Ljubljana related

10 Dec 2018, 13:00 PM

STA, 8 December 2018 - As 45 years pass this year since the lynx was reintroduced to Slovenia, preparations are under way for the first new animal to be brought to Slovenia early next year as part of the Life Lynx international project.

The wildcat will come to Slovenia from Romania or Slovakia, depending on which country manages to catch it first, the Life Lynx project group has told the STA.

The Eurasian lynx was reintroduced to Slovenia in 1973 upon the Slovenian hunters' initiative.

There are perhaps between 15 and 20 lynx in Slovenia

The current population, estimated at 15 to 20 animals, are descendants of six animals brought to Slovenia then from Slovakia.

The Life Lynx project group also launched this year a systematic monitoring of lynxes with automatic cameras, but results have not yet been fully analysed.

The largest wildcat in Europe is at the verge of extinction; it is believed that it could die out in a few years' time unless action is taken.

The Life Lynx project aims to save the lynx population in the Dinaric Alps and in south-eastern Alps.

It brings together eleven organisations from five countries, with Slovenia's partner being the national Forestry Service.

The first lynx will be released in the area of Loški Potok in the region of Kočevska in the south on the border with Croatia.

Before it is released, it will spend some time in a quarantine in the area, also to get used to the new environment.

"We expect an animal to spend some three weeks in quarantine," the group said.

Ten more animals due to arrive in the country

As part of the project, ten animals are expected to be brought to Slovenia, five to the regions of Kočevska and Notranjska and five to Gorenjska, north-west.

"The lynx released in Gorenjska will help connect Dinaric lynx populations with those in the Alps, which is vital for their long-term existence in Slovenia and in the Alps."

As part of the reintroduction, the Slovenian Hunters' Association will help train some 20 police officers who will investigate illegal lynx hunting, in what the project group said was unique in Europe.

You can learn more about the Life Lynx project in Slovenia here

08 Dec 2018, 13:52 PM

December 8, 2018

The drama over Petišovci gas extraction permits and the British company Ascent Resources appears to be one of those classic tales of a conflict between one country’s sovereign right over its environmental protection standards and the profit-making interests of the international capital, backed by neoclassical economics’ arguments on the beneficial effects of any foreign direct investment on the local economies.

However, this textbook ideological conflict was given another spin by an army of internet trolls, who sent a series of harassing messages to Slovenian government officials, including the Minister of Environment, which resulted in strengthening the Minister’s police protection and an internal investigation into the procedures surrounding the issue of environmental permits by the Ministry’s environmental agency (ARSO). With the British Ambassador also involved in lobbying for the British firm, three Slovenian political parties have also demanded that her involvement be investigated.

The issue centres on fracking in Slovenia

Gas has been extracted at Petišovci, North East Slovenia, since the 1960s, first by state-owned enterprises, then in 2002 the concession was granted to Geoenergo d.o.o. whose equal shareholders are two state-owned firms, Petrol and Nafta Lendava. Initially, gas was being extracted under its own pressure, until, according to Gorazd Marinček, eco activist, the problematic method of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, was introduced in two wells around the year 2011.

At least since 2011, Geoenergo has been in a 25/75 Joint Venture Agreement with the Maltese firm Ascent Slovenia Limited, a subsidiary of a London based company Ascent Resources (established in 2004). Another subsidiary of Ascent Resources, Ascent Resources d.o.o. is also located at the same address in Lendava. According to a recent edition of RTV Slovenia’s Tarča (Target) the only income of the Ascent Resources comes from unrefined gas extraction from the two remaining operating wells in Petišovci. The chain of companies, according to Tarča, reported a loss of over EUR 2.5 million last year, while awaiting the ARSO environmental permit that would allow it to deepen the wells and boost production, as well as to “build a processing plant to treat the gas for injection into the Slovenian national gas network achieving the highest possible price” (source).

The joint venture applied for and also received the environmental permits in 2014. However, environmental NGO’s appealed to the Ministry of Environment, although their appeal was rejected, so they moved further to the administrative court, which confirmed procedural inconsistencies in the permit issuing process and returned the matter back to the starting point at ARSO. The process was repeated again with an appealed to the Ministry, then the administrative court, which rejected the appeal, so that the process in this second round has not yet been cancelled.

Pressure from British investors, and irregularities in the permit process

Meanwhile, the British side of the venture has been growing increasingly impatient. On February 15 2018, the CEO of the Ascent Resources, Colin Hutchinson, visited then Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar, and on July 4th representatives of the company met with the Economic Minster. However, in August, when the old government was leaving and new one hadn’t taken over yet, a meeting was arranged at the initiative of the British-Slovenian Chamber of Commerce. The invitations to all parties were dispatched by the Ministry's directorate, and, most problematically, the meeting was eventually attended by Nataša Petrovič, the director of the Environment and Nature Protection Office in charge of ARSO’s environmental permits.

