing the administrative burden for businesses.

EPD staff carry out inspections; if necessary, they work with other authorities. In May 2020, the EPD and the Police Department signed a mutual co-operation agreement for several areas. These comprise investigating administrative misconduct and criminal offences in the environmental field, organising joint educational seminars to promote compliance and conducting training courses for respective staff. In December 2020, a similar agreement between the EPD and the State Border Guard Service established a joint action plan to combat criminal activities related to waste and trade of protected species. Vilnius and several other municipalities have co-operation agreements with local police units on fighting environmental crime (Kazakevicius, 2019).

Prior to the reorganisation, each regional EPD drew up its own inspection plan. Since 2019, the central EPD elaborates a single annual inspection plan. The planning is based on 12 risk-related criteria, including the operator’s compliance record and implementation of an environmental management system (EMS). However, risk-based planning must conform to the minimum and maximum inspection frequencies defined in the legislation. Lowest-risk installations must be inspected at least once every three years, and highest-risk activities every year. However, no operator can have more than two planned inspections per year. Although unannounced inspections are allowed under certain circumstances (e.g. in case an offence is suspected), all planned inspections must be announced to the operator at least ten days in advance. This policy makes it more difficult to for planned inspections to detect non-compliance. In addition, the information on regulated entities is poorly maintained, which may lead to gaps in inspection planning (NAO, 2020).

In 2014-20, 14 000 inspections were carried out, on average, annually. Of these, about 53% were planned, with the rest responding to incidents and complaints. This share of planned inspections can be considered low compared with best practices in OECD member countries, indicating that compliance monitoring is largely reactive. The annual number of inspections declined after the EPD reorganisation. It dropped even further in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions.

Public complaints are managed by the Notification Division of the EPD and its territorial units. The number of complaints is increasing every year: at almost 18 000, it was 46% higher in 2019 than in 2015. Most complaints concern industrial activities, forestry and nature protection. Almost 40% of complaints are addressed through EPD inspections (drawing resources away from planned site visits); the rest are referred to other competent authorities. The MoE website includes a special hotline that explains how to submit a complaint about an environmental nuisance or environmental damage.

The EPD online reports of annual inspection plans and quarterly inspection have limited information. Most inspection reports indicate only the number of inspections but offer no details on follow-up actions and penalties (Kazakevicius, 2019). Individual inspection reports, even for IPPC installations, are not available to the public. This is contrary to the practice of several OECD member countries, such as Finland, where summaries of inspection reports for high-risk installations are available to the public on line and full reports can be accessed upon request.

In 2016-20, an average of 63% of environmental inspections detected at least one violation – a high level of non-compliance. An average of 35% of these infringements were committed in the field of nature protection; 22% were related to waste management. Around 5% of the detected infringements resulted in environmental damage.

Parliament adopted new legislation in response to several high-profile industrial pollution scandals, including the release of untreated wastewater from a cardboard plant into the Curonian Lagoon near the city of Klaipėda. The so-called Klaipėda package of legislative changes, adopted in early 2020 and entering into force in August 2021, is designed to strengthen compliance monitoring and enforcement. In one of the changes, EPA laboratory specialists will be allowed to take samples on the operator’s property. The regulatory amendments strengthened enforcement by allowing inspectors to ask for a court injunction if the operator does not comply with an administrative corrective action order. The amendments also make it easier for enforcement authorities to revoke an environmental permit if its conditions are repeatedly violated. The EPD and EPA will have to ensure all permit conditions are respected before a new activity can start.

Chapter 18 of the Code of Administrative Offences contains about 100 articles providing for administrative sanctions for environmental misconduct by physical persons; the Law on Environmental Protection sets penalties for legal persons. Most of these sanctions are fines. The maximum fine for environmental infringements by companies is more than EUR 200 000, but the average fine in 2020 was only EUR 1 0451; this is too low to have a deterrent impact. As in most OECD countries, fines do not reflect the economic benefit the offender receives from non-compliance behaviour.

