Serbia is awaited by a huge job in the years ahead when it comes to advancing environmental protection, and some of the most important moves will be made this year. We are in a position – with the support of not only the countries of the region but also the entire UNEP – for Serbia to be at the forefront and part of the most important initiatives in the fight for the health of the planet at the global, planetary level
Serbia is facing numerous challenges in maintaining a healthy environment, but the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 4) simultaneously recognised the country’s contribution to regional and global efforts to reach the goals set out in Agenda 2030. Following the organising of the Ministerial Conference “Innovative Solutions for Reducing Pollution in Southeast and South Europe,” which was held in Belgrade late last year, Serbia was elected as one of the vice-president countries for the next UNEA-5 session, which will be held in 2021. At the same time, the Ministry of Environmental Protection is coordinating activities that contribute to fulfilling Goal 13, on climate change, in accordance with the obligations accepted under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Paris Agreement, as well as Goal 15 of the
Sustainable Development Goals of Agenda 2030 – Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
On the domestic front, Serbia has begun the process of establishing a strategic-legislative framework for combatting climate change that’s harmonised with European climate legislation and the obligations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement.
“Included within the scope of the National Strategy for Waste Management, which is currently being drafted, will also be the principles of the circular economy, as well as preventative measures for environmental protection and reducing the consequences of climate change,” said Environmental Protection Minister Goran Trivan. “We are taking decisive steps in the area of waste management, from the improvement of legislation, securing of funds for the construction of lacking infrastructure, the use of EU funds for infrastructure projects, to incentives in the area of recycling.”
You’ve announced the adoption of the Law on Climate Change and development of the first National Strategy for Combatting Climate Change with its Action Plan. What does this Law provide?
– This year will see the creation of the first National Strategy for Combatting Climate Change, with an associated action plan, with which the establishment of a strategic and political framework for combatting climate change will be initiated. Within the scope of this Strategy, priority measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and 2050 will be identified in relevant sectors – energy, agriculture, industry, waste management, transport and forestry. The jurisdictions of institutions will be clarified, along with a time- frame for the implementation of certain measures, as well as the necessary financial resources, which will create the conditions for increasing economic competitiveness in line with the requirements of the European market. Alongside a strategic framework, Serbia is establishing – for the first time – a legislative framework for combatting climate change. The Law on Climate Change, which is an umbrella piece of legislation that’s very complex, establishes a system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to altered climatic conditions, creating conditions for the sustainable economic development of the country and reducing risks, damage and losses caused by elemental and natural disasters and catastrophes.
We’ve strategically approached sustainable development through the preparation of the National Strategy for Combatting Climate Change, the establishing of national goals in the area of biodiversity and through the drafting of a strategic-legislative framework for waste management
How much do you have available in terms of funding and what can Serbia really do with that?
– We’re already paying a high price for not caring for the environment; the bill is huge. I will note just a few statistics – in Serbia there are around 4,000 ‘wild’ [unregulated] landfill sites in Serbia and only 7.8% of wastewater is processed, which is unacceptable. According to the data of the World Health Organisation, 6,500 people die annually in Serbia due to air pollution. We have ourselves to blame for the state of our environment being like it is. Now we have an opportunity to change this by reaching the European standards of Chapter 27.
The draft negotiating position was prepared at least a year earlier than planned and will most likely be adopted by year’s end. Serbia is on the right track. I received that confirmation from European Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella in our conversation in Bucharest during the Informal Meeting of Ministers of EU member states on 20th May, where I led our country’s delegation.
Harmonisation with European environmental standards implies high initial costs, but saves money over the longer term, stimulates economic growth and employment and – most importantly – improves quality of life for our citizens. Environmental protection has been recognised as being among the areas with the greatest potential for investing in our country. The most important goal of our ministry is to compile project/technical documentation for the construction of regional landfills and wastewater treatment plants. Without that, it is not possible to launch construction works even on projects for which funds have already been secured. Along with our 450 million dinars for the preparation of documentation for wastewater treatment plants and 200 million dinars for the rehabilitation of landfill sites, we also expect 200 million euros of credit from the Council of Europe Development Bank for projects in the domain of the environment.
Serbia must no longer be the country of the region which allocates the lowest budget resources for environmental protection. Those allocations must be at least 1.2 or 1.4% of GDP, while they now stand at 0.34% of GDP. In cooperation with the Ministry of Finance, works will be intensified on the establishment of sustainable funding for the activities of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the establishing the full capacities of the Green Fund, which would be an investment mechanism for launching ecological development.