Apparently, at this meeting, which, according to the Ministry was only of informative nature, promises were made to the Ascent Resources (AR) that the environmental permit would be ready before the end of September, which is what AR then announced to investors. At the end of October, however, the new Environmental Minister, Jure Leben, introduced an internal investigation into the possibility of any external pressures being exercised over the ministry’s officials in the process of issuing environmental permits. The investigation eventually confirmed irregularities in these procedures, which included the August meeting of Nataša Petrovič with the AR representatives. As Tarča reported: “the Office director has participated in the meeting and provided information on specific procedures, thereby raising doubts as to the autonomy and independence of the Office, and allowing public interpretations, harmful for the reputation of the Office and its officials.” Furthermore, no minutes of this August meeting exist nor has the lobbying contact been reported to the Corruption Prevention Commission.

Threats of legal action accompanied by hate mail

Also at the end of October, AR announced it would explore taking Slovenia to the EU Court after the company failed in its attempts to get a response from the Environment Agency on Jure Leben’s internal inquiry into the awarding of environmental permits.

Furthermore, the number of offensive messages sent to ARSO, presumably by enraged British shareholders, multiplied and also hit Minister Leben’s mailbox and Twitter account. The minister is currently under enhanced police protection while a criminal investigation into the source of messages is taking place.

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Insulting comments by what appear to be fake Facebook accounts even managed to find their way to our own website, trying to stir the fight under an article on the matter. Luckily, nobody took the bait.

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Let’s not forget that in America in 2016 “Russian actors organized both anti-Islam and pro-Islam protests in the same location at the same time on May 21, 2016, using separate Facebook pages operated from a so-called troll farm in St. Petersburg”. The whole mission costed about US $200. (Source)

The British Embassy connection

To complicate the situation a bit further, on November 13 the British Ambassador to Slovenia, Sophie Honey, paid a visit to the Environmental Minister Jure Leben, asking questions about the possible deadlines for environmental permits and also about the results of the internal investigation. HMA Honey appears to have been advocating for the Petišovci project at least since January 2017, when she visited the site of the project and met with the Slovenian and British partners.

At about the same time three extra-parliamentary parties, Solidarity, Pirates and the United Left, asked for an ethical assessment of the British Ambassador’s conduct, who they believed lobbied the previous government to accelerate the license award process.

As reported by Delo, the British Embassy in Ljubljana denied the allegations, and explained that HMA Sophie Honey did not in any way want to influence the Slovenian decision, but only highlighted the need for predictable deadlines in procedures for foreign investors, including for AR, with this being an important part of achieving the goals of increasing bilateral trade and investment between the states.

Furthermore the tree political parties stated that they saw AR’s attempt to take Slovenia to the EU Court, to overrule the Slovenian system, as a kind of threat, even if no other pressures were being applied.

Let’s not forget that the confidence of Slovenia’s environmental administration in dealing with pressures from foreign capital rose significantly just last month, when the French multinational Lafarge sued Slovenia over being denied a renewed environmental permit after years of burning banned petroleum coke in its cement plant in Trbovlje. Lafarge finally lost its case at the Slovenian Administrative court, and is currently shutting down its operations in Slovenia.

21 Nov 2018, 07:11 AM

STA, 20 November 2018 - Slovenia will get significantly hotter by the end of the century as greenhouse gas emissions drive climate change, and even the most optimistic scenarios show that the frequency and severity of heat waves will increase. Precipitation patterns will be upended as well, in particular in winter, the latest climate projections show.

The projections, released by the Slovenian Environment Agency on Tuesday, consider three scenarios of climate change compared to the reference years 1981-2010 - and under all of them the changes will be profound.

Average temperatures set to rise

Average temperatures, having already increased by 2.2 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times by 2011, are projected to rise by 1.3 degrees by the end of the century according to the most optimistic scenario and as much as 6 degrees according to the most pessimistic scenario.

The number of hot days will increase by 6-27 days depending on scenario, but even under the most optimistic scenario heat waves will be much more common and longer.

There will be at least one heat wave each year as bad or worse than the record-setting heat wave of 2003. "By the end of the century, 2003 could be considered quite fresh," Environment Agency researcher Gregor Vertačnik said.

The flip side of the warmer climate will be a significantly longer growing season, which could begin a month earlier and end a month later, without an increase in the probability of spring frost.

More rain is expected under both optimistic and pessimistic projections

In the past fifty years Slovenia has been getting drier, with precipitation dropping by about a tenth and the snow cover by more than half.

But by the end of the century, the situation is likely to be completely different, especially in eastern Slovenia.

In the moderately optimistic and pessimistic scenarios precipitation is expected to increase by 20% by the end of the century, but the overall increase masks even more profound seasonal changes.

In the pessimistic scenario, winter precipitation is projected to increase by 40% by the middle of the century and up to 60% by the end of the century.

In other seasons the change will not be so profound, though projections show a significant increase in extreme weather events such as flooding in general.

Droughts not a problem

The good news, according to the agency, is that Slovenia will not have a shortage of water, as the average annual replenishing of aquifers will increase by about a fifth.

