Cooperating to improve the environment in Europe

For almost 15 years now, Norwegian expert communities have cooperated with new EU member states to tackle environmental problems with renewed vigour through EEA and Norway Grants. Specific results include improving air quality, developing national climate policies, protecting at-risk nature, controlling pollutants, and improving the management of freshwater and marine areas.

This text is a translation of a blog post from the director general of The Norwegian Environment agency Ellen Hambo's blog "Miljøblikk".

The Norwegian Environment Agency has summarized its longstanding international cooperation within the framework of the EEA and Norway Grants and is set this year to complete "taking stock" of the 2009–2014 granting period. A pot of around €1.8 billion was available for redistribution under the auspices of the grants and 30 per cent of the funds allocated to the various countries went to projects related to the environment, climate, and energy.

A prime objective of the EEA and Norway Grants is to bridge the economic and social disparities between the various countries. Improving the state of the environment is one such way to promote equality. Providing all citizens with access to a cleaner, healthier environment leads to a more equitable distribution of health and welfare both within and between the various countries.

Augmenting the environmental work carried out in other European countries will help improve the environment for everyone.

The Norwegian Environment Agency has worked actively within the framework of EEA funding schemes since the early 2000s. During the 2009–2014 period we served as an expert partner and adviser in a total of 11 major programmes and five specific projects in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. In addition, a number of other expert communities from Norway participated in various projects and bilateral activities.

Relations between Norway and our partners have been strengthened. We have established a solid foundation for further cooperation during the next programme period of the EEA and Norway Grants scheme. The scheme's Facebook page provides information about the various projects (English version available at https://www.facebook.com/EEANorwayGrants/).

Providing advice on EU regulations

The EU's regulatory framework is constantly being expanded and is often perceived as being complicated, difficult to understand, and challenging to follow up in national legislation. Ever since the EEA Agreement came into force in 1994, Norway has gained invaluable experience in implementing EU rules, for example within the chemicals sector and water management. We are now sharing this experience with several of the new EU member states.

Natural areas and species are under pressure in most countries, and we face many of the same challenges as the EU countries do when it comes to mapping and managing vulnerable areas of nature.

Several of the projects funded by EEA and Norway Grants have been about helping countries begin both mapping and valuing ecosystem services and restoring wetlands and other types of vulnerable nature.

In these fields, Norway enjoys a high level of expertise both among government agencies and in a host among other knowledge and research communities, such as in the environmental institutions that have participated in many of these projects.

A purer, cleaner ocean

Both the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea have long been highly polluted. 70 per cent of marine litter stems from plastic materials. For decades, the overall burden from a plethora of environmental factors has threatened both biodiversity in general and specific ecosystems, and several fish stocks have collapsed.

The common denominator for many of the projects in Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania is that they help improve the state of the environment in these inland seas.

The cooperation has given our partners a firmer basis for managing freshwater and marine areas based on an ecosystems approach. The partnership with Bulgaria has for example played a role in their adopting marine strategy in 2016.

Restoring the state of the environment in European marine waters is of great importance to local populations and societies. A clean marine environment where fish and animals can thrive and beharvested raises the level of welfare among the communities that border on these inland seas. The Helsinki Commission's State of the Baltic Sea report for 2017 calculates that a clean marine environment represents anadded value for people's welfare of around €1.8–2.6 billion annually. A clean, pure sea will significantly increase recreation values for millions of citizens.

Managing hazardous substances

Several of the Romanian projects pertained to gaining control of chemicals and hazardous waste. The projects increased knowledge about the EU's chemicals regulations, developed monitoring systems, and carried out public information campaigns. Romania has now implemented several systems that monitor both air‑ and waterborne pollutants, and laboratories for analysing pollutants havebeen established. As a result, the effort to counteract pollutants has been firmly placed on the political agenda.

Better air quality and managing of climate challenges

In Poland the work on ameliorating the air quality in a number of urban areas has borne fruit. The Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU) has been central in several of the projects and contributed with its expertise in developing monitoring systems, databases, and modern equipment for monitoring air quality.

An online platform and smartphone app have also been developed that allow people to receive information about air quality.

In Lithuania and Latvia the Norwegian Environment Agency has assisted the countries in improving their greenhouse gas inventories. Several countries have carried out measures that have reduced the greenhouse gas emissions and mitigated the effects of climate change.

Green innovation in the business sector has been one of the programmes that Innovation Norway has participated in under the auspices of the EEA and Norway Grants schemes.

This has helped the business sector begin investing in eco-friendly technology and products. Transitioning to a more resource-efficient production in certain fields has reduced greenhouse gas emissions corresponding to the emissions from 167,000 cars in Norway each year.

Serving as a kick-starter

The EEA and Norway Grants serve as a vital kick-starter in many areas of environmental concern. The projects we have outlined here are often pilot projects that individual countries can scale up and develop into national environmental programmes and policies during the next period (2014–2021).

Several of the projects have put the countries on a better footing to adhere to the EU's extensive regulatory framework for the environment. An overview of all the programmes and projects under the auspices of the EEA and Norway Grants scheme is available at the portal eeagrants.org.

Topic