Opening doors in Ukraine

REC mission delegates discuss country office negotiations, funding opportunities and possibilities for cooperation

June 21, 2017 | By Nathan Johnson

A four-person delegation from the REC travelled to Ukraine on May 21–26 with a long list of visits and mission objectives. The busy agenda included: introducing the new REC Executive Director, Mihail Dimovski, to key partners in Ukraine; assessing key environmental priorities as perceived by the relevant Ukrainian institutions; identifying contact points between said priorities and donor interest; and discussing ideas related to potential interventions.

The REC delegates accompanying Mr. Dimovski were: Ruza Radovic, Head of the Business Development Unit; Bruno Mesquita, Chief of Staff; and Kliment Mindjov, Senior Expert in Education.

Environmental inroads and mid-term priorities

On May 22, the delegation met with Mykola Kuzyo, Deputy Minister for European Integration, Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Ukraine, and a member of the General Assembly of the REC. Given its extensive experience with EU harmonisation efforts, the 2004 EU enlargement and current SEE enlargement process, the REC expressed its great interest in cooperating with Ukraine’s competent authorities to assist the country in its association efforts with the EU. To achieve this end, the REC stressed the importance of concluding a bilateral agreement with Ukraine through which the REC would be able to establish an office in the country. Kuzyo informed the delegation that the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources is leading the negotiation process, and is also committed to starting internal consultations with the government, including with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

With respect to the environment, the Ukrainian Government has established several mid-term priorities. The priorities, as Kuzyo explained, are grouped into seven broad categories: Environmental governance, Climate, Nature protection, Institutional reform, Water, Waste, and the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Educational reform

Later that same day, Pavlo Hobzey, Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Education and Science, welcomed the REC, informing the delegation that he had been looking forward to the opportunity. The Deputy Minister explained that the ministry is working to implement a new vision for the Ukrainian education system. The “New Ukrainian School” reform envisions a 12-year system (compared to the current 11-year system), and is based on skills and competences. The new curricula, Hobzey explained, will be introduced in 2018 and completed by 2030. The competence-based approach features four pillars: 1) Security and health; 2) Enterprise and financial literacy; 3) Civic education; and 4) Environment and sustainable development. The Ministry of Education and Science is especially keen to find partners to help develop the new teaching materials—something the REC is uniquely equipped to do, especially where Pillar 4 is concerned. The developed teaching materials would be deployed nationally.

The positive outcome of the meeting resulted in an invitation from the Deputy Minister for a second meeting between the REC and Ukrainian experts involved in school reform. It was agreed that the REC will comment on the draft set of new educational standards, prepare a project proposal for completion of a Ukrainian version of Green Pack Junior, and also prepare a project proposal on the development and implementation of an advanced, local-language version of the Green Pack.

Another opportunity for education-related cooperation emerged at a meeting the previous day with Volodymyr Bugrov, Taras Shevchenko University Vice-Rector on Academic Policy. Professor Bugrov expressed interested on behalf of his university in working with the REC to organise a series of courses—either on sustainable development of the UN SDGs—aimed at high-level decision makers at both the local and national levels.

Renewables and energy security

On May 23, Nataliya Boyko, Deputy Ministry for the European Union, Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry, welcomed the REC, informing the delegation that later that same day she would be presenting the draft Energy Strategy for Ukraine in the Cabinet of Ministers, which includes climate obligations. Boyko pointed out that the ministry’s top priorities are energy security and energy independence, adding that while it foresees increased domestic production of gas and coal, the country aims to increase its renewables share to 11 percent by 2020. Furthermore, the National Emission Reduction Plan was scheduled to be submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers in June, and its timeline for implementation is through 2038.

Regarding possible REC involvement, Oleksandra Kozlovska, Head of Department, International Cooperation and European Integration Department, Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry, invited the organisation to become a partner in implementation of the emission reduction plan. Boyko concluded the meeting by stating that the ministry is “still at an early stage of policy formulation” and that opportunities for working with the REC will “continue to emerge”.

North American perspectives

The delegation continued its day’s work with visits to the Canadian and U.S. embassies in Kyiv. The REC met first with Canadian Ambassador Roman Waschuk, along with Director and Head of Development Cooperation, Karim Morcos. The REC learned from the discussion that Canada is formulating a new vision for its official development aid strategy, based on the following areas of focus: environment, climate change, green growth, gender issues, and countries affected by conflict. Canada is prioritising short-term technical assistance focused on policy reform institutional reform. Ambassador Waschuk was particularly interested in what kinds of “post-conflict lessons” the REC can transfer to Ukraine, adding that looking at conflict through “the environmental lens” might be an approach that Canada can support. The ambassador also suggested that the REC could develop project ideas that are a good fit with “contact line” areas.

