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Zorana Mihajlović Ph.D., Serbian Deputy Prime Minister And Minister Of Mining And Energy

Tipping Point Year In Serbia’s Energy Transition

It is important for Serbia’s future that it not be a passive observer of energy transition, but rather an active participant in the endeavour of the whole world to promote green energy, sustainable development and greater environmental protection, and we’re also working on that. Our efforts are also partly related to the inclusion of women in top positions in the energy and mining sectors

The public worldwide, including in our country, is wondering how the energy crisis will unfold. Serbia’s Deputy PM and Mining and Energy Minister Zorana Mihajlović believes that the country will overcome the current energy crisis and have enough energy and fuel sources for citizens and the economy this winter.

“The current crisis will pass, perhaps already by spring, but we must work and plan while looking far ahead, in order for no future crisis to hit us unprepared. The state’s role isn’t only to react when a crisis occurs, but rather to plan and act strategically, in order for us to have energy security and be prepared for all future crises, which will most certainly come. It is important for Serbia’s future that it not be a passive observer of energy transition, but rather an active participant in the endeavour of the whole world to promote green energy, sustainable development and greater environmental protection, and we’re also working on that,” says our interlocutor.

Representing the first step on that path was the adoption of four new, modern laws governing the field of mining and energy, then also the start of work on the most important strategic documents: the Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan of the Republic of Serbia for the period until 2030, with projections until 2050; and the Energy Development Strategy of the Republic of Serbia for the period until 2040, with projections until 2050.

“In the area of renewable energy sources, we are striving for the share of renewable sources to reach at least 40% by 2040, or 50% by 2050. We will achieve that through the construction of large and medium- sized HPPs, new capacities for energy production from RES, the construction of gas-fired power plants, the development of additional energy storage capacities and the development of hydrogen technologies,” explains Mihajlović.

You’ve said that no one will freeze this winter, but will everyone have enough money to pay their heating bills, given that inflation is on the rise? Are you considering the possibility of introducing additional breaks for vulnerable categories of the population in the case that the crisis deepens?

Energy security means that we have enough energy, but it is equally important for us to pay sustainable prices for that energy, and for that energy to be available to all citizens. Amendments to the Energy Law have enabled a larger number of citizens to take advantage of the breaks intended for energy-endangered customers, and the new Regulation on energy-endangered consumers is in the process of adoption. Our expectations are that, from the current total of 70,000 electricity-endangered consumers, the number of citizens able to utilise these benefits will increase to around 200,000, while for natural gas the number of consumers able to benefit is expected to rise from the existing 70 to several thousand. Amendments to the Law on Energy have introduced the category of ‘energy-endangered consumers of heating energy’ for the first time, with the first estimates suggesting that we can expect around 20,000 citizens to receive this status.

Investments are key to Serbia’s successful energy transition and energy security, because we mustn’t forget that Serbia hasn’t built a single new thermal power plant or hydroelectric power plant in the past 30 years

We recently saw the staging of the UN Conference on Climate Change, COP26, which many consider as the most important global event, with far-reaching consequences for our collective destiny. We haven’t had many opportunities to hear about how much Serbia has kept its promises. Why is that?

Speaking at the UN’s 26th Climate Change Conference, COP26, the Serbian President emphasised Serbia’s intention to work to reduce emissions of harmful gases and invest in RES, as well as noting that our green plan is closely linked to the country’s economic stability.

This year marks a turning point for Serbia when it comes to the energy transition, as a year during which we adopted new laws, began drafting new strategic documents and created a new investment plan worth 17 billion euros.

Our strategic goals and priority investments, primarily in the construction of large HPPs and utilising the potential of RES, are aligned with the direction that the whole world is heading in, i.e., towards green energy and the struggle against climate change. With the integrated national plan for climate and energy, as well as the new strategy for the development of energy sources, we will establish the goals and scenarios that will determine the path to be taken by our energy sector over the next 30 years, both when it comes to constructing new capacities and combating climate change.

