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Kakha Kuchava

Georgia and the EU - Together Towards Environmental and Climate Resilience

Over the past years, country has undertaken a range of profound reforms to modernise and revitalize successfully its democratic and sustainable development. These included, investing in infrastructure, restructuring of the public sector, deregulation for businesses, a fight against corruption, and trade-related rules and procedures, which on its turn has an influence on environmental stability.

Georgia is a proud European nation, with 3,000 years of history. Over the past years, country has undertaken a range of profound reforms to modernise and revitalize successfully its democratic and sustainable development. These included, investing in infrastructure, restructuring of the public sector, deregulation for businesses, a fight against corruption, and trade-related rules and procedures, which on its turn has an influence on environmental stability. Environmental policies, climate change and sustainability are very high on the agenda of the ruling party Georgian Dream and the Georgian Government.

Back in 2015, during the COP21 Conference in Paris, the Georgian Government strongly committed to sustainable environmental policies, and confirmed its role as a regional leader in the export of clean energy. Georgia has set climate targets through its nationally determined contribution (NDC) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for the period 2021-2030 and adhered to the OECD Declaration on Green Growth. It has also completed the development of Low Emission Development Strategy (LEDS) and National Energy Efficiency Action Plan (NEEAP). As a Party to the UNFCCC, Georgia is fully committed to the objectives of the Convention and UNFCCC negotiation process.

Georgia launched in 2013 the elaboration of the Low Emission Development Strategy (LEOS) with support of the EU and US government. Based on the results achieved, Georgia prepared and submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the UNFCCC, which outlined post-2020 climate change mitigation actions intended to be taken under the new 2015 Agreement. The sustainable development goals and national circumstances have been taken into account during the preparation of Georgia’s INDC.

Furthermore, Georgia is committed to develop and adopt the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA) and Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDO). Georgia supports green economic development by promoting modern environmental technologies, developing clean transport services and ensuring the transfer to Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP).

In regards to sustainability, Georgia is committed to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), fulfilling the core pledge – “to leave no one behind” – that underpins the Agenda. The Government’s policies and priorities are well-aligned to the SDGs – making them a very solid basis of the country’s reform agenda. The level of integration of nationalized SDGs into Georgia’s development planning, in line with its EU integration aspirations, is very high - 36 sector strategies and the EU-Georgia Association Agreement jointly incorporate 96% of the country’s nationalized SDGs targets. Together with that, Open Governance Permanent Parliamentary Council monitors implementation of the SDGs Action Plan of the Parliament of Georgia while the Committees link their activities to SGSs in their early action plan.

From a climatic viewpoint, Georgia is characterized by great diversity. Almost all types of climate areas are represented here, with the exception of desert, savanna and tropical forests. The main natural resources of the country are water and forests. Currently about 40% of the territory of Georgia is covered by forests. It is worth noting, that Georgian lawmakers passed the new Forest Code, which displays environmental, social and economic functions of forest and provides sustainable forest management principles aiming to conserve the biodiversity of the forest of Georgia.

Georgian farmers are going to fulfill a principal role in providing one of the fundamental needs of society: a safe, secure, and affordable food supply. This underlines the importance of the relationship between climate change impacts on agriculture and food security.

Georgia plans to unconditionally reduce its GHG emissions by 15% below the Business As Usual scenario (BAU) for the year 2030. Georgia already uses renewable energy to provide more than 80% of its electricity and has one of the world’s greatest hydropower capacities and one of the largest fresh water reserves.

Another relevant factor here is Georgia’s agricultural sector, which plays a key role in the country’s economy. Georgian farmers are going to fulfill a principal role in providing one of the fundamental needs of society: a safe, secure, and affordable food supply. This underlines the importance of the relationship between climate change impacts on agriculture and food security. During last decades, negative consequences of climate change have drastically reduced agricultural productivity. For the adaptation of agricultural sector to the expected climate change, wide range of measures are in place. Those include the following:

  • Research and development of emergency response plans for agriculture dealing with droughts, floods, etc;
  • Introduction of innovative irrigation management and water application techniques;
  • Implementation of various site specific anti-erosion measures;

Establishment of information centers for farmers that provides guidance on adaptive management of agriculture; etc.