Receiving the REC at the United States Embassy were George P. Kent, Deputy Chief of Mission; Aine Shiozaki, Economic Analyst, Environment, Science, Technology, and Health (ESTH), Economic Section; and Andriy Nesterenko and Luiz Velazques from USAID. Kent said that USAID is currently reframing its efforts and believes the outlook on accessing USAID funding for Ukraine regarding environment is not encouraging. He suggested that the REC should focus instead on the “Emerging Donor Challenge Fund” through which the US Government matches any funding by an emerging donor country.

Elaborating on a change of approach away from interventions at municipal and regional levels, the USAID representatives said they are developing a new Country Development Strategy that focuses on energy security through privatisation and competitive market development, while also including investment in renewables.

European briefs

May 24 featured separate visits in Kyiv with the EU Delegation, the Swedish Embassy, and the Hungarian Embassy. The REC met with Oleksandr Klitko, Sector Manager of Environment and the REC’s contact person from the EU Delegation. Klitko outlined Ukraine’s priority drivers in the environmental field: 1) the “National Environmental Strategy 2020”, which includes seven targets; 2) the Association Agreement and its environmental annex with 29 directives; and 3) mid-term priorities of the Cabinet of Ministers, as reported above. Klitko informed the REC that Sweden is the leading donor for environment in Ukraine.

Shortly afterwards, the REC was received by Swedish Ambassador Martin Hagstrom, and the Head of Development Cooperation in the Swedish Embassy, Henrik Huitfeldt. The latter remarked that environment protection in Ukraine needs to be improved, and that Sweden is focusing on supporting civil society to create advocacy mechanisms that will increase the visibility of environmental issues on the political agenda and pave the way for long-term policy development. Donor coordination is another area in need of improvement, Huitfeldt added.

As the Swedish Embassy is currently working to provide core funds to 12 CSOs in the country, Huitfeldt concluded with an offer to include the REC in future donor coordination meetings organised by the embassy.

The day’s business concluded with a visit with Hungarian Ambassador Erno Keskeny. This was a good opportunity for the delegation to acknowledge the support that Hungary provides to the REC. Ambassador Keskeny, meanwhile, informed the REC that Hungary’s aid in Ukraine is focused on the Subcarpathian region and on infrastructure development.

Forging environmental links

With two days left on their Ukraine mission, the delegation’s penultimate visit, on May 25, was with Vsevolod Chentsov, Director General, Directorate General for the EU, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Chentsov began on a positive note by assuring the REC that there is strong political will to open a REC office in Ukraine. Environmental protection is seen as a key to implementing the association agreement, the director general explained, and that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sees the REC as capable of assisting the Ukraine in this process. It was then agreed that the REC will propose a revised text of the “Agreement on the legal status of the REC CEE and its representative office establishment in Ukraine”.

Chentsov singled out the energy sector as “essential”, and suggested that the REC could offer legal and technical assistance to address relevant needs. He also warned that it will be vital to coordinate activities between all stakeholders and businesses, and he also expressed concern about uncoordinated and poorly planned aid investments in the country.

Final port of call

Changes of approach are also afoot for the Norwegians. Before travelling back to Hungary on May 26, the REC met with Norwegian Ambassador Ole T. Horpestad and Petter Bauck, Counsellor for Development Cooperation in the Embassy of Norway. Bauck informed the REC that Norway is restructuring its external aid, and that there will be tighter screening of grant applications, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs managing the entire process. Norway, Bauck explained, is looking to streamline cooperation to reduce the number of partners and activities. Ambassador Horpestad added that Norway will focus on energy efficiency and the renewable energy sector as major priorities.

Bauck also reported on a recent trip to Poltava, one of several partner municipalities involved in the Norway-funded “Local Initiatives for a Sustainable Ukraine” (LINK) project, where he had the opportunity to meet project stakeholders face to face. Bauck pointed to the need for dialogue between all the different stakeholders in Ukraine.

Parting thoughts

The REC’s eventful five-day mission made clear that there is much environment-related work to be carried out in Ukraine, and that the REC has many new and unique opportunities to be involved in the country’s quest for energy independence, improved environmental standards, and enhanced local and institutional decision-making processes. With continued support from the Ukrainian Government, the establishment of a new office in Ukraine would go a long way towards opening a new chapter of REC involvement in a changing Europe.

TAGS: Ukraine | Sustainable development | Environmental education | Energy security | Local initiatives | Environmental financing