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.

TV interview: Belarusian business organization is against E40

Ales Herasimenka, the spokesperson of the Business Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers named after Prof. M.S.Kouniavski (BUEE) and deputy editor of the weekly magazine "Belarusians and Market" was interviewed by BelSat on November 13th 2018. The subject of the interview was the E40 inland waterway, which Mr. Herasimenka  considers to be an attempt to sink millions of dollars and an ecological catastrophe for the country.

“Pripyat is one of the few rivers in Europe, which has been preserved to our time in a natural state.” said Mr. Herasimenka. “The construction of the required standard of class IV navigation route of course requires serious intervention in the river. There will be work for the dredging and straightening of the riverbed, and the construction of a cascade of dams. Once this happens, the river ceases to be a river, and turns into a channel, a wide ditch, a cascade of reservoirs with catastrophic impact on natural values” he added.

BUEE has already made an analysis of the economic soundness of the E40 inland waterway and found that its implementation does not bring the promised economic benefits to the Belarusian society.

The full interview is available here in Belarusian.

Climate change impacts the future of inland navigation

An exceptionally dry summer in 2018 has caused havoc across Europe. It has been Germany's second warmest (only 2003 was warmer) and the second-driest (only 1911 was drier) since records began in 1881. The combination of warm weather and 40% less rainfall than the long-term average has resulted in the most arid April to October period in recorded history.

According to the Center for Disaster Management at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the overall economic impact reached a double-digit billion Euro loss only in Germany. Due to the high-water temperatures of some rivers, power plants were shut down or throttled, thousands of tons of fish died and agricultural crop yield fell. Inland navigation was also negatively affected, proving how sensitive this means of transportation is to environmental conditions.

As a consequence of low water levels inland shipping was partially discontinued on the majority of European rivers. The Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration reported about half of Germany’s river ferries stopped running, and river cruise ships were having to transport their passengers by bus for parts of their journey. Cargo ships could only be partially loaded, or for instance on the Danube ships could practically only operate unladen.

2018 was not the first year when extreme weather conditions caused trouble for navigation in Europe. In 2015 the Rhine river was reported to be at its lowest level for 40 years. The lower water level is not only an economic challenge, but as it narrows the navigation way it increases the risk of collisions, which would lead to large environmental problems downstream.

According to the research conducted by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, there will be an increasing instability in relation to weather conditions, and extremes are going to occur more frequently. The summer of 2018 might have been exceptional with its intensive drought and prolonged heat, but the likeliness of such weather anomalies is expected to increase in the future, which will make inland water navigation increasingly unstable and unsustainable. For instance, the Rhine’s flow relies not just on annual rainfall, but also on enormous long-term reserves of water in the Alps. Melting snow and glaciers, as well as Lake Constance, feed the upper parts of the river, but with the effects of climate change, these water reserves are lower.

The drought in 2018 skyrocketed freight prices, and some costs are already being felt by consumers, with higher prices for petrol and home heating oil. Developing new inland waterways, such as the E40 is not reasonable, economic nor sustainable, under the scale of the predicted challenges.

Lobby for E40 inland waterway continues at the First Forum of Regions of Belarus and Ukraine

On October 25-26, Gomel hosted the First Forum of Regions of Belarus and Ukraine where a session of the Belarusian-Ukrainian Commission for Coordination of Protection and Sustainable Use of Transboundary Protected Areas took place. One of the discussions covered the development of river navigation between Belarus and Ukraine. The focus was on sending of freight of mixed-class ships on the territory of Belarus across the Black Sea to the countries of Europe, Asia and Africa.

The initiative involves the planning and construction of the E40 waterway by dredging operations, for the implementation of the container and bulk cargo transportation on the Dnipro river to Belarus. Volha Kaskevich, from Bahna, the coordinator of the Belarusian Environmental Alliance says: “The Ukrainian authorities are trying to revive the water transport system of the country, which has sunk into degradation after the collapse of the Soviet Union for a reason. The E40 project is questionable, because it has undergone neither strategic environmental assessment nor environmental impact assessment."

In Poland, the preliminary cost of E40 is calculated at 11.9 billion euros. Both the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development stated that in order to make the decision on financing the project, they first need to assess its environmental and social impact. The Belarusian environmental alliance is very concerned about the fate of the Pripyat, one of the last prominent intact rivers in Europe. This region is of international importance from an environmental and touristic perspective. "We envision a completely different development scenario for the Polesia and Chernobyl zone in the coming years. Belarus can create a new world heritage site that will bring vastly more wealth  to the country in the future than industrial development and the transformation of the main aorta of the region into a canal." adds Volha Kaskevich.

In the course of the session, the Belarusian party presented its investment project on the construction of a port terminal and the surrounding infrastructure: a multimodal hub and a yacht club harbour with a recreation zone, in the village of Nizhniye Zhary. Additionally, investment into the infrastructure of a deepwater port on the Dnieper River in the village of Verkhniye Zhary of the Bragin district, Gomel region, situated just 500 metres from the border with Ukraine, was discussed.

“There is no guarantee that the port will be able to become indispensable for any significant amounts of cargo. Taking into account these and other circumstances, the reservation of the investors is more than justified. It's clear why, despite the repeated presentation of the project to private donors, there is still no one willing to invest in this facility”, notes Ales Gerasimenko, deputy chief editor of the Belarusians and the Market weekly and press-secretary of Business Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers n.a. Kunyavski.

