The environment, corruption and the conflict in Ukraine were the top topics in a talk given in the Ukrainian Institute in London on Tuesday, April 28 by Igor Shevchenko, the newly appointed Ukrainian minister of Ecology and Natural Resources.
Shevchenko, one of the new generation of Ukrainian politicians swept into power by last year’s Maidan mass public protests in Ukraine, was on his first official visit to London since his appointment in December 2014. He opened his trip with a meeting with the Ukrainian community, and gave a talk to representatives of UK-based businesses and NGOs, academics and Ukrainian students studying in the UK.
In his presentation, Shevchenko discussed reforms in the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, anti-corruption initiatives and achievements, the situation in eastern Ukraine and Crimea in view of the loss of access to the natural resources, and ecological problems in the temporarily occupied territories.
On the issue of the Chornobyl tragedy, Shevchenko announced the establishment of a natural park in the Chornobyl exclusion zone, and the signing of an agreement with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on funding a new confinement structure over the ruins of the plant’s fourth reactor, which was destroyed in a catastrophic explosion in 1986.
In a Q&A session following his talk, the minister described current anti-corruption initiatives in Ukraine, saying “Corruption is an issue not just for Ukraine, but in Ukraine its level is especially high.”
The most corrupt area at the Ministry of Ecology is licensing, Shevchenko said. The first action taken to tackle this problem was firing the top officials responsible for licensing procedure violations. Other corrupt schemes in the water control area are being targeted now to eliminate bribe-taking among low and middle-ranked officials, for example those dealing with the cargo ships entering Ukrainian sea ports, Shevchenko said.
Another challenge for the ministry is to find professionals to take positions at the ministry, Shevchenko said. Low salaries make it difficult to attract qualified personnel, but the minister encouraged his fellow citizens in the audience to apply for open positions at the ministry, repeatedly inviting young professionals to come back to Ukraine once they have finished their studies and gained experience abroad.
Shevchenko highlighted the following targets and initiatives at his ministry:
(i) a movement towards transparency: the launch of a new open register of natural resource license holders; open data on the budget of the ministry; and the drawing up of a map of natural resources of Ukraine for investors and developers;
(ii) a new draft law on waste management is now being developed to bring best world practices to Ukraine;
(iii) the establishment of the Eco-Police – a new intelligence unit that will oversee environmental compliance and conduct investigations together with NGO activists if any violations of the environmental regulations are found. The new unit will replace the Ecological Inspection, which has been plagued by inefficiency for years, Shevchenko said;
(iv) the monitoring of the illegal emissions through the creation of an interactive map of pollution (air, water, soil etc.)
Commenting on the current situation in eastern Ukraine, Shevchenko said that “it’s not a civil war – it’s foreign military aggression,” and said he hoped the Ukrainian government would regain control over the occupied territories in the near future. He also expressed his concerns over the difficulties in regaining assets or getting compensation for resources in the occupied territories due to “ineffective international justice enforcement” – especially in the conflict zone.
However, regaining control over gas and oil reserves in the Black sea near the Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory of Crimea are not high on the agenda at the moment, Shevchenko said, as this might further escalate the conflict, especially taking into account the proximity of the region to one of the largest ports in Ukraine – Odesa.
But there was also good news: the minister stressed that the environmental situation in Ukraine was improving. The new shelter structure over the Chernobyl power plant is being built. There remains a shortage of funding for the shelter project (the total project cost is about €615 million), but Shevchenko said this was supposed to be covered by funds from the EBRD and a pool of international donors from 27 countries.
As for the Chernobyl exclusion zone, the minister reported that he had signed all of the necessary documents to create a new natural reserve in parts of the zone where the level of radiation is low/ He said that “bringing this region back into the economy” could bring substantial economic benefits to Ukraine. He noted that there were a lot of business opportunities, and gave the example of the development of renewable forms of energy in that area.
About Igor Shevchenko – Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources of Ukraine
Appointed for the post on 2 December 2014
– Co-Founder and Managing partner, leading Ukrainian law firm Shevchenko, Didkovskiy & Partners (Asters);
– Founder, Forum of Young Ukrainian Leaders;
– Founder and President Emeritus, Ukrainian Bar Association;
– Founder, Meritocratic Party of Ukraine; First Ukrainian Yale World Fellow;
– Member of the Forum of Young Global Leaders.
In 1996 he graduated from Kyiv’s Institute of International Relations as an international lawyer, consultant and translator from English.
In 2007 he studied at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and took part in a Davos World Economic Forum training session for members of the Forum of Young Global Leaders “Global Leadership and Governance in the XXI century.”
Shevchenko was the first Ukrainian member of the Young Global Leaders Forum at the World Economic Forum in Davos.