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Waste management and public participation in Poland: challenges and ways forward

WARSAW (31 May 2011) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Calin Georgescu warned Tuesday about the need for wide consultation at the national level over the construction of the first nuclear power plant in Poland.

“Nuclear power is and will remain a controversial topic, and any decision in this regard should be taken on the basis of a wide consultation at the national level,” said Mr. Georgescu at the end of the first visit* to the country by an independent expert designated by the UN Human rights Council to report on the adverse effects of the movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights.

The independent expert also encouraged national authorities “to consider organising a nationwide referendum on this matter,” acknowledging however that Poland is highly dependent on coal for energy generation, with more than 90 per cent of electricity generated from combustion of hard coal and brown coal, and needs to diversify its sources for energy production.

Mr. Georgescu recommended that adequate information be provided to the public, including “the most recent information and scientific data on uranium procurement, on the possible risks associated with the use of nuclear energy and on the solutions envisaged for the safe storage and environmentally sound disposal of nuclear waste generated by the power plant.”

The Special Rapporteur acknowledged the significant progress Poland has made in protecting its people from the adverse impact that hazardous chemicals and toxic wastes may have on the effective enjoyment of human rights, but noted that there are a number of challenges in the fields of chemicals and waste management that need to be addressed.

“The municipal waste management system needs significant improvements,” Mr. Georgescu said. “At present, it does not allow for the segregation of hazardous waste contained in mixed municipal waste streams, and a significant part of this waste continues to be disposed of in municipal waste landfills.”

The UN expert called on the Parliament to finalise, as a matter of priority and in close consultation with civil society organisations, the adoption of a new law on municipal waste, so as to bring national legislation in compliance with international human rights and environmental standards.

“Information currently available is not easily accessible,” The independent expert stressed. “Poland needs to adopt additional measures to facilitate access to information held by public authorities on hazardous chemicals and toxic waste.”

Mr. Georgescu also noted that public participation on issues related to chemicals and waste management is very limited, and urged national authorities and relevant European institutions “to provide additional non-earmarked funds to NGOs so as to enable civil society to participate in decision-making and ensure strengthened scrutiny of governmental action in these areas”.

The Special Rapporteur will present a report on his mission containing his findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council next September.

Calin Georgescu, the Executive Director of the National Centre for Sustainable Development in Bucharest (Romania), was appointed Special Rapporteur in 2010 by the Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement by Mr. Georgescu: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11089&LangID=E

Learn more on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/environment/waste/index.htm

OHCHR Country Page – Poland: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/PLIndex.aspx

For inquiries and media requests, please contact or write to Ms. Mariola Ratschka, Officer-in-Charge, United Nations Information Centre in Warsaw (Phone: +48 22 825 57 84; email mariola.ratschka@unic.org).

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