The annual volume of imposed administrative fines dropped by more than half over 2016-20. Moreover, only about two-thirds of the amount of imposed fines was collected in 2016-19; this share was up to 83% in 2020 (Figure 2.1). Most of the 200-300 cases concerning environmental violations heard in the country’s administrative courts are initiated by operators contesting the inspector-imposed sanctions. Operators are often successful in reducing the already low fines due to the poor preparation of EPD cases before the courts. This diminishes the effectiveness of administrative fines even further.

Revenues from administrative (as well as criminal) fines are channelled to the state treasury but are earmarked to the Environmental Protection Support Programme administered by the MoE.2 In principle, earmarking revenues from fines to a fund run by an environmental authority is not consistent with good international practice. The policy creates a perverse incentive for the authority to increase revenue by imposing more and larger fines. This is not an immediate concern with such extremely low fines. However, should the volume of fines increase, it may be advisable to stop this earmarking practice and channel the revenues to the general budget.

Several articles of the Criminal Code establish penalties for environmental crimes, including fines and imprisonment. Among others, violations that entail serious damage to the environment are punishable by up to six years in prison. Almost all criminal environmental cases referred by the EPD to the Public Prosecutor’s Office are pursued in court. However, such cases are not many. In 2015-19, the regular courts heard an average of 18 criminal environmental cases, with roughly half of them resulting in convictions.

Lithuania transposed the EU Environmental Liability Directive (ELD, 2004/35/EC) to the Law on Environmental Protection in 2010. However, this law defines environmental damage as adverse change to all elements of the environment, including air. Such a definition is broader than the one in the ELD.

Lithuanian law handles environmental damage remediation and compensation in two different ways. If the damage is ascertained as significant (which rarely happens), the damaged environment must be restored to the baseline condition through remediation measures. The country reported only seven cases of significant damage to protected species and natural habitats, water or land under the ELD over 2004-17 (Milieu, 2019). In these seven cases, the full monetary value of the damage was calculated after the remedial measures were implemented.

If no measures are implemented to restore the environment, or the measures are insufficient to restore the baseline condition, the value of environmental damage is calculated according to methodologies approved by the MoE. The calculated compensation depends on the type of pollutants released, their quantity, indices and rates for the pollutants concerned, etc. The damage compensation is channelled to the budgetary Environmental Protection Support Programme (Section 2.4.2), which is rarely used for remediation. The vast majority of the 267 cases of environmental damage reported by inspectors in 2019 alone were handled in this way. Monetary compensation to the state for environmental damage is a regulatory tradition in many East European countries, including Estonia and Latvia (OECD, 2019, 2017). However, it does not reflect real damage to the environment or encourage remediation. Rather, it creates a perverse incentive for environmental authorities to prefer a monetary compensation to clean-up on the ground. At the same time, operators responsible for the damage can pay less than they would for remediation.

Financial security (insurance or a bank guarantee) is required as a precondition for a permit to extract hydrocarbon resources at sea; manage hazardous waste; manage waste electric and electronic equipment, end-of-life vehicles, oils, batteries and accumulators; or conduct solid waste recovery, shipment or disposal activities. The financial security amount is calculated based on an MoE methodology. However, there are no similar requirements for other industrial activities. There is no market for voluntary environmental liability insurance given that remediation is hardly enforced, and the commonly used monetary compensation for damage is relatively low.

Over 12 500 potentially contaminated sites have been identified in the country. According to preliminary risk assessment, about 10% of these were classified as highest-risk, while over 25% were considered high-risk sites. Studies have shown that about 800 sites need remediation, but this is occurring at only 92 sites due to funding constraints.

The Lithuanian Geological Survey, under the MoE, collects information about contaminated sites and maintains a state register of potentially contaminated sites. Clean-up can be compulsory depending on the intended future activity and land use. There are specific requirements to remediate sites contaminated with certain chemical substances and to clean up soil and groundwater contamination with oil products. If a contaminated orphan site (where no responsible party can be identified) is on state land, the municipality is responsible for investigation and remediation. However, if historic contamination is identified on private land, the state does not have a budget to deal with it.

