Questioning the sustainability of E40 in European Parliament

On the 10th of December 2018, Mr. Benedek Javor MEP, the vice chair of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety of the European Parliament, submitted a written question to the European Commission about the sustainability proofing of the E40 Inland Waterway. Mr Javor's question is requesting an important information because the economic, ecological and social sustainability of the suggested new waterway is not proven through its 2015 feasibility study, which was co-financed by the European Union.

Let us share the written question here:

"Polesia is Europe’s greatest intact floodplain region, which comprises large forests and wetlands and boasts high biodiversity and great potential for climate mitigation.

The development plan for the E40 inland waterway, a navigation route to link the Black and Baltic Seas, poses great threats to the natural resources and the health of citizens living in the region — especially those surrounding the Pripyat river.

The E40 would go through the Chernobyl exclusion zone and potentially mobilise radioactive sediments, thereby threatening drinking water resources and the food chains of millions of people downstream. It would also have a negative impact on 7% of Poland’s Natura 2000 sites and a total of 25 400 km2 of protected areas, including important migratory bird habitats.

A feasibility study was conducted, supported by the EU’s European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI), but the results have not been made public. Some 25 000 people signed an online petition to stop the E40, and several European organisations have argued against it because of compelling reasons to maintain sustainability.

Will the Commission use all its tools to ensure that the E40 development does not endanger wetlands and citizens in Polesia?

What action will it take to ensure sustainability proofing of the E40 and any other EU-funded inland waterway developments, in addition to guaranteeing proper stakeholder participation in the decision-making processes concerned?"

The question and the European Commission's response will be available here.

Round table in Ukraine on Polesia and E40

The National Ecological Center of Ukraine (NECU) organized a roundtable discussion about "Natural Values of Polesia and Environmental Threats of the E40 Inland Waterway (E40 IWW)" in the Conference Hall of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine on 26th December, 2018. The event was attended by representatives of the Parliament of Ukraine, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, State Water Resources Agency, State Ecological Inspection, State Administration of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and several non-government environmental organizations.

Heorhiy Veremiychyk, NECU’s expert on climate change briefed the round table participants on the current state of the development of the E40 IWW, with special attention to the position of the international coalition of environmental organizations that believe that the project is not only a huge threat to the environment, but does not have economic rationale. In case of implementation of the E40 IWW, the Pripyat River will lose its natural state and the outstanding biodiversity value of Polesia will be destroyed.

Ruslan Havryliuk, head of NECU also emphasized that the European Union integration of Ukraine cannot be realized without preserving the environment, which is confirmed through the Association Agreement signed between Ukraine and EU. This agreement requires Ukraine to adopt the 2 nature directives and the water framework directive, which also calls for public consultation in relation to investments impacting Ukrainian rivers. Mykhailo Borysiuk, the head of the Secretariat of the Committee of the Parliament of Ukraine on Environmental Policy, Natural Resources and the Elimination of the Consequences of the Chernobyl Catastrophe stressed that the further planning of E40 Inland Waterway requires wide discussion and informed decisions.

It was emphasized that the potential benefits of the E40 IWW will be realised by a few individuals, while most of the investment costs, as well as possible additional costs associated with, for example, the degradation of river ecosystems, will be imposed on society as a whole in the three countries of Belarus, Poland and Ukraine. A comprehensive strategic environmental assessment of the E40 Project (for the entire water route) has to be completed, considering the transboundary impact of construction works and the functioning of the waterway. At the same time, it is necessary to fulfill the commitments undertaken by Ukraine to protect valuable natural territories of European significance, which are part of the emerald network of Europe, and thus avoid reputational losses of the country.

Oleksandr Husiev from NECU presented an overview of the threats posed by the implementation of the E40 project for territories adjacent to the Chernobyl exclusion zone. For instance Leonid Protsenko head of the "Intercocenter" NGO noted that after the Chernobyl disaster the exclusion zone was very contaminated with radioactive elements, therefore the construction of the international waterway E40 should be preceded by a thorough investigation of the potential threats of re-contamination of the waters of the Pripyat and the Kiev lake.

The representative of the Ministry of Environmental Protection of Ukraine Olesya Petrovych noted that any dam on the river means great harm, because the fish cannot move freely and lose access to natural spawning grounds, and water quality inevitably deteriorates due to the fragmentation of the river and the slowdown of  flow. As part of the E40 Project, there will also be a dramatically increased risk of invasive species penetration through shipping directly from Black Sea to the Baltic. Alien species are responsible for long-term changes in the biotic and abiotic components of the habitats and ecosystems, affecting trophic chains and successional processes, transforming the natural characteristics and functionalities of habitats and altering the natural dynamic of the ecosystems.

