OECD delivers environmental verdict on Czechs

Great strides have been made but much remains to be done, says performance review

The Czech Republic's efforts to clean up its environment are commendable, although some emissions remain among the worst in any Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member country, the organisation says in a detailed environmental performance review just published.

The first since the Czech Republic was admitted to the club of developed nations in late 1995, the report closely mirrors the appraisal made by the European Commission during its screening of Czech approximation to the EU's laws and standards (ENDS Daily 26 February).

Although the quality of public information has very much improved, the review – one of a regular series on OECD member countries - criticises a "continuing secretiveness" inherited from previous administrations. It recommends "closer and more sustained" relations between government, NGOs, industry and local authorities.

Investment in environmental improvement is praised: expenditure has increased over the last decade to 3% of GDP, of which two-thirds has been disbursed from private sources on pollution abatement and control - a "sizeable" amount in OECD terms. However, pollution charge rates have generally been set too low or eroded by inflation, the report says.

Air quality has improved dramatically, with "very large" reductions in emissions caused by a shift away from use of brown coal as a fuel and wide-scale retrofitting of large power plants with desulphurisation equipment. Even so, emissions per capita remain the highest in the OECD, with the promotion of fuel efficiency and renewable energy sources difficult as traditional energy costs remain low.

Water management in the Czech Republic has "changed radically" over the last decade, with ownership of facilities moved to the local level, service charges raised, and 59% of the population enjoying sewage treatment facilities - equal to the OECD average and higher than several EU countries. Even so, the state of water quality "remains serious" and toxic substances will remain in aquatic ecosystems "for a long time to come."

Waste management presents one of the biggest headaches for Czech environmental managers: large quantities of waste have accumulated from mining, industry and utility operations and a high proportion is hazardous. However, a new landfill tax has been introduced and is set to increase substantially over the next few years.

Finally, the review welcomes the Czech Republic's international efforts on the environmental front; pollution discharges to the main rivers flowing across its borders —the Elbe, Morava and Oder—have reduced "very significantly", and carbon emissions, though still high compared to the OECD average, are likely to remain in line with Kyoto targets despite expected strong economic growth.

Follow Up:
OECD, tel: +33 1 45 24 82 00. References: "OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Czech Republic".

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