Serbia has established the necessary legal and strategic basis for the energy transition and protection from air pollution but the implementation of the newly introduced solutions is very slow. The process must be accelerated and improved, above all at the municipal level and in terms of citizen participation. This is the main message from Climate Talks, held at Grad – European Centre for Culture and Debate (KC Grad) in Belgrade.
Climate Talks, with two panels – Air Pollution and Population Health, and Energy Sector and Climate Change, were part of the Climate Week in Serbia, organized with support from the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Eleven panelists and a large audience were welcomed by Christian Schilling, Head of Development Cooperation at the German embassy.
All over Serbia, a series of events are organized with the support of the German international cooperation agency GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit), he noted. “Climate talks are necessary to raise the awareness of the citizens of Serbia about the importance of the topic and the models for each of us to contribute to the mitigation of climate change impact,” Schilling said and added that for years Germany has supported Serbia in environmental protection, energy efficiency and the development of renewable energy sources.
Lekić: At all measuring points in Serbia, the air is in third category
At the first panel, dedicated to the correlation between climate change and the health of the population, Dejan Lekić, author of the platform and application xEco – Extreme Ecology, pointed out that discussions about the accuracy of data on air pollution in Serbia are unnecessary.
“Official data from 80 state stations show that at all measuring points in Serbia, the air is in the third and worst category, primarily due to exceeding the concentration of particulate matter,” he said.
Andreja Stojić, a professor at Singidunum University and associate professor at the Institute of Physics, said the atmosphere contains ten thousand types of polluting particles. Serbia monitors the presence of only eight of them, while in the United States there are one hundred on the tracking list, he stressed.
According to Ognjan Pantić from the Belgrade Open School (BOŠ), there are 200 measuring points owned by citizens. On the other hand, there are still cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants where no official measurements are carried out.
Paunović: Air pollution causes 50% of diseases
Elizabet Paunović, retired director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) European Center for Environment and Health, said that air pollution causes 50% of diseases and that the money invested in air quality is not an expense.
“According to WHO’s data, Serbia and the neighboring countries spend one third of gross national income on the mitigation of air pollution’s health impact,” Paunović added.
Jasminka Young, co-founder and program director of the RES Foundation, pointed out that according to the National Air Protection Program, Serbia needs to invest EUR 2.6 billion by 2030, while that only EUR 26 million has been invested so far.
The biggest challenges of the energy transition in Serbia are in funding and the citizens’ awareness
The second panel focused on the energy sector’s effect on climate change. The panelists provided a more detailed insight into the energy transition in Serbia.
Mirjana Jovanović, program manager at the Belgrade Open School (BOŠ), noted that Serbia produces 70% of electricity from coal. Household heating is a significant polluter and decarbonization must be a priority, in her view.
Maja Vukadinović, assistant minister of mining and energy, stressed that the government provided EUR 50 million for energy efficiency measures for a total of 50,000 households in Serbia.
Stojadinović: It is very important to enable citizens to participate in the energy transition
“The biggest challenges of the energy transition in Serbia are finances and citizens’ awareness. It is a fact that Serbia, which is not a member of the EU, does not have access to all EU funds and that the economic aspect of the energy transition is very important to citizens. We will implement a campaign to try to raise the citizens’ awareness of the economic benefits of this process,” Vukadinović explained.
Dejan Stojadinović, an energy expert, stressed it is very important to allow citizens to participate in the energy transition. He noted that the democratization of the energy sector started with the adoption of regulations for prosumers.
“Unfortunately, current legislative solutions limit and prevent citizens from producing even as much energy as they need. So it could be said that citizens will only pay the price of the process, and not participate,” Stojadinović asserted.
Končalović: There are changes, but there is no evidence yet that we are serious about decarbonization
The importance of democratization and of reaching a general consensus on the necessity of the energy transition for citizens and firms was also emphasized by Davor Končalović, associate professor at the Faculty of Engineering Sciences in Kragujevac and member of the Elektropionir energy cooperative.
“Before we talk about problems like storing electricity from renewable sources, we should talk about the problem of our perception of reality. There are changes, but there is no evidence yet that we are serious about decarbonisation. Everything can be done faster and easier,” he said.
The panelists stressed that the most socially vulnerable categories of the population must not be left out of the energy transition.
Hristina Vojvodić, legal advisor at the Regulatory Institute for Renewable Energy and the Environment (RERI), pointed out that a large number of people are employed in heating plants, coal mines and related activities.
Vojvodić: We must understand that the energy transition frightens many people, because they will lose their jobs
“If we want support for the energy transition, we must understand that it frightens many people, because they will lose their jobs. That is why, along with plans for the energy transition, we must also offer them solutions for the survival of their families,” Vojvodić said.
Miodrag Gluščević, program director at the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities (SKGO), opined that the future of the energy transition lies in democratization and decentralization.
“The only question is if local authorities have the capacity to adopt and implement public policies that are proactive, not reactive. At the end, we all have to understand that we are not implementing the energy transition for others, but for ourselves,” said Gluščević.