Energy transition and climate change aren’t issues confronting a single country, but rather generational issues and challenges that are being addressed by the entire planet. What’s important for the success of the overall changes are realist goals and dynamics, as well as a readiness to reach agreement on the conditions under which energy transition is conducted. I believe that – provided Serbia’s starting position is respected, realistic goals and dynamics are established and adequate financial support is secured from the EU – Serbia and our region can successfully keep pace with the EU member states in the energy transition and emerge victorious.

Is Serbia now ready to move more decisively towards reducing GHG emissions? Which of your ministry’s measures do you consider as being the most important in that context?

The energy sector isn’t the only sector that impacts on emissions of harmful gases, but it does have a large and important role to play in the overall struggle against climate change. Some activities have already been instigated, such as investments in environmental protection at the thermal power plants within the composition of EPS, which will have a significant impact on reducing emissions of harmful gases from these plants.

A stable supply of gas has been secured and the first heating plants in Serbia to use biomass as an energy source have been built, in Mali Zvornik and Priboj. We hope that other heating plants in Serbia will take the same route, or that they will switch to the use of energy sources that cause less environmental pollution. Two new programmes launched by the Ministry will also contribute to the reducing of greenhouse gas emissions. Within these programmes, the state and local governments provide citizens with co-financing of 50% for investments aimed at increasing energy efficiency, replacing doors and windows, improving insulation and replacing boilers, as well installing solar panels that will turn citizens into energy consumers and producers. We implemented this programme as a pilot project this year, while new public calls will be announced at the beginning of next year, with significantly more funds made available from the budget, but also from international financial institutions. The greatest stride forward in this area will come via the implementation of the investment plan, which practically represents the Serbian “green plan”. With the implementation of all projects included in the investment plan, we can expect annual CO2 emissions to reduce from the 53 million tons recorded in 2019 to approximately 23 million tons.

Analysis of the economic value of women’s unpaid work served as the basis for the inclusion of unpaid work in the new Law on Gender Equality, without which there can be no further creation of policies and systems of community support and services

The COP26 conference had many male speakers, while there were many women among the protestors who were on the streets expressing their concerns over the kind of world that their children will inhabit. To what extent are our green policies gender equal, both when it comes to the ministries that have jurisdiction over these topics and the management structures of the companies that should implement these changes?

Green energy transition is a process that the whole world finds itself in; a process in which many things will change and differ from the way they were before – not only when it comes to our sources of energy and the way we use energy, but also the way men and women participate in the process. Research shows that women account for 32% of employees in the RES sector worldwide.

This is less than equal participation, but it is nonetheless significantly higher than in the “more traditional” part of the energy sector, which is dependent on fossil fuels – oil, coal and gas – where women account for 22% of employees.

I believe that the “green revolution” in the energy domain is not only an opportunity to increase our energy security and gain a healthier environment, but rather also to change the image of energy as a “male” sector or an area of “men’s” jobs. This is also the path that Serbia should take, and the green energy transition is an opportunity to support women as active participants in this process, and also to open this sector up to female entrepreneurs, managers and engineers being better represented and more visible in the energy sector, and certainly for there to be more of them in decision-maker positions. Women currently account for 20% of employees at [national electric utility power company] EPS and occupy 13% of Supervisory Board and directorial positions.

The state will do its part of the job, by passing modern laws, taking the gender dimension into account when adopting new strategies, ensuring state-subsidised programmes (for replacing doors/windows and installing solar panels) are open equally to both women and men, and creating conditions for female entrepreneurs to operate in the green economy.

In terms of health crisis management policies, to what extent has the government taken into account the preserving of the gender balance when it comes to bearing the burden of the crisis?

Under crisis situations like the one currently confronting all countries of the world, women are a particularly vulnerable category. Viewed globally, 70 per cent of employees in healthcare and social protection services are women, while in Serbia alone we have more than 60,000 nurses. We owe a great debt of gratitude and encouragement to all those women who took that great burden on themselves. And that applies whether we’re talking about healthcare professionals and social workers, women who work in supermarkets, but also all those women who care for the youngest, the elderly and their households.

