Educate. Connect. Inspire

Educate. Connect. Inspire

Apr 19, 2012

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic is located in Central Europe and includes the former historical regions of Bohemia, Moravia and Czech Silesia. The country is bordered by Germany, Poland, Austria and Slovakia to the east. The Czech capital and largest city, Prague, is more than 1 000 years old and has a wealth of historic architecture of different styles.

The Czech Republic became an independent state in 1993 after Czechoslovakia split into its two constituent parts. Before World War II, Czechoslovakia was one of the 10 most industrialised states in the world.

Hills and mountains cover about 95% of the country – ideal for skiing, mountain biking and hill walking. A record 900 natural springs have also ensured that the country produces plenty of mineral water. Spa towns, such as Karlovy Vary or Mariánské Lázně are popular holiday destinations, together with the many castles and chateaux, such as Karlštejn, Český Krumlov and the Lednice–Valtice area.

Environmental challenges in Czech Republic
The development policies of the Communist era combined with a lack of attention to environmental issues produced serious environmental problems in the Czech Republic.
  • The Czech Republic produces most of its energy by burning domestic coal. Much of the coal burned is low quality with a high ash and sulfur content, producing high levels of air pollution. Recent efforts include the closing of several lignite mines and stricter enforcement of environmental regulations. Air pollution is also a serious problem in many cities, particularly in the region of northern Bohemia. Forests in the Czech Republic are among the most seriously affected by acid rain in all of Europe.
  • Drinking-water supplies and much of the country’s soils have been contaminated with heavy metals and other industrial and agricultural wastes. However, today both urban and rural dwellers have access to safe drinking water. The increased nutrient load in the water bodies creates a problem of eutrophication.
  • Land erosion caused by agricultural and mining practices is also a significant problem. The forest area in the Czech Republic is about 34% of total land area, partly with the help of reforestation efforts.
  • The main threats for biodiversity are: loss or significant change of habitats (draining wetlands, increasing arable land to large areas, regulating rivers, monocultures); segmentation of natural bio-corridors (river dams, highways, etc.); acidification of water and soil; eutrophication; contamination by pesticides and other toxic chemicals and invasive species. As of 2001, the endangered list included seven mammal species, six bird species, six types of freshwater fish, and seven plant species. Endangered species include the Atlantic sturgeon, slender-billed curlew, and Spengler's freshwater mussel.
  • Climate change in the Czech Republic is expected to have a great impact on agriculture. The occurrence of droughts will increase and the level of water in reservoirs will see a significant decrease. These issues will be compounded with a decrease in rainfall, making conditions more unfavourable for agriculture and lead to a decrease in the amount of productive land and crops. Water in rivers will experience a warming effect and this will lead to negative impacts on fish and plant species.
Citizens’ community involvement
There are thousands of CSOs in the Czech Republic. Apart from sports and recreational organisations with large memberships, there are also active and influential voluntary organisations that do not have significant membership. These are active, for example, in service provision to physically and mentally disabled or socially marginalised people, drug prevention, humanitarian aid, environmental protection, and consumer issues.
Representatives of CSOs identified a particularly strong role for civil society in two specific fields: environmental protection and social service provision. Over the last decade, Czech environmentalists and ecologists have succeeded in becoming more than just nature conservationists. They have emerged as promoters of citizen rights and as monitors of public administration decisions and actions on environmental issues. CSOs working on social issues have managed to establish themselves as providers of much-needed social services.

Under the disguise of nature conservation concerns, a partial political opposition formed during the period of the communist regime. To this day such organisations address a wider circle of topics, above all the protection of democracy and the promotion of citizen participation in public decision-making processes. They also participate in administrative proceedings, consulting or criticising government plans. Overall, organisations concerned with nature conservation are amongst the most active in Czech civil society.

