We are determined in our intentions to systematically and consistently resolve environmental issues and participate actively in all regional and global activities that contribute to resolving climate challenges. The current pandemic has only led to us determining that we’ve been messing dangerously with planet Earth
At the time of this global pandemic, the human health issue of the Covid virus has ensured the issue of the planet’s health is more relevant than ever, says Goran Trivan, Minister of Environmental Protection of the Republic of Serbia.
“A simple truth has resounded – that we need a healthy planet in order for us to also be healthy. And a harsh pandemic has stripped bare the fact that everything on planet Earth is connected, and that a problem in any part of the planet can quickly become a problem for the whole world,” says our interlocutor.
“We’ve alienated ourselves from planet Earth. We “pay” for the advancement of our civilisation, which has been dependent on fossil fuel technologies and energy over the last two hundred years, through increasing pollution and the concentration of greenhouse gases, with long-term effects on climate, biodiversity and the environment, which has a direct impact on our health,” says Minister Trivan.
“Warnings are being issued almost worldwide that economic recovery following the pandemic cannot be separated from the climate and environmental issues. We hear messages and calls, emanating from both the UN’s highest representatives to the governments of all countries – to withhold financial assistance to industries that destroy the planet and to target economic solutions to climate change – and from the world’s environmental organisations, calling for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be amended to include the (universal) right to a healthy natural environment, upon which man and all life on Earth depend”.
Will humanity end its self-destruction and provide an opportunity for recovery and progress, relying on innovative technologies, a green economy and environmental protection?
– “The coming months will show whether we, as a civilisation, have stepped into a healthier, better and more humane future. Experience tells me that, as a civilisation, we haven’t been glorious in drawing lessons from the mistakes we’ve made…,” says CorD’s interlocutor.
After several alarming news items about the level of pollution in various urban and industrial centres of Serbia, citizens began monitoring the air quality on a daily basis. What does your ministry intend to do to ensure citizens are provided with truthful and timely information?
– From the first day of the founding of the Ministry, we’ve been speaking publicly about all environmental problems, raising the attention of the general public, given that citizens have the right to know what kind of environment they live in, and with an awareness that we will not be able to preserve and improve the environment without the help of the media, civil society and citizens. Testifying to the fact that we’ve succeeded in that is the raising and constant presence of the topic of the importance of environmental protection among the public and in the media.
The solution to air pollution caused by the thermal power and industrial sectors, city heating plants, especially individual boiler rooms and transport, is in the removal of the causative agent and that’s a multi-sector job. Bearing witness to this is the composition and activities of the Working Group for Air Protection, which was set up by the Government of Serbia.
However, the Ministry has certainly already taken measures within its jurisdiction: we are preparing an Air Strategy together with international organisations; we are providing subsidies for the purchase of electric and hybrid vehicles; we have forested 281 hectares in local municipalities, assisted municipalities in the development and implementation of air quality plans, increased allocations for monitoring air quality and opened two new measuring stations, as well as conducting 177 oversight inspections and the control of pollutants over the last two years, submitting reports for infractions and economic misconduct.
The Ministry is active both in the legislative field and in creating specific prerequisites for improving the environment in Serbia, such as afforestation
Alongside all of this, the Ministry proposes: subsidising the installation of LPG or KPG devices in 100,000 used cars and 10% of public transport vehicles, connecting district heating and gas pipeline facilities, replacing individual boilers with heat pumps that use petro-geothermal energy and groundwater for 150,000 households, the production and installation of filters for the purification of gases emitted from individual combustion plants, banning the import of vehicles with euro 3 and 4 engines.
It is important to reiterate that air quality data at all measuring points are available to the public at all times, but that in these new circumstances, all authorities – from local to national – must inform the public in different ways. It is important that health institutions publicly advise citizens on how to behave.
Every local government must have plans on how to deal with the problem of pollutants and how to react in such situations – how to regulate traffic, what vehicles are allowed to be on the streets and which aren’t, what citizens should do to protect their health etc.
Early March saw the launch of a major afforestation programme for Serbia. How many trees do we need and in which ways are we involved in the European process of creating a green continent?
– With the planned launch of a large afforestation action with “Exit”, Serbia may have the ambition to increase its level of forestation to 40 per cent and to initiate the extending of this activity to the region, as the most efficient and simplest way to mitigate climate change. Serbia has begun making changes in the environment, is determined to effectively address environmental issues through systematic and consistent measures, and is engaged actively in all regional and global activities that contribute to resolving climate challenges.
We have drafted a number of projects, prepared ourselves for the “Serbia 2025” Investment Plan, which also envisages investments in the field of wastewater, sent a negotiating position to Brussels for Chapter 27, finalised and submitted for procedures the Draft Law on Climate Change. In the capacity of vice-presidents, we participate in the work of UNEA -5 and COP-26, and the Ministerial Conference of South and Southeast European Countries was held in Belgrade, which had regional and international significance in seeking solutions to environmental problems.
There is no doubt that the new European Commission and its first priority – the historic Green Deal – is also of key importance to us.
Regulations regarding the use of single-use disposable plastic bags have changed since the beginning of the year. How satisfied are you with the results?
Since the beginning of our action, which was aimed at redirecting attention, raising awareness, changing the habits of citizens and finding an alternative solution for plastic bags, their use has so far been reduced by over 70%. Tha’s a major step towards better environmental protection and less pollution with this type of waste. Amendments to the Law on Waste Management and Additional Activities will give powers to local self-government units to prescribe the use, reduction or prohibition of plastic bags, as well as to discard waste arising from their use.
To your knowledge, how many companies are involved in CSR activities aimed at protecting the environment and how does the Ministry cooperate with them?
– The Ministry cooperates actively with all companies that demonstrate socially responsible behaviour and operate in ways that protect the environment, particularly in reducing or eliminating pollution and switching to clean technologies. It is important when making strategic decisions that an increasing number of companies carry out environmental impact assessments and anticipate measures to prevent or mitigate adverse impacts. In accordance with Chapter 27, the implementation of which awaits us in the process of European integration, companies are directed to align their production and operations with environmental requirements, in order to compete on the European and world markets and to protect the environment.
You recently said that negotiations have been ongoing about disposing of disposable plastic. This will certainly put some manufacturers at risk, as well as when it comes to carrier bags. How do you approach these changes and what are the options for manufacturers to move to organic packaging?
The implementation of this European directive will lead to an additional, if necessary, reduction of pollution and the adverse impact of plastics and micro-plastics on health and the environment. Serbia will therefore implement this directive as soon as possible. We will help companies adapt their businesses as easily as possible, convinced that our common goal is a healthy environment.
You’ve also announced that a deposit system is being prepared for plastic and other recyclable packaging waste of its kind. When can we expect it to become fully operational?
With the introduction of the deposit system, we expect to collect at least 90% of packaging waste. In this way, we will clean Serbia of packaging waste, protect the environment and the health of citizens, increase the volume of recycling and contribute to the development of the circular economy. Every citizen will benefit from the introduction of this system. The draft amendment to the Law on Packaging and Packaging Waste has passed a public debate and we will implement it after its adoption.