The representative of the State Agency of Water Resources Irina Voytyuk drew attention to the fact that the Laws "On Strategic Environmental Assessment" and "On the Environmental Impact Assessment" now operate in Ukraine, and the E40 Waterway Project should be considered in accordance with the procedures defined by these Laws. Environmental losses ought not to exceed the economic benefits.

Svyatoslav Kurulenko, President of Environmental Auditors Association of Ukraine, noted that the E40 IWW project should be evaluated on the basis of sustainable development of Ukraine, within the framework of the current legislation and with observance of the approved procedures, and while the formal procedures are not implemented, the project cannot be implemented. The project must be discussed with the Belarusian and Polish partners and even beyond through its potential impact on the Black sea and the Baltic.

Dr. Svitlana Boychenko from the Institute of Geophysics of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine stressed that the environmental benefits of the E40 Project for reducing CO2 emissions compared to road and rail transport, indicated by the project’s developers, are speculatively used as an argument for the project to prove ecologically attractive. It is necessary to take into account the reduction of precipitation in recent years and the threat of water pollution as a result of the operation of the waterway and in the event of man-made accidents.

In his concluding remarks, Ruslan Havryliuk called upon all those present for further cooperation and continued consideration of all aspects of the E40 Inland Waterway Project in order to inform the wider public and authorities about the threats that it poses to the unique ecosystem of Polesia.

(This article is available in Ukrainian here)

Polesia’s crowning bird: The Greater Spotted Eagle

The Greater Spotted Eagle (Clanga clanga) is one of the rarest birds of prey in Europe, which – according to the IUCN Red Data Book – has a vulnerable status with a decreasing global population. This treasured bird of prey prefers the remote regions of wetland habitats and is very sensitive to human disturbance.

One of the largest populations of Greater Spotted Eagle, with 120-150 nesting pairs, live in Belarus. More individuals are found here than in the entire European Union. Research carried out by Belarusian scientists proves that Polesia is critically important for the survival of the species, because of the density of nesting pairs in its central part.

APB-Birdlife Belarus started a national campaign in 2000 to call the attention of Belarusian citizens to the challenges linked to birds. One species is selected each year to be the focus of the campaign. For 2019, the Greater Spotted Eagle was chosen as the Bird of the Year. This will help APB to continue its existing "Save an eaglet!" fundraising action, which includes organizing expeditions to find and monitor nests, then mobilizing volunteers and legal tools to protect the precious breeding sites.

Greater Spotted Eagle in Polesia, Valeriy Dambrouski

The threats for the species include land use changes linked to construction of forest roads, housing and industrial development, intensification of forestry, and modification of habitats due to hydrological changes. The building of the E40 inland waterway would cause hydro-morphological changes in a great extent of Polesia, which – through habitat modification – directly threatens the largest breeding population of Greater Spotted Eagle in Europe.

Eastern Partnership Forum calls for stopping E40

During its most recent meeting in Brussels from September 12th-13th 2018, the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF) tabled a list of recommendations on topics such as environment, transport, energy and energy efficiency – which were presented to the EU stakeholders, who attended the meeting on the second day.

The group on transport, on the other hand, discussed the state of play on the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) in each country, as well as the Road Safety Action Plan, which was addressed in the Transport Panel on September 18th – producing a comprehensive list of recommendations including the following text on E40 inland waterway:

“The E-40 Waterway project poses a threat of secondary radioactive contamination to the environment– as a result of activities in territories contaminated by radioactive isotopes after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster (1986). The implementation of the project will have a significant impact on protected areas, including flora and fauna, valuable wetlands, landscapes, forest and agricultural land. The construction and operation of the channel will lead to the loss of habitat and stopover sites for migratory birds. For these reasons, the project should be stopped and other options considered.”

Veronika Liskova, International Relations Officer at the European Commission DG MOVE and Antonio Nunez, Senior Transport Specialist at the World Bank were receptive of the group’s recommendations. Nunez added that the role of civil society is to guide decision-makers – it does not only extend to road safety, but also issues such as decarbonisation and improvement of infrastructure.

The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is a policy initiative that aims to bring the six Eastern neighbors – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – closer to the EU. The Civil Society Forum’s mission is to ensure effective participation of civil societies in the process of planning, monitoring and implementation of the Eastern Partnership policy in constructive dialogue with the EU.