With the ratifying of the Paris Agreement and the Energy Community Treaty, as well as the recent signing of the Sofia Declaration [on the Green Agenda], we, as a country, have committed ourselves to implementing the provisions of these documents. Despite numerous regulations and strategies related to these areas having been adopted or improved, all the pain points of decarbonisation remain almost at a standstill
The conflict in Ukraine has prompted some analysts to suspect that the European countries that decided to gradually shut down their thermal power plants will now revise those policies, for security reasons. That’s why the first question we posed to Dr Aleksandar Jovović, professor at the University of Belgrade’s Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, is how the current energy crisis could impact on green energy transition policies, both globally and here in Serbia.
“Galvanised by the consequences of climate change and the acceleration of this global phenomenon to a point of no return to the world we know, numerous countries, movements and companies, but of course also individuals, have embarked on the journey to carbon neutrality. The speed at which this unfolds may vary, but it is not “lightly promised”. These changes were preceded by numerous technical/economic analyses, feasibility studies, political debates, but primarily scientific research work in coop eration with economic players. It was only then that the decisions of the EU and other forward-thinking countries followed, which were subsequently made official, in many ways, at the so-called COP 26 UN Conference held in Glasgow 2021, through decisions and initiatives like ending the use of coal, which includes 160 countries, and the Global Methane Initiative, as well as the initiative for new agriculture.
Nuclear energy has been presented as a potential avenue, but renewable energy sources and hydrogen are still the future. Decarbonisation efforts have also been joined by China and India. Research also shows the full magnitude of this process, in which the transition to low-carbon technology for cleaner production in the global north is currently unfolding to environmental and social detriment of the global south and, as such, decarbonisation is neither sustainable nor renewable,” explains Dr Jovović, continuing: “on top of all that, wars, like the assault on Ukraine, and energy problems from around a year ago, lead in every case to the achieving of decarbonisation goals being called into question, but they do not stop the process, and the launching a coal-fired TPP is only the temporary utilising of secured state reserves, planned simultaneously with the planning of decarbonisation, and not the recommissioning of previously abandoned powerplants, which should be seriously discerned”.
Serbia’s polluters also include the energy system and citizens who burn raw brown coal, tyres and various types of waste. In that sense, would it be good to view energy policies in parallel with the adjusting of social policy measures?
Both sources of air pollution and types of polluting components have changed over the last hundred years or so, along with the phenomena that they have caused, i.e., acidification and nitrification, ozone depletion, emissions of enduring organic components, climate change, and the impacts and consequences of a loss of labour productivity, through losses of sources of water and soil and drought, to a direct impact on health and the reducing of life expectancy. Energy and industry measures implemented in the EU have led to huge reductions in emissions, but our country’s heating energy sector remains the largest source of air pollution, emitting hundreds of thousands of tons of sulphur or millions of tons of carbon dioxide annually. However, individual fireboxes remain the worst cause of air pollution in local areas. A huge problem is represented by the burning of raw lignite, which leads to the emission of soot, sulphur and – with favourable meteorological conditions – unbelievably frequent occurrences of industrial and photochemical smog. In addition to all of that, the combustion of waste materials in unsuitable fireboxes equally leads to fires at landfill sites, emissions of lasting organic pollution components that are highly resistant to the natural environment and extremely harmful to human health (toxic, potentially carcinogenic and mutagenic).
Decarbonisation is an irreversible process, thus today we are witnessing a new industrial revolution, because just as the 19th century was the century of steel, the 20th century was the century of coal and oil and gas, this is the century of new technological solutions that are primarily achievable through the circular economy and smart specialisation
Poverty prevents the further expansion of the district heating network or the gasification of settlements, but the gradual ending of the use of fossil fuels, on the one hand, and the educating of the population, on the other, will inevitably lead to improvement, but the problem won’t come close to being resolved as long as there is raw coal to burn in households and as long as poverty compels citizens to burn various waste items, and the Air Quality Programme, which forms an integral part of the Economic Reform Programme for the 2022-2024 period, as well as other strategies and programmes at all levels of government, will remain a dead letter.
One of the objectives of the TeRRIFICA project that you’re participating in is to recognise and collect citizens’ knowledge and conclusions regarding the challenges posed by climate change in six pilot regions in Spain, Germany, France, Serbia, Poland and Belarus. What kinds of parallels and conclusions can be drawn from the results collected to date?
The TeRRIFICA project, which includes the participation of the Centre for the Promotion of Science, is a research project being conducted within the scope of the Horizon 2020 programme Science With and for Society (SWAFS). Under the auspices of this project, six pilot regions invited their citizens to contribute to the research, the results of which will become a key element of plans for adapting to climate change, which should lead to institutional and strategic changes.
