Environmental Problems of East Central Europe

By F. W. Carter; David Turnock | Go to book overview
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F. W. Carter and David Turnock

A concern for the well-being of the environment in the ECECs began to grow during the 1980s. In many of these countries environmental legislation was passed during the central planning period, but its practical implementation remained very feeble. Often a single administrative authority was a major pollutant yet at the same time responsible for its prevention. Only after 1989 did significant changes in environmental conditions begin to take place, as recorded in the Kyoto Protocol (Table 19.1). Unfortunately, the Kyoto Protocol has been described as a sketchy agreement by rich countries to cut greenhouse gases to below 1990 levels. In Kyoto, in the eagerness to frame an accord, the Protocol failed to answer the question as to which countries should make the cuts to everyone's satisfaction. Only developed countries agreed to binding targets for emission reductions while the others agreed to nothing. Thus with no agreement over the question as to which countries should be involved, the UN conference on global warming at Buenos Aires in November 1998 was able to disregard the major question of how to make the cuts (Anon., 1998a).

Environmental specialists have pointed out that many environmental improvements in the region have resulted from the collapse of communist power. One should remember, however, that at least part of this process across the former socialist states resulted from a cumulative fall in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the collapse of COMECON (Baker and Jehlička, 1998). These factors led to significant reductions in previous energy consumption levels. Moreover, many countries in the region eliminated energy subsidies; these had previously made a significant contribution to the wasteful utilisation and over-employment of energy resources, particularly in state enterprise and domestic households. After 1989, energy prices were allowed to rise to world levels; in turn this helped to reduce energy consumption. Inefficient former state-owned enterprises now had to discover how to survive in this new economic climate. This was due to world market price exposure, not only in the energy sector, but more generally in the cumulative privatisation process across the region. The choice was stark; either close down the economic unit or develop new restructuring methods to enable more efficient production. In turn, this often meant reducing energy consumption. There have been positive environmental improvements in spite of the


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Environmental Problems of East Central Europe


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