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How To Turn A Pandemic Into An Opportunity

In its latest assessment, the UNDP in Serbia recognises the good and timely response of the Serbian government to the first impact of COVID-19. The report also suggests that the country should use the COVID crisis as an opportunity to accelerate its transition to a green economy.

The good news is that many of the targets related to Serbia achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are already written in our EU accession process. Yet despite the comprehensive policy framework guiding our path to EU membership, Serbia still needs clearer strategies and realistic and tightly written action plans related to many of the SDGs.

One of the most important questions is how we want our economy, society and environment to work and look like by 2030. Serbia indeed faces many human development and environmental challenges. A few of the SDGs speak about that. When it comes to Serbia’s assets and constraints related to inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic growth, SDG 9 (focusing on infrastructure, industrialisation and innovation), 7 (energy), parts of SDG 6 (water management), 12 (sustainable production and consumption), and 15 (forests and biodiversity) are largely interconnected.

For example, Serbia has human capital in the engineering/technical sectors, which are sine qua non for the development of a productive, sustainable and high value added industry. However, these resources are relatively scarce and are not deployed well to serve the growth of the domestic economy. Most of our export-orientated products and investments at present are in the medium-low to medium-high technology range.

Energy policies are particularly complex. First, we are highly energy inefficient. Existing hydrocarbon reserves will be exhausted soon after 2030, while green energy resources are not well developed.

Short and long-term recovery solutions have to increase the well-being of people and create a healthy environment

There is a need to develop more sustainable production and consumption patterns, based on the premises of the circular economy, as well as adequate policies related to climate change. Yet we are still in the very infancy in both aspects.

Related to that, waste management presents a major challenge for Serbia. There are an estimated 3,000 wild waste disposal dumps, with only 20% of municipal waste not ending up at municipal landfill sites.

Turning the page will require tremendous effort. As we learned throughout this publication, a number of different initiatives are underway. Some important strategies, such as those related to smart specialisation, artificial intelligence and industry development, are already there and contain specific goals leading to the development of the circular economy. They are also tightly woven into other policies related to addressing environmental challenges, climate change and related issues.

Many economies that are much stronger and better developed are still struggling with the same issues, which have been further exacerbated by the pandemic. But there is no way back. As the UNDP Socio-Economic Impact Assessment suggests, more support to green businesses is of key importance for health and environment, but also for ensuring the competitiveness of Serbian companies in the EU and on other markets. 

Slađana Prica, retired ambassador, member of the Forum for International Relations and honorary president of the UNA of Serbia

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