Green partnership in Eastern Europe

Democracy and civil society development is the key task faced by post-communist societies. In the 1990s Poland received substantial support in this respect. Nevertheless, this is still a difficult and long process, although for Poland it is made easier by its EU integration, which provides many practical tools, including legal and financial ones. NGOs and local self-governments are our natural partners, being our closest neighbours with whom we share the same cultural background, historical and political burdens as well as geographic and natural conditions.

During several last years, together with the Dutch foundation Milieukontakt Oost-Europa, we organised a number of study visits to Poland for NGOs and local self-governments from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Their aim was to exchange experiences regarding concrete environmental protection solutions as well as cooperation between NGOs and local self-governments and central administration.

In 2007, within the Foreign Aid programme of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we supported development of the network of Belarusian NGOs – “Green Partnership” and conducted activities to build up contacts between Polish and Belarusian organisations, which enabled further cooperation and joint initiatives.

Project “Multistakeholder Local Action Strength – Improvement of local sustainable strategies and local actions development and implementation in three rural communities in Belarus.”
Implementation period: 2009-2010
Partners: an international NGO from Minsk – Ecoproject Partnership and the following municipalities: Disna (Vitsebsk Voblast), Beloosersk (Brest Voblast), Ananichy and Dukora (Pukhavichy Voblast).

The project was developed around such issues as: What does sustainable rural development mean? Is it possible to achieve economic success by utilising social potential as well as natural and historical values of a municipality? How to improve the living standard of inhabitants and increase the development potential at the same time taking care of environment? How to stimulate social activity and involve people in joint work? What can Belarusians and Poles learn from each other and what can they gain from cooperation and exchange of experiences?

Within the project we organised field trips to partner municipalities, joint workshops in Minsk, which presented methods for working with local communities within Leader +, as well as Open Space events. During a study visit to Poland our partners from Belarus became familiar with experiences from preparation and implementation of the local sustainable development strategy in the Barycz River Valley in Lower Silesia and Wielkopolska. Within the next project stage we organised workshops with participation of local communities in three Belarusian municipalities, applying the Open Space method. This allowed to collect ideas for specific activities in respective municipalities. Implementation of three local pilot sustainable development projects crowned our cooperation with local communities from Disna, Ananichy/Dukora and Beloozersk.

Respective local communities developed ideas for their pilot projects. All of them decided to focus on sustainable tourism as the main area of development. Using the EC’s small grants the municipalities managed to implement their ideas. They prepared tourist and educational trails, referring to history, mementoes from the past and natural attractions. The municipalities installed small infrastructure, such as information boards, benches, sheds, waste bins. They also initiated first information and promotion activities in order to encourage potential tourists to visit the area and rest there.

The activities in the municipalities of Disna, Ananichy/Dukora and Beloozersk were additionally supported from the programme Polish Aid 2010 (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) in the project: “Development of local government potential in sustainable tourism in three rural Belarusian municipalities.”

The municipalities prepared attractive information and promotion brochures, presenting their history, natural assets, social and economic conditions and development potential. They were published in Russian and English. Moreover, each municipality had its website developed in order to activate local communities and promote itself. Internet allows small municipalities to open on the world and present their chief assets.

Apart from the abovementioned pilot projects, brochures and websites, we also focused on skills development and education of local communities. The PGN conducted a series of training and workshops in project planning and management, website administration and small-business management. The last issue appears to constitute one of the main challenges in further development of small municipalities in Belarus.

This intensive year finished with meetings in respective municipalities, where together with local communities we discussed the activities undertaken so far as well as possibilities for further cooperation. As a result, Local Action Plans for 2011 were prepared, serving as a basis and a guiding point for further development.

Apart from providing assistance to selected municipalities, we shared our experiences, presented successful initiatives and how they were implemented and highlighted the importance of cooperation between NGOs and local governments, especially the results achieved due to activation of local communities. The conference “Sustainable Development within Rural Areas – Polish and Belarusian Experiences,” organised in July 2010 in Minsk, constituted an opportunity for implementing this objective. The conference gathered representatives of various circles from different regions of Belarus, i.e. local governments, NGOs, governmental administration, research institutes, Polish and Belarusian experts, media and representatives of the European Commission. All in all, 85 people participated in the conference. The following issues were discussed:
- sustainable development of rural areas in the Republic of Belarus,
- sustainable tourism in Poland,
- territorial marketing and development of regional brands as a tool for implementation of local strategies,
- the Barycz River Valley – Polish approach towards sustainable regional development,
- development and promotion of local products,
- local products in Poland,
- presentation of pilot projects implemented in three Belarusian municipalities – Disna, Ananichy/Dukora and Beloozersk.

Moreover, during the conference various municipalities could present their local products and information materials on special stands.

The project constitutes a positive example of Polish-Belarusian cooperation with involvement of various social partners, especially NGOs and local governments. It was presented as a good practice during the conference on Eastern Partnership “Go East!,” organised in October 2010 in Warsaw by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute. Many representatives of NGOs and other social partners participated in the conference. He hope that our project inspired and encouraged them to cooperation.

