In Green27+

Is Nature Destruction a Wise Way to Development?

Vjosë-Narta is a wonderful wetland complex along the Adriatic coast of Albania, a small country in the Mediterranean, blessed with fascinating landscapes and very high biodiversity values. The site, extending over a complex of habitats, including lagoons, salt-marches, coastal dunes and riverine forests, is part of the Albanian network of protected areas, (Protected Landscape – IUCN Category V). It is also internationally recognized as an Important Bird Area (IBA), Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), an Emerald Site, and recently an official candidate of the Natura 2000 network. The wetland is a major steppingstone of the Adriatic Flyway, with thousands of birds crossing over and/or resting there each year.

All this is jeopardized by government plans to build a large international airport right in the middle of this extraordinary site. The government is promoting the airport construction as the strong pillar to support economic development in the southern Albania.

However, it looks like this development is not seriously considering the impact it will have on the natural environment and rich biodiversity values of the area, particularly birds. Furthermore, it seems like aircraft safety is also not seriously considered with thousands of birds used to stop over in the area. Birds and aircrafts do not go very well. So, what is the future for Vjosë-Narta?

As part of the program Support Albanian Negotiation on Environment – Chapter 27 (SANE27), the GREEN27[1] consortium has carried out an assessment of transposition and implementation level of key directive of the negotiation Chapter 27: Environment and Climate change.

The Directive on Access to Information[2] complies with the requirements of the first pillar of Aarhus Convention. It guarantees the right of access to environmental information held by or for public authorities upon request (passive dissemination) and to progressively disseminate the environmental information they hold (active dissemination). The Public participation[3] Directive complies with the requirements of the second pillar of Aarhus Convention and provides the drawing up of plans and programs to improve public participation on issues related to the environment.

Albania has fully transposed the Directive on Access to Information and the Directive on Public Participation. Key government institutions have developed online platforms and appointed coordinators on access to information. However, this does not guarantee the full and timely access to information, particularly on hot and critical issues as the case of the development of the airport within the Vjosë-Narta protected area. The principles of the Aarhus convention on consultation and information and transparency in decision making are not followed for this case. The decision making is seen as been solely directed vertically “top-down”.

The effective implementation of these directives requires investments in human resources, smart technologies, and dedicated IT support. More education and information campaigns targeting wider public must be organized so they can push more on institutions to better perform for public consultations and hearings, boosting proper implementation of these directives.

The GREN27 assessment of the level of transposition and implementation of Horizontal legislation package points out that:

  • It is necessary to enforce the role that the competent authorities have on the implementation of the horizontal package directives.
  • More effective mechanisms need to be in place to increase transparency in consultation and information procedures especially for projects that are of public common interest.

The Wild Birds[4] and Habitats[5] Directives are the centerpiece of the European efforts on nature conservation. These very important directives regulate the protection of species and habitats through the establishment and proper management of a network of designated areas known as Natura 2000 network. The Directives requires appropriate steps must be taken to avoid deterioration and/or disturbance of natural habitats and the habitats of species in Special Areas for Conservation (SACs). Any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to site’s management, but likely to have a significant effect on that site, must be subject to an appropriate assessment of its implications for conservation of the site. Surveillance of conservation status of natural habitats and species must be undertaken, especially on priority habitat types and priority species. Member States must promote education & general information on the need to protect species of wild fauna and flora and to conserve their habitats.

The main institution responsible for the implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives is the Ministry of Tourism and Environment (General Directorate for Environmental Policies – Directorate for Environmental Policies and Strategies) and the National Agency for Protected Areas.

The overall assessment shows that Albania has made substantial progress on the transposition of the Birds and Habitats Directives. However, implementation is at a very initial stage and is greatly jeopardized by planned developments like Vlora International Airport. As noted in the latest EU progress report, the 2016 Strategic Investment law raises concerns for the protection of biodiversity, as it can allow large tourism and industrial investments (such as the Vlora International Airport) in protected areas, without appropriate impact assessment, in contradiction with EU requirements and existing national laws and international conventions on biodiversity protection that Albania has ratified.

The GREN27 assessment of the level of transposition and implementation of Birds and Habitats Directives points out that:

  • The directives requires that appropriate steps must be taken to avoid deterioration and/or disturbance of natural habitats and the habitats of species in SACs even prior to their official designation.
  • It is urgently needed to develop proper legislation ensuring appropriate assessment of any plan and/or project likely to have a significant effect on conservation sites and all necessary compensatory measures must be taken to ensure the overall coherence of Natura 2000.

In the framework of the EU integration process, the consequences of these actions for Albania may be even more sensitive as the violation of EU legislation, constitutes a violation of the Stabilization and Association Agreement and may lead to significant costs in the country’s integration process into the European Union.

National and international NGOs are highly aware and are strongly raising their voice of concern on any plan or project likely to have a significant effect on that site. Such projects/plans must be subject to an appropriate assessment of their implications for conservation of the site. Hopefully, our voice will be strong enough to convince the government building an airport in Vjosë-Narta wetland complex is not a wise decision.

[1] GREEN27 is a consortium of four environmental thematic networks of NGOs led respectively by REC, URI, EDEN, INCA

[2] 2003/4/EC Access to information

[3] 2003/35/EC Public Participation

[4] 2009/147/EEC Wild Birds

[5] 92/43/EEC Habitats

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