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Let’s Protect The Planet

NALED offers expert support in achieving optimised solutions, conducting various initiatives and projects in the fields of environmental protection, the use of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency, as well as on healthcare advances

Here we speak with the director of NALED’s Sustainable Development Department, Slobodan Krstović, about the use of natural resources, environmental protection, building communities that are sustainable over the long-term, climate change, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, socially responsible companies, measures, strategies and projects that will help us protect and preserve the planet.

If we take as our starting point the definition of sustainable development as development that satisfies present needs without jeopardising the ability of future generations to satisfy their own needs, a question arises over what we leave behind as a legacy to future generations. How much have we done on this front?

— We are striving to ensure that we don’t leave them with fewer resources than we have today. And here I’m not only referring to the finite resources that we are constantly losing, but also the renewable ones that we are currently placing under great pressure due to the influence of pollution, climate change and global warming. We haven’t done enough, and testifying to this claim is the fact that we entered into a state of “environmental indebtedness” at the beginning of August, i.e., that we consumed what nature needs a year to replenish in just the first seven months of the year.

Through its cooperation with businesses, academic institutions and decisionmakers at the national and local levels, NALED offers expert support in achieving the most optimal solutions that are applicable. Within the scope of our working bodies, we take advantage of the expertise of our members, couched in the context of current events and sustainable development trends, and provide decisionmakers with a balanced and applicable solution.

We have seen increased interest in issues related to the environment over recent years. Have significant strides towards solving such issues been taken?

— The process ahead of us is a long one, which is why it might seem as though no major strides have been achieved, but we must be patient in achieving all the defined goals. Certain progress is evident, for example in terms of the construction of regional waste management centres and wastewater treatment plants, and in terms sewage networks – for which financial resources have been provided from various sources of funding. It is extremely important to build capacities at the local level, not only for managing these fundamental systems, but also for training personnel in a systematic way to deal with other current issues in the field of environmental protection, circular economy, achieving climate neutrality etc.

Serbia is among the signatories of the UN’s Agenda 2030, representing a universal strategy that calls on us to mobilise all resources to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. How far away from achieving that are we?

— Progress in meeting such broadly defined sustainable development goals is always dependent on political will the most, but also on financial support for specific solutions and investment in education and raising awareness among citizens. In the domain of environmental protection, the focus is on the circular economy and decarbonisation. The Law on Climate Change has been adopted and the drafting of an environmental protection strategy is underway, while we also have a Circular Economy Development Programme for the first time.

In the area of environmental protection alone, it is estimated that we need in excess of ten billion euros to meet the applicable standards and build essential infrastructure

Striving to achieve EU accession by 2030 is now a realistic goal for us; to meet some of the goals by then, and to also ensure subsequent continuity in the reform process. In the area of environmental protection alone, it is estimated that we need in excess of ten billion euros to meet the applicable standards and build essential infrastructure, with just 5.4 billion euros needed, for example, to resolve the issue of wastewater.

Apart from the 2030 Agenda, there is also the UN’s 2050 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Why is climate change among the biggest challenges today?

— The European Union is exerting efforts to realise the vision of the European Green Deal, according to which the continent should become climate neutral by 2050. Introducing various climate policies that are aligned with the European Green Deal often threatens the European single market, which is why various mechanisms are being developed with the intention of motivating the EU’s trade partners, including Serbia, to take steps towards reducing their dependence on fossil fuels. It is precisely this dependence that represents the greatest challenge, while – on the other hand – needs are increasing constantly, given that we had reached a world population of eight billion by the end of last year.

Climate change represents a global problem that cannot be solved, nor even observed, in isolation, but which rather requires international cooperation in the fight against climate change, or the coordination of international activities, which represents a challenge in and of itself.

How do companies in Serbia conduct their efforts towards achieving the SDGs?

— There are companies in Serbia that represent examples to others and that endeavour to achieve the sustainable development goals. Some of them even innovate their operations before they are legally obliged to do so, by introducing green technology, switching to more acceptable inputs and raw materials, utilising by-products from other production processes and taking an integrated systemic approach to dealing with issues of the pollution that they emit. Ever more companies are accepting responsibility for the environmental damage that they cause, and are implementing preventative measures to support the sustainability of the system. We try to always highlight the best local governments and companies, but also to point out instances when, under the veil of sustainable development, the attribute “green” is assigned to products and services that actually represent “greenwashing”.

Through our activities in the period ahead, we will work with companies directly on the greening of processes and products, but also on raising the importance of non-financial reporting and the use of ESG criteria. This concept is already becoming a reality in which the market position and perception of certain companies is assessed not only on the basis of financial criteria, but also according to environmental impact (E-environment), social aspects (S-social) and management culture (G-governance).

What steps should we, as a country and a society, take to ensure that we achieve significant progress towards sustainable development?

— In order to build a community that’s sustainable over the longterm, we need full cooperation between the government, business world, civil society organisations and citizens. This isn’t merely a political manifesto that promises to ensure all citizens have access to drinking water, healthcare, education and specialist training, to reduce poverty and eradicate life on the extremes.

Ever more companies are accepting responsibility for the environmental damage that they cause, and are implementing measures to support the sustainability of the system

These are real problems in Serbia that need to be solved in a systematic way that ensures everyone has equal opportunities to develop and advance, because that’s the only way we can secure the human capacities required to really deal with sustainable development. Education is extremely important, as is access to information and lifelong learning. Here, for example, the majority of people would say that Serbia is a country rich in water and that there’s no need to worry about water as a resource, but the reality is that we rely a lot on transit waters and are poor when it comes to our domestic autochthonous waters.

Which of the 17 SDGs do you see as being the most important or highest priority for Serbia?

— It is difficult to choose individual segments and goals in isolation from the whole, because the lack of one means that the system will not function and there will be no sustainable development. If it was necessary to single out one specific area, that might be the social segment or the environment, depending on the society’s development level. Of the 17 goals globally, I would single out access to drinking water. It is disheartening that a quarter of the world’s population currently lacks access to clean drinking water, which is a fundamental need. On the other hand, it is often noted that the first goal – the eradication of poverty – is the most important, because it is connected to the achieving of other goals: the provision of food, water, education, healthcare and economic sustainability.

When it comes to Serbia, I’m focused on sustainable cities and communities. Just as we have the ESG criteria that we use, among other things, to evaluate the desirability of a company as an employer, so local communities and what they offer, in addition to attracting investments, will result in them being classed as desirable places to live and work. It is precisely those communities that are energy-independent and provide access to healthy food and water, that are inclusive and tolerant, that will represent havens for people to live and work.