2009 and 2010 activities within the Green Partnership in Eastern Europe Programme were co-financed by the European Commission (EuropeAid Programme), Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Polish Aid 2010) and RITA Programme of the Polish-American Freedom Foundation.

Project: “Multistakeholder cooperation for energy efficiency improvement in Belarus – promotion of energy performance certificates for buildings”
Implementation period: March-December 2011
Partners: an international NGO from Minsk – Ecoproject Partnership, Małopolska Regional Agency for Energy and Environmental Management (Krakow)
Project objectives: energy efficiency improvement in Belarus through development of methodology and software for issuing energy performance certificates for buildings.

Energy efficiency improvement in buildings, i.e. main end users of energy, is becoming an important part of legislation around the world. In Soviet times energy efficiency of buildings was not perceived as a priority issue. Instead, focus was on minimising consumption of construction materials and decreasing construction time. The state tried to lower total investment costs, which resulted in higher operation and maintenance costs, hoping that energy resources and cheap energy would be available for long years to come, if not forever. Therefore, nearly all the buildings constructed in the Soviet period did not take into account energy efficiency demands. Currently these buildings are outdated and have become the main energy consumer in Belarus. Energy efficiency improvement in buildings allows on the one hand to reduce atmospheric CO2 emissions and on the other to lower energy costs, bringing financial benefits for people that use these buildings.

Energy efficiency improvement requires a system for energy consumption measurement, e.g. through energy performance certificates for buildings. As such certificates had not been developed in Belarus, the PGN and its partners decided to apply European and Polish experiences in this respect.

As the first activity within this project, the PGN organised a Round Table in Minsk, which gathered 20 representatives of various subjects interested in energy efficiency and possibilities for introduction of energy performance certificates for buildings. Conclusions from the Round Table served as a basis for establishing an Advisory Committee with representatives of research institutes, central administration (Department of Energy Efficiency, Ministry of Architecture, the City Hall in Minsk), municipal companies (Association of Housing Cooperatives) and NGOs, all in all 10 people. The Committee met eight times, monitoring the progress in project implementation and developing an energy certification system. It prepared a Strategic Action Plan for energy performance certificates in Belarus, which constituted the final result of its work.

Education and training activities constituted another important element of the project. In May 2011, the PGN organised in Minsk a training for 30 people, presenting various issues in energy certification, e.g.: legal and technical conditions in Belarus for development of energy certification, EU legal framework (e.g. the EPB Directive) and Polish experiences in energy performance certificates for buildings.

The objective of the study visit to Poland organised in June 2011 was similar. During the visit 10 representatives of various Belarusian subjects visited 12 institutions in Krakow, other towns in the Małopolskie voivodship and Warsaw.

Intensive involvement of the Advisory Committee and cooperation with Polish experts enabled development of a methodology for energy audits of buildings in Belarus, including necessary software. This methodology was applied during five audits of various buildings in Belarus, presenting the scale of possible energy savings. The audits proved that energy efficiency of the analysed buildings was low, while the potential for its improvement very high.

An international conference that was organised in December 2011 thanks to cooperation between NGOs from Belarus (IPO Ecoproject), Poland (PGN, Małopolska Regional Agency for Energy and Environmental Management) and Germany (Baltic Environmental Forum) constituted the final event of the project. The conference enjoyed considerable interest – 65 people took part in it, including representatives of NGOs, central administration, universities, implementing agencies, research institutes, media and embassies as well as international experts. The speakers presented the project’s results, the methodology developed within the project and the report from the five audits. This was followed by a vivid discussion, which proved that energy efficiency improvement received a lot of interest.

The project’s results were also referred to during a government press conference summarising the Energy Efficiency Month in Belarus, which took place several days later. During the conference, the representatives of the Department of Energy Efficiency praised the NGO project and informed that the Department would support introduction of energy performance certificates in buildings at the state level. This was covered by the State Information Agency in official news.

During the press conference, the Deputy Minister of Housing and Utility Services, responding to the question posed by Ecoproject Partnership, informed that a draft act on preferential loans for improving energy efficiency of residential houses had been prepared in 2011 but due to the financial crisis it had been abandoned. Currently, such loans are available for residents of rural areas.

Recommendations on the system of energy performance certificates for buildings in Belarus that were developed by Ecoproject Partnership were officially submitted to the Department of Energy Efficiency. A great majority of significant issues were incorporated to the amended Act on Energy Saving, e.g. a definition of an energy performance certificate was included in the act, while the article on energy efficiency of buildings was significantly expanded. The Department of Energy Efficiency claims that energy performance certificates should enter into force in 2014.

The project “Multistakeholder cooperation for energy efficiency improvement in Belarus – promotion of energy performance certificates for buildings” was co-financed by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, under the Development Aid Programme 2011.

The programme’s coordinator: Joanna Furmaga,