The active involvement of citizens is more than evident – not only when it comes to mapping climate challenges in their own cities, but rather also in actively offering and implementing shared solutions (co-creation). The project developed a tool in the form of a map, which helped provide citizens with an opportunity to participate in both the research and the identifying of innovative solutions. Belgrade’s residents have been particularly active, which is why the city of Belgrade has the largest number of suggestions and ideas included in the project.
Who can apply pressure on public policymakers for them to be implemented at the national and local levels? In this context, what does the opening of Cluster 4 mean, but also the revolt of citizens on the streets?
The mega-projects that formed the engine of social development in the not-so-distant past, such as, for example, the construction of hydroelectric powerplants requiring the flooding and relocating of settlements and archaeological sites, are today no longer possible in the same way. People’s awareness of their own desire to live in a healthy and conserved environment, while preserving their cultural heritage, even at the expense of development, which emerged as a result of living in free-thinking communities, has also led to new technological solutions.
EU citizens actually understood before anyone else the need for changes in the field of environmental protection and climate change, but they also understood the need to further develop society technologically. Pressure on politicians from citizens, as well as several court decisions, led to the formation of a cross-border carbon mechanism [Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM)] on the EU’s external borders.
With the ratifying of the Paris Agreement and the Energy Community Treaty, as well as the recent signing of the Sofia Declaration [on the Green Agenda], we, as a country, have committed ourselves to implementing the provisions of these documents. And, despite great delays and many omissions, several regulations and strategies related to these areas have been adopted or improved. However, all the pain points of decarbonisation remain almost at a standstill, such as the provisions of the EU Green Deal, the failure to even adopt a low-carbon development strategy, the overdue national plan for energy and climate, the energy strategy, and the lack of a comprehensive economic development strategy. The transposing of European legislation, and behaving as though we’re an EU member state, is something that we accepted ourselves, when realising in one moment of clarity during our development that this represents the best solution for the future of Serbia, despite the flaws and negative aspects of every community, including this one. We have accordingly committed ourselves to achieving climate neutrality by 2050, monitored through the determining of targets for 2030 and the further harmonising of regulations in the field of GHG trading, as well as the drafting of an adaptation strategy and reporting on the way it is to be implemented. The opening of Cluster 4 is just a small gesture of affection, but also a great warning to those in government in the Republic of Serbia regarding their faults and what we need to do – not if we want membership, but rather if we want to be part of a community of advanced, developed, socially responsible nations, where the rule of law guarantees survival.
The opening of Cluster 4 is just a small gesture of affection, but also a great warning to those in government in the Republic of Serbia regarding their faults and what we need to do – not if we want membership, but rather if we want to be part of a community of advanced, developed, socially responsible nations, where the rule of law guarantees survival
You consider wastewater treatment and waste management as representing the biggest problem. To what extent do government measures that are currently being implemented in this area represent an adequate response to solving this problem?
The programme for waste management over the next 10-year period has been adopted, an action plan is being drafted, the sludge management programme is being finalised, the circular economy strategy is underway, Serbia has a smart specialisation strategy, Belgrade has adopted its waste management plan, as a continuation of the plan from 2010, the city’s action plan for the management of construction and demolition waste has been adopted, and the Science Fund and Innovation Fund are providing attractive amounts of funding to finance projects in these areas. The City of Belgrade’s Regional Waste Management Centre of the City of Belgrade is in the final phase, a new landfill site is operating, a plant for construction waste, and for the first time a waste-powered thermal powerplant will soon start operating there, as though we’re in Vienna or Oslo.
Many local governments are opting for varying forms of recycling and treatment, utilising national and international funds, albeit to insufficient extent. And all of this seems to be outstanding. So, where’s the problem; why aren’t we already at least like the worse EU member states? The problem was, and still is, in the failure to implement regulations, because implement is a bad, non-populist measure. And it required more than 10 years to grasp that there must nonetheless be implementation; that this pollution isn’t only ours, that it overflows beyond our borders and that can’t be done, and that we can also even earn and employ from, or on, waste, and that things can be better for everyone. It is now important for the secured funds to be utilised correctly, in a controlled manner, without theft, which everyone refers to euphemistically as corruption, and for the system and plants constructed to be managed according to the letter of the law.
Decarbonisation certainly won’t be lacking in 2050, and it mustn’t be, because the consequences would be huge, and we’re already feeling them significantly ourselves, especially in this region
The Air Quality Programme will not yield results as long as there is raw coal on the market to burn in households, and as long as poverty compels citizens to burn various waste items
We haven’t adopted a low-carbon development strategy, the national plan for energy and climate is overdue, and we don’t even have a comprehensive economic development strategy