UN Enviroment Programme

Chapter 7. Status of soil pollution in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia

International, regional and national legal frameworks addressing soil pollution in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia

The current national legislative frameworks to prevent soil pollution are a mixture of legislation adopted when the countries became independent states from the USSR 1991 and those developed in response to international conventions covering soil pollution issues. Regional legal approaches have been developed for member countries of the Eurasian Economic Community (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and the Russian Federation).

7.5.1. International legal frameworks addressing soil pollution

Generally, many of the countries share a general awareness of hazardous waste and chemicals and their transportation, and are parties to the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions (Table 5). However, the level of implementation varies among countries. Although Belarus, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine were not among the signatories of the Basel Convention, they soon ratified it and incorporated it into their national legislative systems. In contrast, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which ratified the Basel Convention in 1996, have not yet fully implemented the Convention. Since 2016, changes in the governance in Uzbekistan have stimulated some progress in implementing the Conventions. Difficulties in the implementation of the Basel Convention may also be because some designated national authorities are not specialized in waste and chemicals management, as is the case in Tajikistan. As of 2020, the governments of Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan had yet to assign the responsibility for the implementation of the Convention to specific departments. Issues with the approval of the transboundary movement of hazardous waste through their neighbouring countries and the other members of the Eurasian Economic Union has prevented the export for elimination of OPs from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have restrictions on the transport of hazardous waste through the country, which is reflected in their national legislation.

In comparison to the other two Conventions, as of 2020, fewer countries have ratified the Rotterdam Convention, with Azerbaijan, Belarus, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan yet to ratify. However, since 2017, Belarus has expressed interest in ratification, stimulated by the activities of the State enterprise “Scientific-Practical Centre of Hygiene” supported financially by UNDP.

The Stockholm Convention has stimulated the most changes in legislation and policy throughout the Eurasian region, as it tackles one of the region’s main problems with regard to chemicals and waste. Its implementation has assisted in structuring the legislative system towards proper hazardous waste management in Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. Significant financial and organizational support from international donors, primary the GEF, the EC, the World Bank, and from some developed countries, such as the Czech Republic, Finland and Switzerland has fostered an active implementation.

Kazakhstan is a good example of the effective adoption of the provisions of the Stockholm Convention into its legislative and policy frameworks. The country submitted its National Implementation Plan in 2009, and updated it in 2015. The Ecological Code, adopted in 2007, banned the production, use, import and export of POPs. The country provides a procedure for registering new pesticides and chemicals in accordance with the laws “on Plant Protection” and “on Safety of Chemical Products”, including the assessment of the persistence, bio-accumulation and toxicity risks of new chemicals and pesticides. The Informational Analytical Centre and the Centre for Sustainable Development both include POPs issues in their training programmes for representatives of central and local authorities, enterprises and NGOs, with three to four trainings per year.

The Republic of Moldova has ratified and implemented all three Conventions in a coordinated and timely manner. With support from intergovernmental organisations and other donors including the EC, FAO, the GEF, the WB, other UN agencies, and Czech Republic the country has exported most of the obsolete pesticides for elimination abroad (Păun et al., 2014). The national POPs centre is actively functioning and has established a database of contaminated sites. The Republic of Moldova could be an example for the whole region of how to manage hazardous waste and soil pollution problems effectively, train staff and communicate with stakeholders. The Russian Federation has hosted the Basel Convention Regional Centre since 1996 (from 2015 by the Russian State Scientific Research Institution “VNII Ekologia”) and the Stockholm Convention Regional Centre since 2017. The Centres have played a limited role in technology transfer and training on environmentally sound waste management.

Eurasian countries, besides Armenia and the Republic of Moldova were not actively involved in the ratification and introduction of the Minamata Convention. This Convention could however be useful for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in particular, as both have special laws on mercury waste management.

Despite not being parties to each of the Basel, Stockholm and Rotterdam Conventions, Eurasian countries are involved in the process of synergizing their implementation. This approach promotes a more active participation of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in the implementation of international agreements and the development of national legislation.

At the national level, all countries (with the exception of Turkmenistan) have developed strategies to address challenges related to soil pollution. Three main conventions on waste and chemicals (Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm) are in force in almost all countries of the region. However, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan are not party to the Rotterdam Convention, and Turkmenistan is not party to the Stockholm Convention. Nevertheless, the number of international initiates to promote the Stockholm and Rotterdam Conventions (along with the Minamata Convention) is indicative that the number of ratifications could increase in the future. Table 5 summarizes the status of ratifications of the four Conventions across the whole region.

Table 5. International legislation adopted in the Eurasian region.

Source: Basel Convention, 2021; Minamata Convention, 2021; Rotterdam Convention, 2021; Stockholm Convention, 2021.

