Snežana Bogosavljević Bošković, Ph.D., Мinister of Agriculture & Environmental Protection:

Investing in the Future

Investing in the environment represents an investment in the future, or, more precisely, investing in the future of those who will come in the years after us. Anyone who in the future acts irresponsibly and pollutes the environment, consciously or unconsciously, will have to be aware that they are impacting on their own health and that of their children

“The environment in Serbia was painted red, denoting that many things are done in a way that is not harmonised with European policy standards in this area. In the previous period a lot has been done in terms of the environment,” says Minister Bogosavljević Bošković.

What would you place in focus at the beginning of this conversation when it comes to the state of the environment in Serbia, considering the overall picture and what the world expects from us?

First of all, we adopted a set of green laws, which form the basis for the further development of this area, while we also completed the screening for Chapter 27. What certainly constitutes one of the biggest challenges is the opening of Chapter 27, for which we have received indications that it will be without initial criteria, which will certainly represent a positive precedent.

In the period ahead we are awaited by the development of planned bylaws which will complete the transferring of legislation to that of the EU, the continued implementation of the EU regulations and the designing of specific plans for the implementation of the Directives, which requires major financial investments. Serbia, as a candidate country, has funds of the EU and the donor community at its disposal. However, the possibility to take advantage of these funds depends on the ability of the administration to adequately absorb the resources and opportunities for co-financing project activities, which is an essential condition for the approval of funds.

The basic aim of the establishment of the Green Fund is to finance the preparation, implementation and development of programmes, projects and other activities in the fields of conservation, sustainable use, protection and advancement of the environment

Serbia currently spends around 0.4% of GDP on the environment, which is almost ten times less than the European average. With this in kind, how realistic is it to expect that in the next ten years 10 billion euros will be invested in this area in order to meet the requirements of the European Union?

The Ministry is working actively to establish a sustainable system of financing and investment planning in the environmental sector. Strategic planning was raised to a higher level with the adoption of the post-screening document in September 2015, a preliminary estimate has been provided for the cost of financing “expensive” directives in the areas of water and waste management, which are also the most demanding.

Likewise, analysis has been carried out on the available financing sources, both national and international, and based on this analysis we have submitted a preliminary timeframe for the implementation of the requirements of the relevant directives, which, for example, include the Directive on waste water, which ends in 2041. This analysis implies that allocations for the environment will increase at the national level in the coming period, with a significant contribution expected primarily from EU pre-accession funds, and later cohesion and structural EU funds.

This year we also expect to see amendments to the Law on Environmental Protection and the establishment of the Green Fund. Is it possible to fully implement these regulations, given the major investments required, and has the Green Fund been devised as a mechanism for sustainable funding of the environment?

The law you mention was adopted in February this year. This law led to the establishing of the Green Fund of the Republic of Serbia, as a dedicated budget fund. In the coming period we have a lot of work is ahead of us in terms of developing the bylaw framework, but also in implementing tangible activities with the aim of developing a system of financing for the environment. In addition to this, we need to improve strategic planning, not only at the level of the environmental sector, but also at the level of macro-finance, in terms of the further integration of environmental policy into the policy of the government, as well as developing cooperation and coordination of planning and the implementation of activities in this field between all stakeholders.

The basic aim of the establishment of the Green Fund is to finance the preparation, implementation and development of programmes, projects and other activities in the fields of conservation, sustainable use, protection and advancement of the environment.

The biggest challenge in the field of water protection and management will certainly be in finding financial structures, while the experiences of countries that have already resolved the wastewater issue are certainly of great importance

Has the ministry already prepared a list of priority areas for which these funds will be earmarked?

We have formed a unique list of priority projects for the sub-sectors of waste and wastewater, and on the basis of the Methodology for the selection and prioritisation of infrastructure projects in the field of the environment. This Methodology forms the basis for evaluating the strategic importance of projects, their compliance with EU policies, IPA priorities, the national strategic framework, sectoral strategies and EU directives.

A quarter of the funds that Serbia has received from EU pre-accession funds in previous years, about 700 million euros, has been invested in the environment. What is the most important project so far financed using European funds?

IPA funds are of great significance and importance for Serbia. As the most important infrastructure projects, I can single out the project “Construction of a regional waste management system in Subotica” and the project “Constructing of a system for wastewater treatment Raška”.

Given that the least has been done on the protection and sustainable management of water – with less than 20 per cent of waste water purified in Serbia, losses in the water supply system measured in the millions of dinars and as much as a third of water lost – do we also need, alongside financial help, technical assistance from developed countries?

A lot has been done in the previous period to improve the legal framework in the field of water protection. We are also awaited by the harmonising of domestic legislation with the EU acquis, which will be completed by the end of 2018. The Draft Water Management Strategy of the Republic of Serbia also proposes the introduction of new institutional solutions.

