The authorities – including the government – need to be resolute in choosing long-term environmental strategies to make Serbia a model country when it comes to environmental protection, which I hope will happen before 2035
Our interviewee, Vladimir Janković Ph.D., professor of the history of science at the University of Manchester, once shot a documentary series for the UK’s Discovery TV network with which he proved the influence of meteorological conditions on history’s biggest battles. Climate change is often mentioned today as one of the greatest security risks that will create, among other things, climate refugees.
Is this already happening to us and, in the general constellation, what does it mean for Serbia?
Climate change emerged as a security issue in the 1970s, after scientists argued that the likely consequences of global warming will have a major, long-term impact on world agriculture. Following up on the food crises during the early 1970s, scientists were increasingly wary of the possibility that changing climate could lead to a world characterised by diverging paths of economic development, a world of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. During the ‘80s and beyond, the ‘securitisation’ of climate change expanded to the domains of natural resources, health and even national security and trade in general. I have published on reasons why we need to recognise that climate change is an economic security issue, in addition to being an environmental threat. More recent studies have shown that some of the recent crises are complex, multi-layered phenomena in which climate acts as a ’risk-multiplier’, but not the sole cause.
For a large number of Serbian citizens, climate change remains an issue of faraway natural disasters that “cannot happen here”, while on the other hand we read that Serbia is actually one of the countries hardest hit by climate change. Which of these is true and where can we observe them?
When analysing the alleged lack of public interest in climate change in Serbia – or the presumed lack of its ‘visibility’ – we need to remember the vast spatial/temporal scale at which climatic changes take place. Policymakers are additionally aware of economic scales, i.e., how long it takes to wean the economy off fossil fuels. Bracketing for a moment short-term, high-impact weather events like floods, storms or droughts, the general public cannot, in fact, directly experience climate change, nor can it assess the meaning of the interannual variability of its impacts on ecosystems, resources and society. And because Serbia will experience more ‘weather on steroids’ for a conceivably long time, communicating climate risks to the public, businesses and authorities remains a central priority in democratic policymaking.
Serbia will experience more ‘weather on steroids’ for a conceivably long time. As such, communicating climate risks to the public, businesses and authorities remains a central priority in democratic policymaking
One question that always imposes itself is what a single country can do alone in an area that actually requires a global turnaround? What can be done within Serbia’s national borders that would be meaningfully visible and sustainable?
Under intergovernmental agreements, countries have committed to emission targets. As Serbia is expected to implement the Paris Agreement and act in accordance with EU 2030 Framework of Climate and Energy Policies, the National Assembly has adopted the Climate Change Act, which does not yet specify mitigation targets. This task will be undertaken as part of the Low Carbon Development Strategy. In order to understand why there are incentives for individual countries to work towards meeting emission targets, one needs to understand that the medium-term benefits of the use of fossil fuels will in reality – and as a result of ongoing changes in the energy market and regulatory mechanisms – create expensive delays in meeting the long-term Sustainable Development Goals and diminish economic competitiveness and the social co-benefits of climate action. There has never been a worse time to procrastinate!
We see that many cities are struggling to regulate their green areas and are turning to natural possibilities for ventilating cities. In that context, how do you view the construction projects underway in Serbian cities?
Urban greening is a global trend. Coalitions of world cities have been set up to share best practices and Belgrade became a member of the European Bank’s Green Cities Network in 2018, adopting the Green City Action Plan. These are excellent developments. However, the key problem facing all cities is in their capacity to address tensions between development and environmental protection. In order to reduce this tension, best practices in land use and construction should be promoted to showcase the benefits of urban greening to both citizens and other stakeholders. Luckily, most Serbian towns have the advantage of being relatively small in size and with easy access to amenities.
There are limits to what individuals can do. In theory, one can recommend avoiding driving cars, encourage riding bikes, using the train to visit the Adriatic, removing beef from one’s diet, becoming more energy efficient, planting a tree and so on
What, on the other side, can individuals do? You recently wrote that individuals, despite the best will, don’t have great possibilities to contribute to reducing the overall “carbon footprint”?
True. There are limits to what individuals can do. In theory, one can recommend avoiding driving cars, encourage riding bikes, using the train to visit the Adriatic, removing beef from one’s diet, becoming more energy efficient, planting a tree and so on. But we need to remember that these activities need to be convenient and streamlined, and to have a financial aspect. Indeed, paying more to be green is not an option for most. This is why, unless there is a price signal in making these activities attractive to the majority, climate-friendliness will remain voluntary and its effects minimal. The whole culture of middle-class ’comfort’ and ’status’ needs to change for there to be measurable emission reductions.
Where does that leave us as a country and citizens who’ve recognised environmental pollution as one of the greatest threats to the health and well-being of citizens?
A change in consumer culture is key, yet it is not easy to accomplish. ‘Nudging’ uses attractive examples of green practices that are hoped to entice people to adopt them. Introducing stricter regulations and fees may not find voters’ support. Selling greener appliances at competitive prices may still be a matter for the future. However, regardless of specifics, the authorities – including the government – need to be resolute in choosing long-term environmental strategies to make Serbia a model country in environmental protection – which I hope will happen before 2035.