But this also means waterways are more likely to spill over.

The Environment Agency said the projections show climate change will impact every facet of life and required adaptation.

"The projections are primarily a groundwork for adaptation to climate change. But they can also be used in strategic projects with a long time span which must be resilient to climate change. Everyone planning such projects needs our forecasts," according to the agency's chief climatologist Mojca Dolinar.

Barbara Simonič of the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning said resilience to climate change needed to improve. She said the national-level projections must now be followed-up by assessments for individual sectors.

While the analysis considers three scenarios, the agency also warns that there is a high degree of uncertainty, with the gravity of change depending on how much humanity manages to limit greenhouse gas emissions and how reliable the forecasting models are.

Our other stories on climate change sand Slovenia are here

13 Nov 2018, 12:50 PM

STA, 12 November 2018 - Joško Knez, the director general of the Environment Agency (ARSO), stepped down on Monday, over an internal review of procedures for granting environmental permits for a controversial Ascent Resources gas extraction project in the far north-east of the country.

According to a report by the news portal Siol, Knez has resigned because irregularities were uncovered in the review ordered by the new Environment Minister Jure Leben last month.

Leben ordered the oversight of procedures for extracting gas in the Petišovci area by the UK's Ascent Resources and its Slovenian partner Geoenergo. The latter is owned by energy companies Petrol and Nafta Lendava, which are in majority ownership of the state.

According to a recent report by investment research firm Morningstar, Ascent Resources had received "repeated" private assurances from senior government officials, especially at the Environment Agency, that it would be getting the permit soon.

Apparently the review struck a nerve and the UK-based company launched an offensive against Slovenia, and Leben in particular.

At the end of October, Ascent Resources said it was mulling taking Slovenia to "EU courts" over the delay, while the minister has had to face an onslaught from shareholders and the management of the UK company.

Ascent Resources director and shareholder Colin Hutchinson tweeted that the company "invested EUR 50m in the project to date and will not walk away. The permitting system in the country is in need of urgent reform and foreign investors should be very wary of investing until this happens".

However, the Environment Ministry said today that "today's report corroborates that the minister's suspicions have been warranted", as the principles of independence and autonomy of ARSO were violated in the two procedures.

Moreover, the report says that "persons from abroad apparently do not find unacceptable and contentious putting pressure on Slovenian officials and are willing to repeat them".

The findings of the review will be forwarded to the relevant authorities, including "all the efforts to put pressure on the ministry during the review".

Just today, three non-parliamentary parties and several environmental NGOs urged Foreign Minister Miro Cerar to summon UK Ambassador Sophie Honey over lobbying for the UK company.

The Pirates, Solidarity, and the United Left and Workers' Labour Party (ZL-DSD) alliance, accuse Honey of lobbying and putting pressure on Slovenian authorities to secure the environmental permit for fracking in the Petišovci area.

Ascent Resources claims it would use hydraulic stimulation and not fracking to extract gas in Petišovci. This was corroborated by Geoenergo, which said that the method used in Slovenia would differ from fracking as used in the US significantly.

The procedure, "cannot and must not be equalised with the hydraulic treatment or fracturing of shale ... There are significant differences between the procedures in Slovenia and those in the US ... that basically stem from the difference in the geological profile of the rock".

But the environmental alliance is unconvinced. "We're witnessing a reality show where multinationals are treating us as natives from the most underdeveloped countries and heaping alternative truths on us in line with the worst case of fake news," environmental activist Gorazd Marinček told the press today.

31 Oct 2018, 09:03 AM

STA, 30 October - Slovenians use as many as 16 million candles a year to decorate graves, which ranks the country third in the world per capita. However, the tradition of honouring the dead in this way, which is especially prominent around All Saints' Day, could cause an ecological disaster. 

17 Sep 2018, 11:24 AM

With a street festival on Ljubljana’s Slovenska cesta and free buses on Sunday, plus events all over the country. 

14 Sep 2018, 14:30 PM

STA, 13 September 2018 - The latest official statistics show Slovenia's CO2 emissions rose by 3.8% in 2016 compared to the year before, while nitrogen oxide emissions increased by 4.5%. A total of 15.2m tonnes of CO2 was generated in 2016, the Statistics Office said on Thursday. 

23 Aug 2018, 09:18 AM

STA, 23 August 2018 - In a bid to make Slovenia's energy sector more efficient, the emerging government coalition will promote renewable sources of energy, chiefly water energy on the Sava river. Its environmental policy will, meanwhile, seek to keep Slovenia green but also attractive to sustainable investors. A green tax reform is also planned. 

12 Aug 2018, 09:27 AM

STA, 11 August - The newspaper Večer wonders why anyone should care about cleaning up the soil in Celje area if the locals are not concerned about their environment being heavily polluted by cadmium. 

19 Jul 2018, 13:05 PM

STA, 19 July 2018 - The Slovenian Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning has proposed culling 200 bears and 11 wolves to cope with increasing populations, inviting ire from activists. 

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