The government has estimated the cost of remediating high- and highest-risk sites at about EUR 1 300 million. In 2013-20, the EU Cohesion Funds designated EUR 19 million for treatment of the 36 historic contaminated sites on state-owned land. This accounted for 95% of the total clean-up expenditure (the rest came from private- and public-sector land developers). The national contaminated sites management plan for 2013-23 set a goal to remediate 89 highest-risk sites with historic contamination. However, the achievement of this target depends almost entirely on the availability of EU funds.

Lithuania increasingly recognises the need to provide consultation and advisory support to operators to increase voluntary compliance. There are some financial measures under the Eco-Innovation LT programme to encourage small and medium-sized enterprises to adopt an EMS, carry out production technology and environmental audits or install eco-innovative technology. However, guidance on good environmental practices is largely lacking.

Voluntary agreements with industry aimed at achieving environmental goals have not been widely used in Lithuania. Still, several recent initiatives to reduce single-use plastic packaging, including EU-wide ones, have involved collaboration with the private sector. For example, as part of a campaign to reduce the amount of lightweight carrier bags, the MoE and the Lithuanian Trade Companies Association worked together to produce video and audio advertising that was broadcast in supermarkets free of charge.

The annual number of new certifications to the ISO 14001 EMS standard more than doubled over 2008-18 (Figure 2.2). The increase was primarily due to the country’s integration into the European economic space, which encourages better environmental practices. Lithuanian environmental authorities also promote EMS certification by considering it in determining the inspection frequency (Section 2.4.1). In 2019, 732 Lithuanian companies with over 1 000 sites were certified with ISO 14001.

The MoE and the EPA organise seminars and training to promote adoption of the EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) in public and private organisations and provide consultations by e-mail and telephone. In 2011, the MoE implemented EMAS in its day-to-day operations to set an example of an environmentally friendly government institution. However, only four organisations with six sites in the country have been certified to EMAS (EC, 2020).

The MoE encourages enterprises’ environmental achievements by handing out annual awards for the “promotion of civil environmental initiatives” and participating in environmental nominations for the National Responsible Business awards. The Ministries of Agriculture and Health oversee the implementation of the national Ecoagros certification standard for organic agriculture.

Lithuania has been slow to implement green public procurement (GPP) and use it to promote sustainable products and production practices. The Law on Public Procurement (last amended in 2020) requires all contracting authorities to apply environmental criteria when such criteria are defined in appropriate implementing regulations. The MoE order of 2011 defined a list of 30 categories of products and services subject to GPP, as well as environmental criteria for all of them (such as electronic equipment). In 2021, the MoE order was amended to increase the number of GPP criteria, promote eco-labels and EMSs, update and simplify environmental criteria for transport and food, and streamline GPP reporting. The Public Procurement Office monitors GPP implementation.

A 2016 government resolution set a 50% target for the share of GPP (in both the number and monetary value) in procurement categories with set environmental criteria for 2019. The same year, the MoE approved GPP implementation measures for 2016-20. In 2017, however, the share of GPP contracts in procurement categories that had environmental criteria was 11.3% in terms of monetary value (compared to 14.7% in 2015) and 19.1% in terms of the number of contracts (EC, 2019a). In 2019, these numbers fell even further – to 5.8% and 7.2%, respectively.

The government has recently increased the policy profile of GPP. The National Climate and Energy Plan calls for amending the country’s legislation to ensure that municipalities and public bodies carry out only green procurement. The National Progress Plan adopted by the government in September 2020 set a target of 50% GPP by monetary value and number of contracts by 2025 and a target of 55% GPP by 2030. The 2021-24 government programme raised the ambition even further, calling for all public procurement to become green by 2023.

Reaching these targets will require a drastic change in the way public bodies carry out public procurement. Together with the EPA, the ministry has been providing training and methodological support for contracting authorities and suppliers since 2018. The MoE intends to establish a GPP competence centre to provide direct support to public procurement officers, including trainings, guidelines, consultations with market representatives and a GPP officers’ network.

Lithuania ranked first on the 70-country Environmental Democracy Index in 2015 in recognition of the country’s well-developed regulatory framework for access to information, public participation in decision making and access to justice in environmental matters. It has been party to the Aarhus Convention since 2002. However, to improve civic engagement, Lithuania needs to move beyond formal compliance with legal requirements and procedures, and focus instead on achieving genuine impact (OECD, 2015).

