++What can be the academic contribution to civic initiatives towards environmental causes++Concerns brought by experience and efforts to date++
Environmental causes in Albania have a short history compared to other European countries for reasons closely related to political and socio-economic factors. However, the progress made in raising these causes, especially by civil society organizations, is to be appreciated.
The environment is often not included in financial policies and is considered as something without a fixed market price, precisely because ownership of it is a rather broad concept. Ecosystem services and natural resources, which are an essential part of the environment, are the basis of economic development. In developing countries, such as Albania, the attempt to develop the economy quickly dictates the disruption of the balance of sustainable development, teaching less and less the importance of the environment as part of the triangle of the concept of sustainable development. This has often led to wrong developments which, not being based on scientific analysis but on political directives, have ultimately damaged the environment in Albania. And today we encounter a number of acute environmental problems such as; air pollution, water pollution, forest damage, biodiversity damage, river degradation, erosion, etc.
Albania in this quarter of a century has made many steps forward, especially in the improvement of the environmental legal framework as part of the efforts towards EU membership. However, the current situation shows that there is still a lot of work to be done, especially in the implementation of this legislation. Cooperation between state authorities and civil society is at pioneering levels. The level of scientific research in Albania is also quite low. This is one of the factors that further deepens the gap of the lack of coordination of society’s factors for a more comprehensive decision-making and development process.
The lack of transparency makes it increasingly difficult for the public to access environmental information. Often, even though the Albanian legislation is quite complete in this regard, the law-enforcement authorities limp in fulfilling their duties due to lack of professionalism or other undemocratic factors. Precisely the lack of transparency and the exclusion of the public from the decision-making process have often become the promoter of the rise of environmental causes. In fragile democratic systems like in Albania, the biggest challenge of environmental causes is that they are ignored, misused for political purposes or opposed with the force of double-standardized law.
Science is the main engine of a society’s progress. Interventions studied and based on scientific analysis in the environment can be one more guarantee towards sustainable development. In the conditions of Albania where scientific research is probably at the lowest historical values on the one hand and where the urgent need for development dictates responsibility in decision-making on the other hand, it is quite difficult to judge the sustainability of government programs. Moreover, in an effort to implement the legislation, society is producing and institutionalizing anti-science through the legitimization of “super-experts”. This not only damages the environment but also the culture of meritocracy in democracy.
Democracy in Albania continues to be quite fragile. In this context, the public often finds itself excluded from decision-making. The possibility of expressing its will only through a vote (once every four years) actually limits the public from actively participating in decision-making. In the conditions of the low level of accountability from the authorities, direct participation in democracy would be a path towards which the Albanian society should be oriented. The culture and history of referendums in Albania is almost non-existent. This is due to the disadvantage that comes from the specific legal framework but also from the lack of public trust in the process.
However, as long as referendums are about issues and not about people (or political parties), this can be the best way to oppose decisions that lead to a regressive development.
The most important challenges in terms of environmental causes in the conditions of Albania are quite complex. Democratic culture, economic standards and the exhaustion of expertise are among the key factors that increasingly prevent the priority treatment of environmental causes by the public.
On the other hand, the economic situation and the weak rule of law culture influence that the environment is not seen as a priority even by the authorities. In this context, the situation presents a mixture between the lack of professionalism and abuse in the implementation of the legal framework.
One of the biggest challenges in terms of environmental causes is that environmental problems give their effect over time and this means that they are not immediately embraced by the community. However, environmental problems are in most cases irreversible and quite costly, and at this point the responsibility of forward-looking planning based on science belongs mostly to the governing authorities.
The above material was presented by Olsi Nika, representative of EcoAlbania, during the conference “We the People – Citizen Participation and Direct Democracy”, organized by KRIIK Albania and KVV (Coalition of Local Observers).