It was precisely during the time of the epidemic that we, in cooperation with UN Women and the British Embassy in Belgrade, conducted the first analysis of the economic value of unpaid jobs in the area of care. Thanks to this analysis, we finally know the economic value of the unpaid, unseen and unrecognised work done by women in Serbia every day of the year, working overtime, without sick leave and annual holidays. That was the first step towards the social and economic acknowledgement of that value, while it also served as the basis for the inclusion of unpaid work in the new Law on Gender Equality, without which there can be no further creation of policies and systems of community support and services.

As the Coordinating Body, we last year submitted a list of recommended actions for employers to include in their operations that will reduce the gender gap, which exists in every society, and which include – among other things – flexible working hours, job preservation, support for women who fall victim to violence or the directing of donations towards organisations that offer assistance to vulnerable categories of women.

Following the amending of regulations, I expect the current total of 70,000 electricity-endangered consumers to increase to enable around 200,000 citizens to utilise these benefits

At the beginning of this year, after a lengthy wait, we finally saw the adoption of the Law on Gender Equality. What effects has its implementation had to date, six months after it came into force?

As someone who has spent years fighting violence against women and discrimination, while also fighting to improve the standing of women and increase their inclusion in the political, economic and social life of the country, I’m proud that we finally received an umbrella document governing gender equality, after six years – as we started working to draft the new law back in 2016. Serbia has shown itself to be a mature society that wants equal conditions for women and men to work, progress and live. This is a society in which women will have equal conditions on the labour market, the same pay for the same work and opportunities to advance to the highest managerial positions, but also a society in which no woman or girl suffers from violence.

After several challenging years, during which we even encountered resistance among certain ministers, we today have a gender-responsible government in which the achieving of this gaol is not brought into question. Alongside this Law, we’ve also adopted other legal and strategic documents, including the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination, the new Gender Equality Strategy and the Strategy for Combating Gender-Based Violence, all of which represent continuity in our efforts and ensure that we now have a complete normative framework as the basis for further work.

We are seeing in some countries of the region that, even today, women are being denied some of the rights that we thought had been long since secured, such as the right to an abortion. Do you think that such debates could also be instigated in our country?

Everything that’s been happening of late, whether in Poland or Afghanistan, only testifies to how fragile gender equality and the issue of women’s rights are, and that the struggle to secure the human rights of women and girls is a painstaking and enduring process, but the only correct process. I don’t see the logic in someone finding it acceptable for part of the population – and women account for more than 50 per cent of the population – to be discriminated against, subjected to violence, denied the same employment opportunities and paid less for the same work, while actually being more educated.

And that’s without mentioning women in rural areas, single mothers and Roma women, who are victims of multiple forms of discrimination. Gender equality is not a threat, but rather a universal value and a precondition for the development of every society. When we grasp the fact that equal rights don’t imperil anyone and only such a society can prosper and progress, things will be better for all of us.

We are awaited by local, parliamentary and presidential elections next year. Do you believe Serbia could again gain a female prime minister?

Women account for more than half of Serbia’s population and there’s absolutely no reason why women shouldn’t be equally represented on electoral lists and in decision-making positions. Women are also more educated, there are more of us among doctors of science, and we have shown many times that divisions into “male” and “female” occupations are meaningless and that we can perform equally successfully in responsible positions, if not more successfully.

EQUALITY

The green energy transition is an opportunity to support women as active participants in this process, and also to open this sector up to female entrepreneurs, managers and engineers

DEVELOPMENT

The Green Agenda also represents a new development model that should bring new investments, faster economic growth, technological advancement and new jobs in the green economy

MESSAGE

My message to all women is to enter into politics courageously and to take decisions about themselves and the lives of their children, but also the generations of young women to come, into their own hands

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