The Goldman Environmental Foundation has announced six recipients of the 2019 Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s foremost award for grassroots environmental activists, according to a press release from the foundation. One of the awards has for the first time gone to North Macedonia, to Ana Colovic Lesoska, who has successfully campaigned to halt international lending for two hydropower plants, thereby protecting the habitat of the Balkan lynx.
Awarded annually to environmental heroes from each of the world’s six inhabited continental regions, the Goldman Environmental Prize honors the achievements and leadership of grassroots environmental activists from around the world.
Ana Colovic Lesoska, executive director at the Center for environmental research and information Eko-svest from Skopje, led a seven-year campaign to cut off international funding for two large hydropower plants planned for inside Mavrovo National Park – North Macedonia’s oldest and largest national park – thereby protecting the habitat of the nearly-extinct Balkan lynx, according to the foundation’s website.
In 2015, the World Bank withdrew its financing for one hydropower project, and, in 2017, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) canceled its loan to the North Macedonian government for the other.
“In the race to fulfill their commitments from the Energy Community and to start negotiations with the EU, many of the Western Balkan countries have rushed plans to build hydropower capacities in order to increase renewables in their countries. Among them is my country – several rivers have already been destroyed or exposed to danger by building small hydropower plants. Hydro projects destroy nature and the livelihood of locals,” said Colovic Lesoska, a biologist by training.
Plans for a system of 22 hydropower plants in Mavrovo have been circulating since the 1980s in an effort to move North Macedonia away from its reliance on coal and expensive energy imports, Goldman recalls on its website.
In 2010, state-owned power utility ELEM proposed the construction of two large hydropower plants in Mavrovo: Boškov Most (with annual generation of 126 GWh) and Lukovo Pole (with annual generation of 160 GWh). Plans for Boškov Most included a 108-foot-high dam, a five-mile tunnel, and new roads. Lukovo Pole included a 230-foot-high dam, a 12-mile pipe system, and new roads. Funding for Boškov Most was secured via a USD 65 million loan from the EBRD. Lukovo Pole’s USD 70 million investment was through the World Bank.
Colovic Lesoska urging development banks to drop funding for Georgia’s Nenskra project
Eko-svest is a member of CEE Bankwatch Network, which said in a press release that Colovic Lesoska is using her award to draw attention to the Nenskra hydropower project planned in Georgia’s Caucasus mountains and is urging the EBRD, the European Investment Bank (EIB), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to drop their funding for the project.
Both the EBRD and the EIB approved loans for the Nenskra project last year, at USD 214 million and USD 150 million, respectively, but neither have disbursed the money, Bankwatch said. The ADB is still considering supporting the project with USD 315 million, and the AIIB could also be awarding it USD 100 million.