Eight regional sanitary landfill sites are currently constructed and in operations in the Republic of Serbia (Kikinda, Lapovo, Jagodina, Užice, Pirot, Leskovac, Sremska Mitrovica, Pančevo), while there are two sanitary landfill sites in Vranje and Gornji Milanovac that are not of a regional type

In terms of wastewater treatment, in Serbian settlements with more than 2,000 inhabitants we have constructed just over 50 urban facilities, 32 of which are operational, while only eight are in accordance with project criteria, while other facilities operate with a level of efficiency that’s well below the projected level. With the support of various donors, planning and construction is underway on several facilities that are in line with EU standards. The biggest challenge in the field of water protection and management will certainly be in finding financial structures, while the experiences of countries that have already resolved the wastewater issue are certainly of great importance.

Serbia possesses several regional sanitary landfill sites which contain a lot of material that could be recycled. When it comes to the implementation of the Law on Packaging and Packaging Waste, does the government intend to include the authorities at all levels, citizens, operators, recyclers, collectors, and other utilities companies, thereby developing a new branch of industry?

Eight regional sanitary landfill sites are currently constructed and in operations in the Republic of Serbia (Kikinda, Lapovo, Jagodina, Užice, Pirot, Leskovac, Sremska Mitrovica, Pančevo), while there are two sanitary landfill sites in Vranje and Gornji Milanovac that are not of a regional type. Four regional landfill sites are organised through public-private partnership (Kikinda, Lapovo, Jagodina and Leskovac).

A small percentage of waste – 19 per cent, or 420,000 tonnes – is currently disposed of at the landfill sites I mentioned. We expect the completion of another two regional landfill sites in Inđija and Subotica, which will increase the percentage of waste disposed of at sanitary landfill sites to 25-30 per cent.

The annual quantity of packaging waste in Serbia is estimated at about 362,000 tonnes. It is estimated that packaging waste accounts for about 14.8% of all municipal waste. The aim of the adoption of the Law on Packaging Waste was to ensure the reuse and recycling of packaging waste in an economically efficient manner. All the national targets set have been met, with a level of recycling of packaging waste of 19.95% achieved.

In general, the system of separated collection and recycling of packaging waste represents one of the priorities, along with the preparing of citizens through educational campaigns.

It is planned to amend the Law on Packaging in 2017.

The Government of Serbia has shown a willingness to participate in the Global agreement on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases in order to mitigate climate change. How much can Serbia contribute at the global level?

The total emissions of the Republic of Serbia do not contribute significantly to the global total. Thus, reducing emissions at the national level, no matter how significant that may be, cannot contribute greatly to the reduction of global emissions. At the same time, participation in this global Agreement has great significance from the aspect of demonstrating our readiness to participate effectively in international flows and cooperation, but also to adapt the national economy to global standards and trends.

An international meeting of the UN Convention on the Protection of the Climate was held in Paris late last year and resulted in the reaching of an international consensus. What are the main conclusions of this meeting?

The agreement defines the obligations for all Member States, up to and including the period after 2020, through the concrete implementation of activities aimed at reducing emissions of greenhouse gases that will ensure the growth of the global medium temperature is limited to well below two degrees Celsius, with a tendency to limit the increase in the global medium temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

In addition to reducing emissions, the Agreement also includes adjustment to altered climatic conditions and the financing of mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, as well as capacity building and the development and transfer of technology. The need for financial assistance from developed countries to developing countries, in order to help them fulfil their obligations and meet their goals, has also been clearly defined.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection has prepared a draft law on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Does this law oblige us to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 9.8% by 2030? Which industries most require a reduction in emissions and how much will that cost?

The provisions of the law does not regulate a specific target when it comes to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases at the national level, but this Law is a “tool” in the reducing of emissions and, of course, monitoring the levels and changes in emissions at an annual level, including emissions from both power plants and industrial facilities.

The provisions of this law are designed in accordance with the requirements of the EU’s system of trade in emissions reduction units of greenhouse gases, defined by the EU acquis, which simultaneously prescribes sectors in which the reduction of emissions is regulated. According to the EU directive, these are the sectors of industry and energy and they regard activities related to the production of heat and electrical energy, oil refining, the production of coal, iron and steel, the production and processing of metals, aluminium, tree pulp, tiles, bricks, building blocs, nitric acid, ammonia and so forth.

This year will also see the completion of the Second National Communication. What do we gain from this document?

Creating a national communication is one of our obligations towards the international community, namely, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. This document provides highlights on plans for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as options for adapting to shifting climatic conditions. It identifies opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, improvements and changes in technologies and practices that can lead to that, influences of climate change on sectors such as water, agriculture and forestry, and the measures that can be taken in order to turn negative influences into gains.

The environment is a very demanding sector, but also an investment in the future. How much should Serbia invest in ensuring a cleaner future, and what is realistic in that sense?

Any investment in environmental protection will become economically profitable, and that includes investments in recycling, renewable energy, waste management, utilities.

As a direct response to the global crisis in the structure of sustainable development, the policies of “green growth” and the “green economy” have been created in order to contribute to achieving sustainable development and optimal management of the environment and social equality. The Green Economy refers to the wide use of renewable resources and energy sources, increasing energy efficiency, but also on the development and implementation of sustainable organic agriculture. All of this results in the creation of new “green” jobs that are related directly to the environment and the launching of so-called overall “green” economic growth.