National Audit Office: Availability of information about the environment is poor and of questionable relevance

Toomas Mattson | 7/3/2007 | 12:00 AM

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TALLINN, 3 July 2007 - It is the view of the National Audit Office that environmental monitoring in Estonia is poorly organised, as neither the public nor the decision-makers have adequate information about the state of the environment, and monitoring data is scattered between around 40 different databases.

The biggest shortcoming is that the organisation of environmental monitoring at the national level does not analyse the types of data that are actually required for decisions affecting the environment to be made. The fact that the planning of monitoring operations is not based on environmental problems renders it much more difficult to understand and make use of the results.

The basis of such planning tends to be European Union and other international obligations, with national needs relegated to second place. Although the environmental effects of urban sprawl, transport and big business have increased in recent years, the need for the reorganisation of monitoring accordingly has not been assessed.

The state lacks a long-term plan for the organisation of environmental monitoring, with the Minister of the Environment having to approve national sub-programmes on an annual basis. Until monitoring is planned for the longer term, the opportunities to make it more focused, such as carrying out monitoring of slower environmental changes over periods of several years, will continue to be missed. In response to our audit, the Minister revealed that he is planning a longer-term (2007-2009) programme which will combine the monitoring activities of the ministry and its agencies with those of other ministries.

The Minister believes that the organisation of environmental monitoring can primarily be improved through the launch of local government monitoring, but feels that the ministry’s ability to organise such monitoring itself is limited. However, in the opinion of the National Audit Office, the Ministry of the Environment would still be capable of influencing the organisation of environmental monitoring in local governments by involving them, in the course of development of a longer-term monitoring programme, in the identification of monitoring needs.

The Environmental Register does not amalgamate all of the information it requires. According to legislation, the register is charged with the task of maintaining and processing data about natural resources, natural heritage, the state of the environment and environmental factors, and providing information about them.

At present, data related to environmental monitoring can be found in the databases of approximately 40 different institutions. The most comprehensive information about the state of the environment is provided by the monitoring compendium published by the Estonian Environment Information Centre every four years. The Ministry of the Environment has confirmed that the information centre is working to improve its monitoring output (by enabling enquiries to be made on its website, providing graphics, presenting regional results and so on) in order to make environmental information more available.

Using monitoring data that has already been collated is difficult. Although national monitoring has been carried out for more than ten years, in the majority of cases, long-term databases have not been created. The data that does exist from the last ten years is often complicated to use, as much of it is on paper or stored in an outdated electronic format.

Over the years, environmental monitoring has been performed at more than 4000 stations, with over 200 different measurements being recorded. The results are collated and published through the Environmental Register by the Estonian Environment Information Centre, part of the Ministry of the Environment. Approximately 20 million kroons was spent on the organisation of monitoring in 2006. Monitoring operations are carried out by companies and local governments in addition to state institutions. Monitoring conditions are set for companies by the environmental services departments of the Ministry of the Environment, whereas local governments are responsible for their own monitoring.

The importance of monitoring can be seen in the fact that, according to data from the European Environment Agency, between 6 and 13 percent of all illnesses stem from contamination of the environment. Monitoring helps to uncover the causes of such pollution and thereafter in planning to reduce it. Analysis of the results of monitoring provides an overview of the state of the environment and of the connections between environmental indicators, enables an assessment to be given of a larger area by looking at the results of individual measurements, and allows predictions to be made about future developments.

The National Audit Office performed an audit of the activities of the Ministry of the Environment in its organisation of environmental monitoring.

Toomas Mattson
Communication Manager of National Audit Office
Telephone: 6400 777
Mob: 51 34900
E-mail: toomas.mattson@riigikontroll.ee

  • Posted: 7/3/2007 12:00 AM
  • Last Update: 9/15/2015 1:18 PM
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