Further to national initiatives, the Georgian Government has put in place actions on environmental policy and conservation, together with the help of the EU. In February 2019, the Georgian government announced the launch of the Climate Change Adaptation Programme with a budget worth USD 70 million. The program aims to protect the country from natural disasters and decrease damage caused by disasters to a minimum. Georgia works together with the European Union (EU) via three projects for environmental protection and climate change in Georgia. The projects are focused on the renovation of water supply and sanitation systems, the construction of modern landfills, fight against industrial pollution, protection of forests as well as other important issues.

The Georgian’s Government commitment to a pro-Western path for Georgia is unwavering and can be seen by the multitude of joint EU-Georgia projects. Georgia cherishes the shared values embodied in Europe, whether it is the strategic, economic and particularly the climate change goals. With this, the EU-Georgia Eastern Partnership policy Beyond 2020 further emphasizes the deep links between Georgia and the EU, notably in regards to the environment. It supports the delivery of many global policy objectives, including the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the UN 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals, and the European Green Deal.

In the move towards climate neutrality, the EU and Georgia have the joint responsibility to fulfil their nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement and modernise their economies, reducing their carbon footprint.

The European Green Deal makes it clear that environmental and climate challenges require urgent action by the EU and the partner countries, such as Georgia. In the move towards climate neutrality, the EU and Georgia have the joint responsibility to fulfil their nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement and modernise their economies, reducing their carbon footprint. The EU and Georgia are working together towards a resilient and sustainable future:

  • Transforming the region into fair and prosperous societies, with modern, resource-efficient, clean, circular and competitive economies, while increasing their environmental and climate action, including through more sustainable use of natural resources
  • Developing new green jobs and economic opportunities linked to the green transition
  • Developing local and renewable energy sources, thus halting the loss of biodiversity
  • Continuing investment in environmental governance and in raising awareness, including by teaming up with civil society
  • Accelerating the shift to sustainable and smart mobility
  • Scaling up action in areas that are critical for people’s health and well-being.

The EU and Georgia have started sharing best practices and coordinated efforts on environmentally sustainable investment such as green taxonomies, environmental and climate disclosures, and standards and labels for green financial products. Notably, the country closely cooperates with agencies and embassies of European countries to ensure the environmental and climate resilience project are delivered firsthand.

In May 2020, the Georgian parliament has adopted legislation on energy efficiency and energy performance of buildings, bringing the country closer to EU standards, in a move which was applauded by the EU Ambassador to Georgia, Mr. Carl Hartzell.

The legislation aims to reduce emissions and pollution, improve the energy efficiency of buildings, as well as decrease energy imports and bolster the country’s energy security.

EU, Energy Community and UNDP help Georgia refine its climate and energy legislation as Georgia is making progress in adopting laws and policies to monitor and reduce GreenHouse Gas Emissions.

Georgia’s carbon dioxide equivalent emissions amount to around 17.6 million tonnes per year (2.37 tonnes per capita), which is significantly lower than emissions in the world’s largest economies, but still slightly higher than in some of the Eastern Partnership countries.

The EU-funded “EU4Environment” Action, launched in 2019, helps Georgia, as well as five other partner countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine - preserve their natural capital and increase people’s environmental well-being, by supporting environment-related action, demonstrating and unlocking opportunities for greener growth, and setting mechanisms to better manage environmental risks and impacts

In October 2020, the EU underlined achievements under the above18-month project “Support to implementation of the Environmental Provisions of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement”, supporting Georgia’s environmental protection system. It concluded achievements in the field of:

  • Proposals for four by-laws on environmental liability;
  • A draft National Marine Environment Strategy and Action Programme;
  • Management Plans for three Emerald Sites: Samegrelo 2, Racha-Lechkhumi, and Svaneti-Racha;
  • Reports on air quality aspects (emissions from petrol distribution and from paints production and distribution; air quality policy outlook);
  • Reports on protected areas monitoring and management.

All these achievements will permit Georgia to accelerate the implementation of the environmental provisions included within the EU-Georgia Association Agreement and to improve its environmental protection system to the ultimate benefit of Georgian nature and the health of Georgian citizens.

The effective implementation of the law is a complex process which requires a number of components, including effective oversight. Often, the focus shifts on getting legislation adopted, rather than on practical implementation and its impact. To fill in this gap, oversight over the practices and regulations is the key to environmental and climate resilience future of the country. Interestingly, under the chairmanship of Deputy Speaker Kakha Kuchava (previously Chair of Environment Committee) the Environment Protection and Natural Resources Committee successfully introduced Committee Inquiry practice (Ambient Air Quality in Tbilisi and Municipal Waste Management) and Post-Legislative Scrutiny, later also reflected in Rules of Procedure of Parliament and widely used by other committees and permanent parliamentary councils. The feature worth pointing out is that these mechanisms are mainly enjoyed by civil society, which makes the oversight of the parliament even more crucial. All the processes are transparent and fully correspond to European values and the democratic processes. Within the Committee inquiry, the recommendations are provided together with the relevant timeline to follow the recommendations where the executive reports back to the parliament regarding the status of recommendation.