What is your ministry’s assessment of the impact of climate change on Serbia’s economic growth?
– Serbia and the countries of this part of Europe will be among the most threatened regions of the world in climatic terms in the coming years. Serbia has, in previous years, already faced several significant extreme climatic and weather conditions that have led to losses in human life and total material damage exceeding a value of five billion euros. More than 70% of losses are associated with drought and high temperatures. The most vulnerable sectors are human health, agriculture, forestry, hydrology and water resources, as presented in the scope of the Second Report of the Republic of Serbia according to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which also includes proposed measures to adapt these sectors to altered climatic conditions.
With this in mind, how stimulating is the framework being created by the state in that sense? For example, we still haven’t seen the state declare insurance against flood damage or weather disasters as compulsory. Why?
– This issue doesn’t come under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, but we are nevertheless working intensively on linking the issue of combatting climate change with reductions in the risk of elemental disasters and catastrophes. We are working on the application of new legal provisions regarding natural disaster risk assessments, both at the national and local levels, including the mapping of risk. We believe that such assessments will be a good basis for making informed decisions about the type of insurance that is most appropriate.
With the support of the Global Environment Fund and the UN Development Programme, you are implementing the project “Local Development Resistant to Climate Change”. How interested and capable are local governments when it comes to delivering what’s expected of them?
– We are successfully implementing this project, which is an opportunity for municipalities, the business sector, civil society organisations and the scientific research community to combine forces in responding to the challenges of climate change, safeguarding the lives of people and providing encouragement to economic development through innovative solutions. Local self-governments have expressed great interest since the launch of the Public Call. Some 15 local self-governments applied for the Open Data Challenge, with eight of them receiving an award for innovation, while 16 applied for the Innovation Ideas Challenge and two municipalities received awards, while the awarded municipalities were joined by another two at the incubation stage.
The problem of waste is perhaps Serbia’s most visible and most widespread ecological problem. Do you think the solution for Vinča is the right way for us to respond to resolve the waste management issue?
– We are working on a new Waste Management Strategy and are collaborating closely with local self-governments and regions on the formulating of new solutions and the eliminating of obstacles and problems. The model of the solution in Vinča, which is a private-public partnership, represents a model good practise example and a world-class project that will bring the best solution to Belgrade and bring order to the issue of waste, and I consider it is an example that can be applied by other regions.
For the first time after 30 years, we have an opportunity to launch work on the design of 359 wastewater treatment systems and around twenty regional landfill sites
What are practical experiences like to date when it comes to charging for disposable plastic bags, and what effects do you expect from the repurchase of PET packaging?
– The campaign of charging for plastic bags is focused on raising public awareness and public attention regarding the problem of plastic pollution. This is just part of solving the issues of bringing order to all waste streams. In communication with the largest retail chains and associations of retailers, which started charging for plastic bags last year, and with the support of citizens, civil society and the media, we succeeded in securing cooperation and understanding for this problem, which resulted in an 80% reduction in their production.
We are also determined to address the issue of PET packaging. After an expert debate, we will formulate a proposal for a new system that will be the best solution for Serbia.
A large number of experts have stated clearly that the energy benefits of mini-hydropower plants (MHPPs) are minimal, while the environmental consequences are devastating. What else does the country need in order to end this practice?
– Mini hydropower plants cause damage to the biological balance, especially on small watercourses that are almost streams, and we consider it necessary to ban their construction in the most valuable areas of Serbia. Many countries of the world and the region have abandoned the construction of mini-hydro hubs. The Ministry is preparing an amendment to the Nature Protection Act with which we are proposing the prohibiting of their construction in protected areas. The idea is that those MHPPs that have already been constructed in accordance with regulations to continue functioning, provided they were constructed in a technically sound way, and for corrections to be made if they were not. Those who still want to build may continue to do so in unprotected areas, and we would protect the most valuable parts of our nature from further devastation, in a biological, hydrological and geomorphological sense.
Serbia and the countries of this part of Europe will be among the most threatened regions of the world in climatic terms in the coming years
The ministry carries out various activities, the most important of which is afforestation, in order to preserve biodiversity, because that is a question of preserving the future of Serbia
It is necessary to urgently strengthen the institutional and administrative capacities of the Ministry, as well as its financial capacities and mechanisms