7.5.2. Regional legal frameworks addressing soil pollution

The Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC) was a regional organization that existed between 2000 and 2014 which aimed at the economic integration and unification of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation and Tajikistan (Hancock and Libman, 2014). Uzbekistan joined the organization in 2005, but withdrew in 2008. The free movement of goods, capital, services and persons was implemented within the EAEC. In 2014, the EAEC was disbanded due to the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). This new entity set ambitious market liberalization targets for services and certain goods, including energy and medicines. In 2020, the EAEU had five members: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and the Russian Federation. The Customs Union was one of the main tasks of the EAEC and is now incorporated in the legislation of the EAEU. No customs tariffs are charged on goods travelling within the Union and the members of the EAEU impose a common external tariff on all goods entering the Union. The EAEU negotiates as a single entity under international trade agreements such as the World Trade Organization.

The legislative basis of the creation of the Customs Union was formed by Agreements: “on the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Community” (2000) and “on development of the unified custom territory and establishment of the Custom Union” (2007). Since 2010, the issues of customs tariffs, technical regulations, the application of the sanitary, veterinary and phytosanitary norms and standards, various investigations, and statistics of foreign and mutual trades were the responsibility of the Customs Union Commission (instead of each country’s own regulations) (RIA News, 2019).

Some of the regional agreements that are relevant to soil pollution are presented in Table 6.

Table 6. Regional Agreements related to soil pollution prevention in the Eurasian region.

7.5.3. National legal frameworks addressing soil pollution

National environmental policy, legislation and management in the Eurasian region have aspects from the Soviet era that persist to some extent today due the incomplete incorporation of the EACU’s approach to environmental policy, the legislative framework and implementation measures. Environmental policies vary from country to country and have little in common among and within the sub-regions. None of the countries in the Eurasian region has specific legislation on soil pollution or policies specially focused on soil remediation. Generally, the regulatory responsibilities for soil pollution prevention and monitoring, waste management, and the implementation of international conventions are divided between multiple national agencies. In most countries, the Ministry of the Environment manages environmental issues, the Ministry of Agriculture manages agricultural issues, and the Ministry of Industry is responsible for industrial activities. Often there are also State Committees on Land Management, on Agricultural Inspection, and on Chemical Inspection that also play a role. Since Soviet times, more attention has been given to the condition of the environment, its improvement and public access to information including on soil pollution. Generally, there is now greater public involvement in decisions, which is mainly due to the changes in the political system after 1990s.

All countries have adopted a main law on the environment, the title of which varies from country to country. These laws established the framework for the protection and management of natural resources (including soil) and pollution prevention. The date of entry into force of the framework laws varied from country to country. Ukraine was the first country to adopt such a law, even in the Soviet era, soon followed by Belarus. The imperative to address the pollution from the Chernobyl accident was the main driver for the early adoption of their laws. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Republic of Moldova and Uzbekistan all adopted theirs in the 1990s, with the Russian Federation following in 2002. The Central Asian countries Tajikistan and Turkmenistan adopted their framework laws in 2011 and 2014, respectively. The main national legislation that pertain to soil pollution are presented in Table 7.

Table 7. National legislation to prevent and combat soil pollution in the Eurasian region.

Source: FAOLEX, 2019.

According to each of the national legislative systems, after ratifying international conventions, their principles must be included in national legislation. Resulting from their implementation of the Conventions and their national laws, countries have developed waste and chemicals management programmes and have amended existing legislation. However, the level of implementation depends very much on the financial resources allocated to environmental affairs. In countries with sufficient funds for these actions, from both state and international funds, significant progress has been achieved and further activities are underway. Such countries include Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. Some of these countries have developed national chemical profiles to identify producers, users and regulators, and to identify possible gaps. As of 2020, limited progress has been reported in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan; and Turkmenistan has yet to address the issues.

In Kazakhstan, the Land Code (2003) represents the framework for soil protection. Article 93 of the Code empowers the government to confiscate land in cases where the landowner damages the ecology of the soil. The Environmental Code (2007) established the state system for soil monitoring (article 114) and requires landowners to report soil pollution by radioactive elements and chemical substances and to take measures to mitigate the damage (UNECE, 2008). The level of soil pollution is assessed against specific limit values that have been established in the Environmental Code. The Code sets maximum allowable concentrations (MACs) for contaminants based on their toxicity and potential impact on human health.

In 2018 Ukraine adopted the principle of the circular economy as the basis of waste management (Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Ukraine, 2018). There are plans to develop an information system open to the public that includes data on waste accumulation licenses and permissions; the function of polygons and landfills; and information on polluters. In 2018, the country launched a draft National Strategy of Waste Management up to 2030 and a draft National Plan for Waste Management based on regional plans that were developed using a unified methodological approach. The development of new legislation involves the creation of a Framework Law on waste, including laws: on municipal waste; on waste incineration; and on electrical and electronic waste (Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Ukraine, 2018). However, in reality, in 2017 almost all municipal wastes (up to 92 percent) were deposited in landfills; and only about 20 to 29 percent of industrial wastes were utilized; there are no strong incentives for industry to adopt circular economy approaches (Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, 2017).