Government environmental policies
According to OECD there are about 26 environmental taxes in the Czech Republic, among which 7 regard fuel and vehicles, 4 regard air pollution, 4 regard water, 4 regard waste, while the remaining 7 refer to energy production, use of natural resources noise and nature protection. There is also an impressive number of 42 environmentally motivated subsidies, schemes, programs, funds and voluntary agreements with the purpose of:
  • waste minimisation and saving on raw materials
  • international co-operation for solving European research topics; mobility;
  • supporting national and international programs of Czech zoological gardens, conservation of biodiversity, environmental education
  • improving of technical equipment of municipalities (water treatment, sewerage)
  • environmental protection and support of sustainable development
  • land management and natural resource management
  • ensuring operation of European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development
  • land care programme, including for reserves (protected areas)
  • landscape protection against erosion, biodiversity conservation, water system stability
  • attenuation of state owned mines
  • development or regeneration of housings' technical infrastructure,
  • nuclear safety, radiation protection of inhabitants
  • enhancing consumption of environmentally less harmful goods and services
  • preventing occurrence of secondary damages caused by non-action in the case of floods
  • revitalisation of old mining workings owned by state before 1989
  • protection of landscape and natural environment
  • promoting environmental education and enlightenment
  • protection of air quality and waters
  • improving waste management
  • promotion of energy savings and the use of renewable energy sources
  • flood risk reduction in floodplain areas
  • removal of ecological damages caused by Soviet army
  • supporting activities of NGOs in environmental protection and sustainable development
  • development of municipal affairs, such as urban planning; technical infrastructure; sewerage and water supply; environmental activities, education and information; and foremost forest management and restoration of social function of the forest
  • motivating individual entities (natural persons) and legal entities (corporate bodies) to donate for environmental purposes
  • cutting emissions of CO2, lowering household expenses on heating, enhancing RES utilization in heating, cutting PM10 emissions
  • promoting the production and use of environmentally friendly products
  • reducing environmental impacts of industry (business) through EMS implementation
  • strengthening co-operation with representatives of Czech industrial and service sectors
  • supporting measures to secure an expansion of CNG use in transport
  • to reduce environmental impacts of mercury used in stomatological facilities
  • reducing undesirable impacts of washing powders on surface water quality
  • createing and supporting a system of take-back for portable accumulators.

The Czech Republic introduced an environmental tax reform in 2008, which would increase the tax rates of most energy products over the period 2008 – 2012 and would use the tax revenues to support the state employment policy.

Environmental taxes represent 2.5 % of GDP. This value is slightly below the EU average (2.6 %) and has remained roughly constant in the last decade. As in the majority of Member States, most of this revenue is realised on energy (2.3 % of GDP). There is also an environmental tax on electricity, natural gas and solid fuels. Reductions in taxation are available for renewable and alternative electricity, biogas and CHPs and specified environmentally sound vehicles. A tax refund is available also for public transportation using green electricity.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
Large companies know how to use the rhetoric of corporate social responsibility and have begun to portray their activities using this concept. However, this behaviour is sometimes regarded as self-promotion and PR. Whereas small firms are not aware of the notion of corporate social responsibility, they often behave responsibly in the communities where they operate, e.g. through supporting community activities. However, cooperation between business and civil society is still rare.
A survey of annual reports of the largest companies in the Czech Republic reveals that almost all the companies surveyed devote space to themes linked to care for their employees and many include the environment or publicly beneficial activities. Another study shows that most large companies believe that they should be actively engaged in contributing to society. Seventy six percent of companies stated that they look after their employees, and 44% mentioned care for the environment, above all companies whose activities directly impact upon the environment.
However, in civil society and the media there is a considerable degree of caution regarding the “responsible” behaviour of companies. In the Czech Republic there is still no clear distinction between corruption and sponsoring and some organisations are extremely cautious to partner with business.
It is necessary to distinguish between small Czech companies and large companies, often with foreign capital or part of supranational corporations. Large supranational companies are sensitive to social responsibility; they have their own strategy of philanthropy, etc. Small companies not only lack these opportunities, but above all do not even understand the significance of the notion of social responsibility. However, small companies often provide material assistance to civic associations (e.g. they make available a car, premises, some of their products – foodstuffs, furniture); they are automatically part of the community in question and behave responsibly without even knowing they thus implement the concept of “corporate social responsibility”.
Research shows that 64% percent of companies know the concept of CSR, but only 10% of companies have employees concerned exclusively with CSR. These are mainly large companies with a foreign investor or part of corporations. Ecology was a sphere in which activities were undertaken by more than 40% of companies. Many of them intend to acquire environmental certificates or have already done so. The conclusion seems to be that positive steps in the sphere of ecology are being taken mainly by companies whose activities have direct impact on the environment. Eighty four percent of companies plan to expand their CSR-related activities.
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