IMPLEMENTING PROVISIONS OF RIO DE JANEIRO CONVENTION ON BIODIVERSITY
Special natural, geographical, and historical conditions account for the fact that living resources have been preserved in Poland in a greater abundance, as compared to more urbanized and industrialized countries.
Nature protecting activity has an old tradition in Poland. In order to protect areas valuable for natural advantages, 1354 reserves were established, along with 23 national parks, 120 landscape parks and numerous protected landscape areas, which all combine into the National System of Protected Areas, which covers 30% of Poland’s surface.
In spite of that, in Poland, similarly to other countries, biodiversity is constantly diminishing, affected both by globally changing environmental factors, and locally occurring antropogenic effects, often caused by difficulty in hitting a sane compromise between protection and profit-generating economic activity.
The Supreme Chamber of Control [SCC] has contributed to efforts towards preserving this national heritage. Issues related to biodiversity protection have been present in the works of the SCC for many years now. They were studied, among others, under the following audit topics:
performance of tasks related to natural resources management in protected areas (in 1994),
animal protection, including task performance by public administration organs towards protecting of habitats protected animal species in situ, and ex situ (in zoological gardens), along with legality of trade in wild animals (in 2000),
functioning of national parks (in 2000),
functioning of landscape parks (in 2001).
In 2003 in connection with the audit priorities agreed for 2003 –5 by the EUROSAI Working Group on Environmental Auditing [WGEA], SCC studied implementation of provisions of Rio de Janeiro Convention on Biodiversity.
Audit covered 16 units selected from 4 different levels, in terms of types of authorizations granted to take action towards protecting biodiversity.
Units in charge of making decisions, coordinating and funding – Ministry for Environment – responsible for all activity on a national scale, Ministry for Agriculture and Rural Development – in charge of actions in rural areas, the National Fund for Environment Protection and Water Resources Management – in charge of co-funding task implementation.
Units involved in research activity, developing theoretical papers and others, commissioned by Government or local Government organs (Institute for Environment Protection, Institute for Zootechnology, Institute for Plant Breeding and Acclimatization, National Foundation for Environment Protection);
Units in local administration in charge of actions taken at the local level – 3 Voivodship Offices, 1 Poviat Office and 3 Community Offices.
Units performing tasks in the area of in situ protection – the Lower Silesian Complex of Landscape Parks and the National Park on the Warta River Mouth.
Audit led us to disclosing some irregularities, the removing of which will be necessary for proper protection of biodiversity.
I. Regarding the existing legal provisions and regulations - it was found that although according to Convention Art. 6 and 11, in many legal acts (including the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, the Nature Protection Act, the Environment Protection Act, the Physical Management Act, the Forest Act, the Ecological Agriculture Act, the Genetically Modified Organisms Act, the Hunting Act) and Governmental documents (the Ecological Policy of the State, National Strategy for Protection of Biodiversity, Long -Term Strategy for Sustainable Development – Poland 2025, Program for Improving Forestation, National Strategy for Ecological Education, Local Level Programs for Environment Protection) protection of biodiversity and the principle of sustainable development do take an important place, certain gaps can still be identified;
Legal regulations dealing with protecting biodiversity in agriculture were insufficient and ineffective;
The existing system assuming co-funding of genetic resources with funds destined for funding biological progress in agriculture has created the situation where protection needs must compete with the need to develop and improve production. In consequence the share of native varieties in the structure of national crops is tiny (in surface terms). Diversity in farm animal species diminishes, since profitability of keeping whole populations of native protected breeds is very low;
Functioning of the so-called [mixed] agricultural – environmental programs, designed to play an important role in protecting biodiversity in rural areas has not been regulated;
Regulations dealing with breeding exotic species, brought in from other geographical areas for economic purposes, turned out inconsistent with nature protection regulations, and, as it was pointed out, they could present a threat to preserving native biodiversity. The mink could serve here as an example - frequently escaping from breeding sites located in the vicinity of the national parks only to destroy nests and hunt young birds, whose protection actually was the main aim for having the parks established.
II. For research works, recognition and exchange of information on biodiversity (see Convention Art. 7) it was found that those carried out under the State System of Monitoring of the Environment needed to be intensified. The existing documentation of the state of nature needed to be up-dated for many areas. The system of information exchange on biodiversity and related actions was not functioning properly. And so –
1.Documentation of the state of nature kept by audited voivodes (i.e., the heads of Government administration at the province level) failed to collect full data showing occurrence of valuable natural formations, habitats, and even protected plant and animal species in the area;
2. Scientific research aimed at identification, protection and sustainable use of biodiversity (provided for in Convention Art. 12) was limited because of financial constraints;
3. For gene stocks of industrial plants, it was found that approx. 50% of Poland’s surface was covered by stock-taking exercises over the period of 20 years (especially in the South and East of Poland, where areas richest in local industrial plant populations can be found due to farming land commutation). Taking into account the time that has already elapsed since beginning of the stock-taking exercise, and its varied scope, some areas need to be covered with it again;
4. The database named “System for Information Exchange on Biological Diversity (CHK)” created in accordance with international agreements and provisions, contained in Convention Art. 18, is not up-dated on a current basis. Ministry for Environment, in charge of system implementation, failed to supervise its functioning.
III. Regarding in situ protection, due to amendments to the legal regulations and funding constraints, some of tasks were never implemented. Cases of uneconomic management were disclosed.
Nature protection services were not furnished with sufficient financial and human resources to be able to implement their legal obligations in protected areas. Especially difficult situation was reported in landscape parks. In this context, limiting economic activity in landscape parks meets with protests from local authorities. It is viewed as an obstacle to regional development. Intensive economic growth, on the other hand, might lead to regions’ losing all natural advantages.
Numerous irregularities and problems were disclosed in the process of selecting and establishing areas for the European protection network - NATURA 2000.
The number of irregularities disclosed clearly showed that in the period studied supervision and coordination of activities, which remained in the hands of the Minister for Environment, were insufficient.
Audit findings were presented in an audit information material, circulated among all supreme organs of the state, and on 14 April, 2004, also presented at the meeting of the Sejm (i.e., Parliamentary) Committee for Environment Protection, Natural Resources and Forestry.
Until now, from among 40 recommendations presented to auditees and 14 systemic recommendations addressed to decision-makers, many have been implemented. For example, in the course of legislative works aimed at drafting the new Nature Protection Act, clauses were amended to the SCC’s satisfaction. Scope and possibilities of supporting mixed ecological and farming undertakings in the areas marked were improve. In 2004 levels of allocations designed to fund plant collections and the Gene Bank were increased. Other recommendations are being implemented to the benefit of strengthening biodiversity protection in Poland.
To summarize the results achieved, it is necessary to stress that important aspects of biodiversity protection auditing are as follows:
harmonization of national law and national strategic documents with the commitments to be met under international agreements once signed, including the Rio Convention;
correctness and effectiveness of protection in the areas covered by NSPAs and Europe NATURA 2000 network;
the scope of actions taken up towards preserving biodiversity in lands used by agriculture;
the scope of collection and exchange of information on biodiversity;
correctness and legality of decision-making processes in managing areas of value for their natural advantages;
coordination of actions taken on a national and continental scale;
correctness and effectiveness of using financial resources allocated to protect biodiversity.
Taking up audit studies of biodiversity policy the SAIs, on one hand follow on ever growing world trend and on the other – can greatly contribute to correct implementation of particular actions.