In 2018, the government issued a methodology for public consultation with the aim of expanding public engagement. The MoE routinely provides drafts of new or amended legislation for comment to relevant government stakeholders, social and economic partners, associations and the public. In every round of consultation, the draft project is published on the electronic information system where interested institutions and the public can provide comments. After every consultation period, the ministry usually arranges a meeting to discuss comments but is not required to do so. The MoE has established an advisory panel in which ministry officials, environmental NGOs, and science and education institutions participate equally. The National Commission on Sustainable Development and the National Committee on Climate Change also include NGO representatives (Section 2.2.1).

However, actual public involvement in the environmental law and policy making is low (EC, 2019a). There is no active dialogue with civil society on key environmental policy priorities, particularly at the local level. Often NGOs learn about regulatory initiatives belatedly, or may only be allowed to submit comments in writing, without a discussion.

The same is true for public consultation on specific projects. Information about IPPC permit applications is provided in the local, regional or national press. The EPA considers proposals from the public when preparing an IPPC permit and informs the public about decisions. Public hearings are supposed to be part of every EIA process. Usually, however, few comments are received during the EIA process: out of 20 EIA reports submitted in 2017, only 4 reported having received comments, questions or suggestions from the public (Kazakevicius, 2019). Over 70% of surveyed communities indicated that the legal deadlines for accessing EIA documents are too short (NAO, 2020).

There are also significant problems with public participation in land-use planning. All spatial planning documents must also undergo public consultation, but it is often superficial: 79% of complaints received by the State Territorial Planning and Construction Inspectorate concern public announcement rules (NAO, 2019).

Statistics Lithuania and other producers of official environment-related statistics (the EPA and the State Forest Service) publish their information through the official statistics portal. The environmental quality and pollution release data collected and managed by the EPA can also be accessed through the agency’s main webpage. There has been good progress with regard to data management and sharing as part of the implementation of the INSPIRE Directive (EC, 2019a). The National Land Service under the Ministry of Agriculture manages the state spatial datasets accessible through the Lithuanian spatial information portal.

The EPA’s annual indicator-based assessment “State of the Environment. Only Facts” was last published in 2014, and the last in-depth state of the environment report came out in 2013. Subsequently, these publications were discontinued, largely due to a lack of resources. Since 2015, environmental information has been published exclusively on the relevant authorities’ websites. A catalogue of references to environmental information maintained by different institutions is available on the MoE website. However, this fragmentation makes it more difficult for users to find and navigate environmental data.

Environmental information not available on line is provided to the public upon request within two weeks, in most cases free of charge.3 For example, environmental permits can be obtained, but their specific conditions are often redacted under the pretext of commercial confidentiality. However, compliance monitoring and enforcement information on individual economic entities is not publicly available (Section 2.4.1). Applicants who consider their requests for information have been ignored, wrongfully refused or inadequately answered have access to a review procedure before an administrative disputes commission. Subsequently, they can appeal to an administrative court.

There are no specific rules concerning proceedings or litigation costs in environmental matters. Only the Administrative Dispute Commission and administrative courts can review administrative actions, including environmental ones such as EIA and permitting decisions.4 The Commission and its territorial divisions conduct pre-trial examination and investigation of complaints about administrative actions (or lack thereof). Several legal acts (e.g. the Law on Territorial Planning) prescribe such an administrative review as a prerequisite for court action.

The review and the administrative court’s jurisdiction cover procedural and substantive legality of an action. This is an important good practice that is not universal among OECD member countries: in Estonia, for example, an administrative court cannot overturn a decision on substantive grounds only (OECD, 2017). Decisions of regional administrative courts (in Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda, Šiauliai and Panevėžys) can be appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court. Administrative court judges undergo regular international and domestic trainings in environmental law.

The Supreme Administrative Court has confirmed the right of community-based organisations to sue in the environmental domain, including actions or omissions by public authorities. However, there is a lack of clarity on whether NGOs have a right to contest regulatory provisions (e.g. a ministerial order) in court (Kazakevicius, 2019).

