Bulgaria

   

Environmental Policies

#21
Key Findings
With a cautious climate policy, Bulgaria falls into the middle ranks internationally (rank 21) with regard to environmental policies. Its score in this area has declined by 0.1 point relative to its 2014 level.

Improvements in energy efficiency and a shift to fuels with lower carbon-emission rates have decreased the country’s CO2 intensity. However, policymakers have been slow to develop a national climate-policy strategy. The share of renewables in the country’s energy mix has stagnated since 2013. The population is among the EU’s most skeptical with regard to the urgency of climate-change policies.

Water management remains a major problem. Responsibility for this task lies with municipalities, hampering coordination and strategy development. Air quality is low. Forest and biodiversity protection are strengths. Conservation-focused groups are influential, although business interests with access to policymakers continue to violate environmental policies.

Bulgaria is relatively passive with regard to international environmental policies, but is in the group of East-Central European countries that have expressed caution regarding aggressive carbon targets.

Environment

#29

How effectively does environmental policy in your country protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and environmental quality?

10
 9

Environmental policy goals are ambitious and effectively implemented as well as monitored within and across most relevant policy sectors that account for the largest share of resource use and emissions.
 8
 7
 6


Environmental policy goals are mainly ambitious and effectively implemented and are monitored within and across some of the relevant policy sectors that account for the largest share of resource use and emissions.
 5
 4
 3


Environmental policy goals are neither particularly ambitious nor are they effectively implemented and coordinated across relevant policy sectors.
 2
 1

Environmental concerns have been largely abandoned.
Environmental Policy
5
Environmental policy has not been among the Borissov government’s top priorities, and has thus been neither ambitious nor consistently implemented or coordinated. This is not surprising given that Bulgarians are the EU’s most skeptical population when it comes to the urgency of climate-change policies. According to Eurobarometer, only 14% of Bulgarians believe that combating climate change and preserving the environment should be a priority for the EU, and only 16% based their European Parliament vote on environmental issues (partly due to the lack of candidates addressing the issue, no doubt). However, as the 2019 local elections showed, at least in the larger cities, the Bulgarian public’s sensitivity to environmental issues has risen, with clean air being the greatest concern. Especially in the capital, Sofia, candidates giving environmental issues a clear priority achieved very strong results.

As for resource use, water management has remained a major problem. The fact that responsibility for this activity it rests predominantly with municipalities has created problems of coordination and strategy development. Another problem is that a considerable quantity of Bulgaria’s renewable water resources are also affected by actions in neighboring countries (i.e., Romania, Turkey, Greece), requiring international coordination. In the summer of 2018, the government appropriated a relatively large budget to fund improvements in dam maintenance and management, but this decision has not yet shown major effects. While energy efficiency has risen, the waste-recycling rates have remained low.

The low air quality and the limited progress with urban wastewater collection and treatment have been the main issues in the area of environmental pollution. Both topics featured prominently in the European Commission’s 2017 Environmental Implementation Review, but have been only partially addressed.

Improvements in energy efficiency and shift to fuel sources with lower rates of carbon emissions than their predecessors have led to a gradual decrease in the economy’s carbon dioxide intensity. However, the formulation of a national strategy for climate policy has progressed slowly. While Bulgaria is meeting its international commitments with regard to renewable energy, the share of renewables in the country’s energy mix has stagnated since 2013, so that it is likely to miss the revised targets.

Bulgaria ranks among the countries with the greatest biological diversity
in Europe. It has a relatively large share of protected biomes. Approximately one-quarter of its territory is under protection or special status. As opposed to many other issues, there is an active civil society sector working on biodiversity and conservation issues, which is capable of applying political pressure and sometimes achieves results. However, powerful business actors with access to policymakers often manage to violate environmental-protection policies in order to further business interests. Most violations of this kind take place in the tourism and mining sectors. In the summer of 2019, there was a clear and deliberate attempt by identifiable business interests to take over a major Bulgarian environmental NGO, the Bulgarian society for the protection of birds; this took the form of a coordinated action to enlist a large number of new members in the month before a key general assembly. The goal of the takeover, which eventually failed, was twofold: to acquire valuable society assets, including large areas of forest land, and to prevent the society’s future actions against certain business projects.

Citations:
European Commission (2019): Environmental Implementation Review 2019. Country Report Bulgaria. SWD(2019) 113 final. Brussels.

Global Environmental Protection

#17

To what extent does the government actively contribute to the design and advancement of global environmental protection regimes?

10
 9

The government actively contributes to international efforts to design and advance global environmental protection regimes. In most cases, it demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, contributes to their being advanced and has introduced appropriate reforms.
 8
 7
 6


The government contributes to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes. It demonstrates commitment to existing regimes and occasionally contributes to their being advanced and/or has introduced some appropriate reforms.
 5
 4
 3


The government demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, but does not contribute to their being advanced and has not introduced appropriate reforms.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes.
Global Environmental Policy
5
The topic of environmental sustainability does play a role in the internal and international political discourses of the Bulgarian government and politicians, but government is relatively passive with respect to international environmental and climate policies. While the country has a relatively large share of renewables in its energy mix, it is among the group of East-Central European countries that are comparatively cautious about adopting aggressive carbon reduction targets. The government chose not to include environmental topics among its priorities during its presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2018. Bulgaria also contributes relatively little to the Green Climate Fund.
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