TIRANA, October 20
While climate change is the biggest threat to human health, “Albania decided to further reduce its already limited 2021 budget for environment and climate change by more than seven percent to Euro 8.9 million,” EC report says
The annual report issued on Tuesday by the European Commission following the adoption of the 2021 Enlargement Package points out that Albania has made limited progress in further aligning environmental policies with the acquis in areas such as water management, chemicals, environmental crime, and civil protection.
“However, significant efforts are still needed on implementation and enforcement, especially on waste management, water, and air quality, and climate change,” the report highlights.
As a result, the 2020 recommendations remain valid and in the coming year. In particular, Albania should align further with key water directives by adopting the newly prepared legal package; adopt the new strategy for water supply and sewerage 2021-2030; substantially increasing the budgetary resources and implementation capacity of its key national agencies for Water Resource Management and Water Supply, Sewerage and Waste Infrastructure, and of the national agencies for implementing a national water monitoring program financed through a statutory budget line created to this aim; develop a basin management plan for the Vjosa River;
Take immediate measures to review and improve environmental and strategic impact assessments on existing and planned projects, plans and programs, especially in the hydropower, construction, tourism, transport, and mining sectors;
Take immediate measures to fight environmental crime and increase policy and law enforcement for nature and biodiversity protection, especially in the protected areas;
Implement the national strategy on climate change and related action plans on mitigation and adaptation, adopt the relevant legislation and develop and adopt its integrated National Energy and Climate Plan in line with Energy Community obligations.
Key points of chapter 27 on Environment and Climate Change
The implementation of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directives needs to be significantly improved about concrete projects before construction and operation, especially for large infrastructure projects in the energy, transport, tourism, and mining sectors. Habitat connectivity and ecological corridors are rarely taken into consideration causing habitat fragmentation and impacting populations of many species. The EIA for Kukes Airport was submitted in January 2021, while the construction works were already well underway.
Public participation and consultation in decision-making need to be improved as well, particularly at the local level.
Implementation of the Law amending the 2019 Penal Code and fully transposing the Directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law has to be improved as only a small fraction of those crimes reported lead to convictions.
The current national plan on air quality management adopted in June 2019 does not provide for a functional monitoring system and focuses mostly on transport measures. Due to a lack of funding, air monitoring is not in line with the EU standards on air quality. An Action Plan for Air quality presents the current state of alignment, tasks to be carried out in the short (2021-2023) and medium-term (2024-2027), and the human and financial resources needed to fulfill the relevant tasks.
Albania has to strengthen its administrative capacities to determine the national emission ceilings and align with the National Emissions reduction Commitments Directive.
The legal framework for waste management is partially aligned. Closing of numerous non-compliant landfills and dumpsites remains a challenge. Separate collection of waste streams and economic instruments to promote recycling and reuse and to prevent waste generation remain limited.
The construction of a new incinerator apart from the two existing ones in Elbasan and Fier pose growing concerns in terms of compliance with the EU waste acquis including the waste hierarchy principle and the recycling targets.
Albania should promote a circular economy and should incentivize preventing, reducing and recycling waste to cut down landfilling.
Albania should promptly start implementing the Drini-Buna and Seman River basin management plans, following their adoption at the end of 2020, and proceed with the completion and adoption of the four remaining river basin management plans.
In line with the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans, Albania should strengthen transboundary basin management with its neighbors, and develop a basin management plan for the Vjosa River, in view of its regional importance, its high ecological value, and eco-tourism potential.
Alignment with the acquis in the field of nature protection, in particular, the Habitats and Birds Directives, is advanced.
Policy and law enforcement remain generally weak despite numerous capacity-building activities and technical assistance. The legislation on strategic investment raises concerns for the protection of biodiversity, as it may allow large tourism and industrial investments in protected areas. In April 2021, Albania signed the contract to build Vlora Airport within the Vjosa-Narta Protected Area, in contradiction with national laws and international biodiversity protection conventions that Albania has ratified. This Protected Area is a candidate for the Emerald site network, which provides shelter to more than 62 species of birds listed in the EU Birds directive. Vjosa River, as one of Europe’s last wild rivers, should receive proper protection status.
In December 2020, the National Territorial Council approved without proper public consultations the map of revised borders of the Protected Areas, where many protected areas are projected to be more fragmented and smaller in size, despite an overall total size increase. This jeopardizes the ecological functionality of certain Protected Areas.
Albania should take into account the comments of the scientific community and other stakeholders before deciding on the revision of the borders of the Protected Areas. Albania should ensure enforcement of the forest and logging laws, and prosecute offenders and arsonists.
The poaching of a lynx individual in Elbasan in May 2020, has not yet been prosecuted to-date.
Investments in hydropower should strictly comply with national and international environmental, nature protection, and water management obligations, involve proper public participation and consultations, and be subject to SEA and EIA reports that include high-quality assessments of the cumulative impacts on nature and biodiversity. SEAs are lacking despite the high number of existing and planned hydropower installations in all river basins.
They should be conducted before any activity license may be granted for single projects.
There is a lack of inspection and monitoring of the minimum ecological flow from the current hydropower plants.
The 2019 Civil Protection Law has led in 2020 to the creation of a National Agency for Civil Protection (NACP). It requires a rapid revision of the outdated national strategy and national plan and a review of the related prefectural and local emergency plans. The administrative capacity, infrastructure, and systems for early warning, prevention, preparedness, and response are still inadequate. The regular floods in the last decade and the 2019 earthquakes, as well as the recent forest fires, have highlighted the urgency of building efficient civil protection and disaster risk reduction (DRR) systems and mainstreaming them in key sectors to increase the country’s resilience to natural disasters and crises, including health emergencies such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
Albania has achieved some level of preparation for tackling climate change by adopting in December 2020 the climate law, but alignment with the acquis remains limited.
Photo: Narta Lagoon, credit: PPNEA