Another recourse for public complaints on environmental issues is the Seimas (parliamentary) Ombudsman’s Office. This office deals with complaints about misconduct in public administration, including public authorities’ failure to fulfil their environmental duties. About 10% of such complaints refer to environmental issues (Kazakevicius, 2019).

There are two types of legal aid available to the public: primary (legal information and legal consultations outside the judicial procedure) and secondary (preparation of procedural documents, representation in courts). Two “legal clinics”, at Vilnius University and Mykolas Romeris University, provide primary legal aid (European e-Justice Portal, 2020). People have the right to approach a municipality for additional information on the administrative and judicial procedures (according to their declared place of residence), and the municipality must provide legal assistance free of charge. However, the information on access to justice is not readily available on line (EC, 2019a). The secondary legal aid is granted through five special services (in Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda, Panevėžys and Šiauliai), which are accountable to the Ministry of Justice (European e-Justice Portal, 2020). However, no legal aid is available to NGOs.

Initial court fees are low, but the losing party must cover all costs incurred by the winning party, which can be significant. This may deter citizens and NGOs from going to court. Several other OECD member countries have taken actions to remove high litigation costs as a barrier in access to justice. For example, Ireland’s Court of Justice ruled in 2016 that environment-related litigation should not be prohibitively expensive. In civil proceedings related to ensuring compliance with a statute, licence or permit, the Irish government must cover its share of litigation costs irrespective of the eventual court decision.

Environmental awareness in Lithuania is lower than the EU average: only 40% of its citizens consider protecting the environment to be “very important” (53% across the European Union). The growing levels of waste generation and air pollution are key issues of concern for Lithuanians. For respondents, the main solutions are changing consumption patterns (35%), providing more information and education (30%), changing production patterns (30%) and improving enforcement (29%) (EC, 2019b). Awareness of biodiversity and the need to protect it have risen in the last five years (EC, 2018).

Environmental education is a priority in the National Sustainable Development Strategy (2011). The MoE promotes environmental education activities with support of EU structural funds; raising public awareness of the environment was one of its 2014-20 priorities. Under the NECP, the education ministry is obliged to integrate climate change issues into primary and secondary education curricula. Environmental education in secondary schools relies mostly on integration of sustainable development aspects into natural science courses, but there is no consistent approach to teaching these subjects.

Several Lithuanian NGOs are active in environmental education, complementing government efforts:

  • The Lithuanian Fund for Nature, which is the Lithuanian partner of the World Wide Fund for Nature, conducts thematic projects and organises various events and educational trips promoting environmental protection.

  • The Lithuanian Green Movement has been implementing the international programme of Nature Protection Schools in the country since 2004. The programme covers 83 kindergartens and schools.

  • The Lithuanian Children and Youth Centre's Sustainable Schools programme began in 2013 to promote and create awareness about sustainable development. The programme works through the formation of “green teams” of ten people in educational establishments, which can include everyone from teachers, students and parents to administrative staff. The Sustainable Schools programme was among nominees for the 2018 UNESCO-Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development.

Despite these efforts, education and awareness-raising efforts are clearly falling short of the need to boost public participation in environmental decision making. More emphasis should be placed on reaching out to adults through vocational training and campaigns to promote environmentally friendly behavioural patterns.


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EC (2018), “Attitudes of Europeans towards biodiversity”, Special Barometer 481, European Commission, Brussels,

European e-Justice Portal (2020), “Access to Justice in Environmental Matters – Lithuania” webpage, (accessed 7 July 2020).

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← 1. The highest fine in 2020, EUR 28 000, was imposed in the Klaipėda region.

← 2. This fund consists largely of revenues from fines for environmental violations, pollution charges for exceedance of permitted emission and effluent limits, infringements of building regulations, compensation for environmental damage, etc.

← 3. For some specific hydrological and meteorological information there is a small charge for NGOs and academic institutions. The government plans to eliminate these charges in the near future.

← 4. District courts of general jurisdiction deal with cases of environmental damage to health and welfare under civil law, as well as with criminal violations.

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