Environment in Lithuania Essay

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After being part of the Soviet bloc for 50 years, Lithuania declared its independence in 1990, becoming the first country to seek independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Lithuania joined the European Union (EU) in 2004. With the Baltic Sea forming part of its western boundary, the country of 3,596,617 people has 61 miles (99 kilometers) of coastline. The climate of Lithuania is transitional, alternating between maritime and continental, with wet, moderate winters and summers. The terrain is made up of lowlands dotted with small lakes. Lithuania has almost no natural resources except for arable land and peat.

Lithuania has gradually severed economic ties with Russia as it forges ties with the West. The government is still in the process of privatization, having converted around 80 percent of all industries. With a per capita income of $13,700, Lithuania ranks 67th in income among the nations of the world. The high unemployment rate that accompanied Russia’s economic crisis of 1998 has been halved, and inflation is under control at 2.6 percent. One-fifth of the Lithuanian workforce is involved in agriculture. The United Nations Development Programme Human Development Reports rank Lithuania 39th on general quality-of-life issues.

Environmental Issues

Environmentally, Lithuania experiences extensive air pollution and contamination of soil and groundwater from petroleum products and chemicals derived from military bases and industries. The greatest potential threat comes from the Ignalina nuclear power plant, which operates two reactors that are remarkably similar to the one that precipitated the disaster at Chernobyl, Russia, in 1986. Other threats arise from fertilizer and chemical plants, oil refineries, power stations, and cement factories that pollute the air around them and deposit chemical effluents in the rivers and lakes. Air pollution is so severe in Lithuania that at times it covers one-third of the country. Around 67 percent of the population resides in urban areas, and there are 346 cars for every 1,000 people. As a result, Lithuania produces 0.1 percent of the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions.

Water quality in Lithuania has traditionally suffered from a shortage of purification plants, and untreated water has been released directly into waterways. Beaches have been closed to the public because of heavy pollution, and acid rain has damaged forests, particularly in the area of Jonava, Mazeikiaia, and Elektrenai, where chemical, oil, and power generators are located.

Some 28 percent of Lithuania’s land area is forested, and the government has protected 10.3 percent of the land with the creation of national parks and reservations aimed at protecting biodiversity. Five of 68 mammal species endemic to Lithuania are endangered, and four of 201 bird species are threatened. Plant life has also been seriously threatened as a result of poor agricultural practices.

Although some environmental laws were passed during the Soviet years, widespread apathy and an emphasis on economic production meant that little was done to correct the problems. In 1990 Lithuania established the Environmental Protection Department, which became the Ministry of Environmental Protection in 1994. Working with eight regional departments, the ministry is responsible for monitoring and implementing environmental legislation. The focus of environmental policy is on preventing new sources of pollution and on providing economic incentives to facilitate enforcement of existing laws and regulations. In 1992 Lithuania passed the Environmental Protection Act to provide an environmental framework and to supplement earlier legislation such as the Atmosphere Protection Act and the Water Code. While some environmental legislation has been enacted, other bills are still in abeyance.

Lithuania’s commitment to the global environment is demonstrated by participation in the following international agreements: Air Pollution, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Kyoto Protocol, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and Wetlands. The agreement on Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants has been signed but not ratified.

Bibliography:

  1. Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom, Europe: A Continental Overview of Environmental Issues (ABC-CLIO, 2003);
  2. Ministry of the Environment, Manual for Environmental Impact Assessment in Lithuania (Finnish Environment Institute, 2001);
  3. UNEP, Europe Regional Report: Chemicals (Global Environment Facility, 2002).

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