For effective legislation against climate change
Bulgaria's Climate Change Mitigation Act is one of the first such acts in Europe; however, it requires improvements to meet today's European Union efforts to achieve carbon neutrality. A legal analysis of the Bulgarian legislation, prepared by BlueLink, outlines the changes required to properly implement the European Climate Law.
A pro-climate Europe
A thoroughly new stage in the development of climate norms within the European Union is the European Climate Law (ECL). It aims to chart the path to climate neutrality and enhance confidence in the EU commitment for businesses, workers, investors and consumers; it also seeks to ensure transparency and accountability, encouraging prosperity and fostering employment opportunities, as the rationale for the adoption of the ECL specifies. Through the law, the EU aims to achieve neutrality in a socially fair and economically effective manner.
The ECL’s function is to introduce the EU 2050 climate neutrality goal into legislation, in accordance with the scientific analysis reported by IPCC and IPBES. It aims also to facilitate the implementation of the Paris Agreement, including its long-term temperature goal — to keep the global average temperature increase to well below 2°C above the pre-industrial period levels and to pursue efforts to keep it to 1.5 C above the pre-industrial period levels.
The legislation provides for the conditions to set out a trajectory leading the Union to climate neutrality by 2050, for regular assessment of progress towards climate neutrality and the priority level of the trajectory identified, and mechanisms in the case of insufficient progress or inconsistencies with the goal.
The ECL regulation is binding in its entirety and is directly applicable in all EU member states, which, however, must also take steps to contribute to the common goal of climate neutrality.
Bulgarian legislation against climate change
In 2014, Bulgaria adopted the Climate Change Mitigation Act (CCMA) — one of the first such acts in Europe — to regulate societal relations in the context of Bulgarian climate policy. It introduces the requirements of directives and measures for the implementation of EU regulations and decisions in the field of climate and sets the framework of bylaws for the implementation of its individual provisions.
On the strategic level, CCMA stipulates the adoption of two climate-related documents: the Integrated National Plan in the field of Climate and Energy and the National Strategy of key measures for the adaptation to the consequences of climate change. In October 2019, the National Strategy and Action Plan 2030 were adopted. The first integrated national plan for the period 2021–2030 was adopted by the Council of Ministers on 27 October 2020.
What climate law do we need?
In 2021, BlueLink prepared a legal analysis of the Bulgarian climate law, focusing on the necessary changes that need to be made to implement the ECL.
One of the main problems in the Bulgarian law is that the scope of strategic documents and the authorities competent to adopt them is far too limited in its climate planning framework, failing to specify the requirements for their purposes, content and the discussion process. There is additionally no national commitment to achieve a specific, long-term and science-based emission reduction target.
The legislation is intended only to implement Bulgaria's share of the EU's target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. However, a process should be envisaged to ensure that policy development is in line with the achievement of the national goals for 2030 or 2050.
Good practices could include the adoption of a carbon budgeting cycle (be it annual or 5-year), through which the country commits to a set volume of GHG emissions for each cycle; there should also be defined policies adopted to ensure mitigation measures, banking rules, and loans from one cycle into the next. In reality, there is no backcasting of policies, which would guarantee that today’s policymaking fosters the achievement of the long-term goal.
The Bulgarian law also does not expressly state that it fulfils the requirements of Regulation 2018/1999 on the Governance of the Energy Union and Climate Action. This regulation requires member states to ensure a dialogue on climate and energy involving all stakeholders and the general public, discussing various scenarios of energy and climate policies, including long-term ones.
Another weakness in the National Expert Council on Climate Change is that the Ministry of the Environment and Water (MoEW) is not an independent agency. The majority of its members represent different ministries and government agencies, and barely any are members of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, the National Association of Local Municipalities, or NGOs whose activities are related to climate change mitigation. This approach does not follow international best practices; members of the advisory board should be independent experts since their purpose is to advise the government and ministries on the development of climate policies and carbon budgeting, the monitoring of progress, and the implementation of policies.
Furthermore, there is almost no involvement of the public in the decision-making process and formation of climate policies, according to the provisions of the law. It is reduced mostly to passive awareness of strictly technical issues. Specific provisions for public participation or national dialogue with civil society on climate issues need to be introduced.
Best practices in this area place a strong emphasis not only on the process of building public consensus on ways to achieve the long-term national climate goal, but also on processes of public participation in the development of national climate plans until 2030. Such participation is also necessary in connection with Regulation 2018/1999 on the Governance of the Energy Union and Climate Action. Therefore, this gap in the national law is alarming, as it results in a lack of transparency and full participation of the public in the decisions made regarding climate.
The best practices we should follow guarantee close involvement of the national parliaments because this fosters non-partisan understanding and support, which in its turn gradually promotes long-term political will and leadership. However, the Bulgarian law does not provide for such a controlling role of the parliament — there is no obligation for the Minister of Environment and Water to report on the development and implementation of climate policies.
There are two main scenarios for the introduction of measures under the European Union climate law in Bulgaria: to repeal the current one by adopting an entirely new law or adopt an amendment to the existing law that includes measures under the ECL. Which scenario is chosen depends on the political will in the parliament, the government's management program, and the expertise of the MoEW and all stakeholders.
A promising step in the right direction in our country is the creation of the office of the Deputy Prime Minister for Climate Policy, who is also Minister of Environment and Water.
Also, a good example to follow is the Republic of Ireland, where an entirely new climate law was passed in 2021 in place of the old law and where the Minister of the Environment is the leader of the Green Party in Ireland. Given its similarities with the situation in Bulgaria, namely efforts to overhaul the law and an environmental minister from the Green Party, Ireland could serve as a guide to achieving a better solution for the Bulgarian law and future climate policies.
This article was prepared within the project “Expanding support for European climate law in Bulgaria”, implemented by BlueLink with financial support from the European Climate Foundation.
Another important issue
In order to keep supporting the strtategic use of information and telecommunication technologies and the internet by civil society, for the sake of nature protection, common European values and democracy, we need to be independent. You can support BlueLink by making a donation to the BlueLink Foundation or becoming a volunteer to help our activities. Learn more about BlueLink's mission, vision and activities here.