The expert casts doubt on the competitiveness of the inland waterway transport in the region compared to  railroad and motor transport. The inland waterway transport has a much slower speed of delivery, lacks the ability to handle small volumes of cargo, and cannot use flexible logistics schemes due to seasonal constraints. In the navigation through inland waterways, extra segments in the chain of goods transportation appear that slow down the shipping and increase the costs. Six leading business unions of Belarus called attention to this particular fact when on April 3, 2018 they sent a joint letter to the government and the Presidential Executive Office indicating extremely high investment, economic risks of the E40 project.

The competitive weakness of river transport as compared to railroad transport is acknowledged even by those promoting the project. Thus, in the report on the feasibility study of the waterway E40 restoration, the Gdansk Maritime Institute pointed out that due to the numerous obstacles to navigation in the upper reaches of the Dnipro represented by low bridges, and in view of the high fees for passing locks, railroad shipment between Odessa and Kiev is less costly. The same can be said about the transportation of goods from Belarusian territories bordering with Ukraine toward the Black Sea ports.

The construction of the port and the infrastructure for it on this territory is fraught with serious environmental problems. “If you look at the map, the village of Nizhniye Zhary is located in the area contaminated by radiation, it's only 20 kilometres away from Chernobyl, in the vicinity of the exclusion zone. It is interesting that the existing documentation on the restoration of the E40 waterway only briefly mentions that the waterway will pass through unsafe places inundated with  radionuclides. We believe that a significant part of the rationale against the construction of the waterway should be devoted to the radiological component. Dredging will raise silt particles contaminated by radioactive isotope caesium-137 which settled there after the nuclear accident in 1986. Particles can be carried into the Kiev reservoir, which supplies drinking water for the 2.8 million inhabitants of Kiev”, asserts Volha Kaskevich.

The commission's report on the financial viability assessment states that throughout the route it is necessary to provide a minimum water depth of 2.5 metres, which involves large-scale dredging. However, inconsistent rainfall in Belarus results in periods of insufficient water level in rivers for functional navigation. According to Maria Germenchuk, deputy head of the Republican Center for Hydrometeorology, Radioactive Contamination and Environmental Monitoring (Belhydromet) under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, who spoke at a press conference in October last year to a the current situation is dangerous for large vessels.

“It is a utopia to think that our rivers with low groundwater level can be aligned with the standards of class IV navigation (throughout the route, a minimum water depth of 2.5 m should be provided), especially given the fact that the Pripyat is primarily snow-fed. From a technical point of view, this will require now just dredging, but also the construction of the cascade of dams which significantly increases the risks for the environment. Such works will completely alter and destroy the unique coastal ecosystems, including dozens of unique conservation areas of global importance which are concentrated in the valley”, comments Volha Kaskevich.

Belarusian environmental alliance calls on the EU to block the planning of E40 inland waterway

The Belarus environmental alliance has sent an appeal against the E40 inland waterway to the European Union. The environmentalists are urging the EU to recognise a petition signed by over 25,000 people to terminate the project which would connect the Baltic and the Black Sea. The appeal was sent on behalf of 42 non-governmental organisations and a number of local residents from three nations: Belarus, Ukraine and Poland. Online petitions have been signed by 5,910 Belarusians and Ukrainians, and by 23,371 Poles.

The defenders of the Polesia invite investors’ attention to the highly adverse consequences of E40 project implementation and call for ultimate abandonment of plans to fund the project.

The construction project involves major changes to the stream conditions of the Rivers Vistula, Muchaviec, Pina, Pripyat and Dnieper, and the Dnieper-Bug Canal - all of which would make up the waterway. New levees and dams could appear on the pristine rivers, their course straightened and their banks covered in concrete. Design work started in late 2013 with the implementation of a feasibility study, which is ongoing today. The rivers are currently not navigable by the vessel category in question, so implementation of the project would require a large amount of river development, which would cause significant interference with the river ecosystems.

"We want to draw the attention of the European Parliament and other key European institutions to the issue, and to demonstrate that any decision to be made on the project must involve the participation of the public and independent experts,” says Volha Kaskevich, campaign coordinator and head of the Bahna organization. “Besides, the project is transboundary in nature and falls under international conventions, so requirements for the project must meet European standards and its adverse consequences must be considered in a comprehensive way. An environmental impact assessment for Belarus has not been performed to date, and local residents or representatives of the conservation areas have not been informed about an upcoming plan to build a waterway across Polesia's most important environmental network of designated natural areas.”

The project is fraught with the greatest danger for Ukraine because of its impact on the Chernobyl exclusion zone. After the Chernobyl accident, which occurred at the beginning of the spring flood, the Pripyat washed a huge amount of contaminated sand into the Kiev Reservoir. Due to engineering measures, the radioactive sand and silt were buried at the bottom of the reservoir. For over thirty years, there has been no navigable channel, because if we disturb the sediments, we are sure to send the contaminated silt flowing down to Kiev. For that reason, Ukraine has even abandoned the project of a beltway across the reservoir.

Besides that, the entire reservoir cascade in that area is part of the Emerald Network of Areas of Special Conservation Interest. The Dnieper course is home to two nature reserves, six national parks and more than twenty conservation areas. Furthermore, the entire Pripyat delta is included in the Chernobyl Radiation and Environmental Biosphere Reserve, established by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in 2016.

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