EU officials have praised the Government’s work and many joint EU-Georgia projects have led to successful results in the past 18 months. This is paving the way for Georgia’s future in Europe, making it a leading candidate for enhanced collaboration, cooperation and further integration.

Georgia is committed to a European future, and meets the standards, that is a fact. However, it cannot always be the State making demands and regulations, working with private sector is key. To do so, one needs also to think outside the box. It takes the innovative thinking of everyone to solve the climate crisis. Working with the private sector is key.

The founder and Chairman of Georgian Dream, Bidzina Ivanishvili, is a noted philanthropist and generous contributor to charitable causes, including conservation work. Private philanthropy has a vital role to play in a small country such as Georgia, and it dramatically complements government funding. Bidzina Ivanishvili has been doing conservation work via the International Charity Foundation Cartu (Cartu Foundation) established in 1995 by the family Ivanishvili with the aim of supporting Georgia’s development through philanthropic and charity projects. The projects worth of over 3.2 billion US dollars were financed and implemented by the Cartu Foundation since its establishment to date, in the fields of Education, Culture and Cultural Heritage Preservation, as well as protection of the environment.

Protection of environment is an important priority of the Foundation with the following projects funded and implemented since 1995:

  • Vashlovani Protected Areas;
  • Lagodekhi Protected Areas;
  • Tusheti Protected Areas;
  • Batumi Botanical Garden;
  • Tbilisi Botanical Garden.

Two prominent examples are Bidzina Ivanishvili’s arboretum and the renovation of Tskaltubo. The arboretum is a project that started in 2015 in Ureki. Georgia is set to have a unique dendrological park. This is one of the most prestigious new botanical garden in the world. It encompasses some of the most impressive collection of trees, flowers and animals of Georgia. This botanical garden is quite a success amongst Georgian tourists and it will be on every traveler’s must see attractions when travelling will resume normally in 2021.

This arboretum can be compared to other prestigious gardens such as the Singapore Botanic Gardens, the Adelaide Botanic Garden and the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens.

In Tbilisi, earlier this year, it was announced that about 700 hectares of forest landscape on the slope of Mount Mtatsminda in the heart of the Georgian capital will be restored over the next four years. The project by the Cartu Foundation aims to restore the degraded forest and develop recreational infrastructure.

In regards to Tskaltubo, this project is much more recent. In the first years of gaining independence, the medical and tourist infrastructure of Tskaltubo practically fell into decay. The resort, which featured 22 sanatoriums and 9 balneological baths, successfully competed not only with regional resorts but with similar resorts in Eastern Europe as well. Since, at the moment, the country does not have the resources to invest several hundred million Euros in the rehabilitation of Tskaltubo (the Government priority is to revitalize the economy of the country in light of the COVID-19 crisis), the Cartu Foundation is leading the Tskaltubo revival project. This will be a full-scale rehabilitation of the existing, completely run-down tourist and medical infrastructure but also to ensure its development according to modern, international standards.

The Georgian Dream ruling Government has built a modern and Sustainable state in Georgia, aligned with the EU’s innovative and committed approach to environmental action. All actions undertaken by the Government since 2012 show that Georgia is well ahead of the curve. Its commitment to sustainable environmental policies during the COP21 Conference in Paris, setting climate targets through its nationally determined contribution (NDC) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and adhering to the OECD Declaration on Green Growth, further to national and private initiatives, are the proof of Georgia’s willingness to contribute to environmental protection. In addition, businesses are an important part of it. Corporate and individual responsibility in environmental issues is as important as the State.

It is regrettable that the Ministry of Environment has been merged with the Ministry of Agriculture several years ago. However, the strong political will, actions undertaken and the ambitious plans and deliverables the ruling party has been projecting since 2012 confirms that environment and climate resilience are priority matters and the room for improvement should be used wisely.

EU officials have praised the Government’s work and many joint EU-Georgia projects have led to successful results in the past 18 months. This is paving the way for Georgia’s future in Europe, making it a leading candidate for enhanced collaboration, cooperation and further integration.