Biodiversity and sustainable development go hand in hand
Anne Juganaru, Secretary of State within the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, tells The Diplomat-Bucharest how important it is to protect Romania's biodiversity and how can it be correlated to the sustainable development of the country
Romania is one of the European countries with a very diverse and well preserved natural capital, as it brings together five bio-geographical regions, namely the Alpine, the Continental, the Pannonian, the Steppe and the Black Sea. Moreover, due to its geographical position, Romania's flora and fauna are marked by certain Asian influences coming from the north, Mediterranean influences from the south and European continental components arising from the northwest.
Romania has high biological diversity, in terms of both ecosystems and species levels. Moreover, natural and semi-natural ecosystems represent around 47 percent of the country. The diversity of flora and fauna is reflected in the fact that Romania has the largest populations of bears, wolves, chamois and lynxes in Europe, as well as extensive untainted forest and alpine habitats, associated with the Carpathian Mountains.
In order to preserve this biological diversity, 365 protected areas have been established across Romania, representing over 7 percent of the country's area. These include 19 Ramsar sites, two sites that have received the European Diploma of Protected Areas awarded from the Council of Europe and 29 nature and national parks, forming the basis of the ecological network Natura 2000.
According to Anne Juganaru, Secretary of State within the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, Romania must ensure the protection and the conservation of both its biodiversity and natural heritage against the increasing pressure of human activity, in order to safeguard the sustainable development of society, nationally and internationally.
"The most important funding sources for the conservation of Romania's biodiversity were the programs set up by the European Union, LIFE and LIFE +, as well as the Sectoral Operational Program (SOP) Environment, Priority Axis 4, 'The Implementation of Adequate Management Systems for the Protection of the Nature'. The absorption rate of European funds through the SOP Environment reached nearly 28 percent late last year," Juganaru tells The Diplomat-Bucharest
"Taking into account the importance of our natural capital for the sustainable development of human communities in terms of ensuring renewable resources, such as water, air, food, clothing, medicine and so on, and also considering the importance of the landscape, and the protection and assurance of ecological balances, required to maintain a healthy environment, it is imperative to preserve biodiversity, as a necessary condition for the harmonious development of future generations," she adds.
Sustainable development, an impulse for economic growth
One of the Romanian Government's priorities, included in the 2013-2016 Government Program, is "the integration of the environmental policy into the other sectoral policies and the implementation of sustainable development principles". According to Juganaru, by a balanced combination of the pillars of sustainability, namely the economic, social and environmental fields, sustainable development can be the impulse the global economy needs to move to sustainable and inclusive growth, efficient in terms of the use of resources and effective in terms of environmental protection.
Growth cannot be discussed solely in economic terms without taking into account the implications human activities have on environmental health. The effects of growth that present serious environmental issues affect the growth itself in a negative way. Thus, according to Juganaru, the promotion of sustainable development requirements goes beyond economic transformation, towards the transformation of the entire society, through a new economic model of production and consumption.
"The transition to the green economy is the imperative which stands before the contemporary world," says Juganaru. "For Romania, sustainable development is the three-into-one solution for economic, social and environmental issues. Inclusive economic growth can improve quality of life by creating a protected environment, generating prosperity and decent jobs, providing opportunities for all segments of society, especially for socially excluded groups, allowing a fair distribution of the earnings in society, thus ensuring the welfare of the entire population."
Moreover, Juganaru believes that by implementing a strategy for the creation of green jobs, by investments in eco-innovation and by efficiency in the use of resources, the challenges can be turned into business opportunities for sustainable development and green growth.
"The future does not consist of less consumption, but belongs to the circular economy products made from materials that can be completely recycled. The final destination is 'decoupling profit growth from limited resources'," she adds.
According to Juganaru, every player in society has a role in promoting both sustainable development and green growth: the government through the policies it promotes, companies through their efforts to green the value chains and consumers by changing their behavior, demanding green products more and more. Moreover, the Secretary of State believes that collaboration models are needed, as system changes and innovation require a common effort.
"The transition to a green economy faces many obstacles and cannot be performed by a single actor. Therefore, the mix of actors will maximize the synergies for development," says the official. "We, as the Environment Ministry, support and promote the sustainable use of resources, the main theme of the European Environment Agency for this year. Moreover, we have several ongoing projects in terms of information and awareness campaigns regarding environmental protection and its support at a high level."
In the last few years, Romania has become established among the EU member states with the highest percentage of the population in poverty or at risk of both poverty and social exclusion. According to Juganaru, there is a fundamental link between global environmental sustainability and poverty eradication: it is not possible to eliminate poverty and to ensure a decent life without finding solutions to global environmental sustainability. The same applies in reverse: climate change, natural disasters, loss of biodiversity and the degradation of oceans, freshwater resources, land and soil have a very negative effect on the poorest populations of the world.
"Creating a 'green' economy, focused on environmentally friendly investments that create 'green' jobs, means economic growth, the reduction of social polarization and combating poverty," says the Secretary of State. "Goals after 2015 should be future-oriented and should seek to define vectors in order to achieve a sustainable future: with a common perspective for 2050, objectives and targets should focus on 2030."
The Minamata Convention, one step forward for environmental protection
From 7 to 11 October 2013, Romania attended the Diplomatic Conference for the Minamata Convention on Mercury held in Kumamoto, Japan, its delegation being led by the Secretary of State, Anne Juganaru. The objective of the Convention is to protect both human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury compounds and metallic mercury.
Preparation for the Conference began with the open-ended intergovernmental working group for preparation, from 7-8 October, which was attended by over 500 delegates from 125 countries and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations (IGOs and NGOs). The Diplomatic Conference, from October 10 to 11, was attended by over 1,000 delegates from over 140 countries, IGOs and NGOs.
The Convention was signed by 91 countries and the European Union. Romania has undertaken to include the objectives of the Minamata Convention in the national legislation that complements the EU legislation, noting that the implementation is in accordance with its national institutional capacity.
"Romania will work hard and will be involved, along with other European Union countries, in the development of legislative norms and guidelines," says Juganaru. "It will continue to disseminate the existing information at national level regarding its capacities for the storage and monitoring of stocks of metallic mercury and waste that contain mercury in order to respect the current legislative standards."
The Minamata Convention provides for the phasing out of a range of products and technological processes during which mercury is added, including medical devices, energy-saving light bulbs, batteries and the alkali chloride production processes. The Convention also provides for the elimination of dental amalgams and several other processes, including the production of the vinyl chloride monomer.
Other measures include a ban on the new cinnabar mines, the removal of the existing primary mining of mercury, the establishment of control measures and, where possible, reducing emissions and the development of national action plans to reduce and eliminate the mercury used in artisanal and small-scale gold mining.
"We stated [during the event] that we want this Convention to enter into force as soon as possible in order to avoid unfortunate incidents like those in the past and to provide an expanded and adequate legislative framework for both environmental protection and human health," says Juganaru. "At the same time, we expressed our commitment to include, as a priority, the issue of mercury as an important objective of sustainable development at national level."