The Serbian Ministry of Environmental Protection and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), supported by the Government of Sweden, held the second meeting last week as part of Serbia’s Stockholm+50 national consultations.
At the event in Belgrade, held as part of Serbia’s preparations for the conference Stockholm+50: a healthy planet for the prosperity of all – our responsibility, our opportunity, local and international experts discussed ties between human health and the environment, and Serbia’s transition towards a circular economy, while representatives of cities and municipalities showcased examples of good practice in addressing environmental problems and implementing the Green Agenda.
According to Radovan Nikčević, Serbia’s national consultant in the preparations for the Stockholm+50 conference, the aim of the meeting was to consult views and recommendations of all stakeholders regarding key priorities in environmental action in order to include them in the national report that Serbia’s delegation is to present in Sweden’s capital in June. Taking part in the consultations were representatives of national and local institutions, civil society, businesses, the academic community, as well as young people.
Every investment in the environment is an act of healthcare prevention
Sandra Dokić, assistant minister at the Ministry of Environmental Protection, noted that Serbia is located in a region where the temperature increase is by 1°C higher than the global average, and she called for regional cooperation on the implementation of the Green Agenda.
Serbia is located in a region where the temperature increase is by 1°C higher than the global average
Dokić also stressed the importance of partnership with Serbia’s national public health institute Dr Milan Jovanović Batut, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Ministry of Health. Local governments across Serbia have an important role to play in environmental protection, along with initiatives such as the Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Programme (THE PEP) and the Protocol on Water and Health, according to her.
“Every investment in the environment is an act of prevention in the field of healthcare,” Dokić said.
Fabio Scano, Director of the WHO office in Belgrade, said that Sweden recognized the power of multilateralism in environmental protection 50 years ago. Serbia, in cooperation with the WHO, is working on building its capacities for tackling air pollution and its adverse impact on human health, according to him.
Sweden recognized the power of multilateralism in environmental protection 50 years ago
The unbreakable link between a healthy environment and human health
Francine Pickup, UNDP Resident Representative in Serbia, said that the link between a healthy environment and human health is unbreakable.
“Healthy and functional ecosystems are essential for our survival. They provide us the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. The beauty and diversity of nature is also important for our mental and physical health and wellbeing. However, we keep overexploiting natural resources and degrading our environment, endangering our own health and existence,” said Pickup.
Francine Pickup: we keep overexploiting natural resources and degrading our environment, endangering our own health and existence
WHO estimated that in 2016 air pollution was responsible for nearly 7 million premature deaths globally, out of which 6,500 in Serbia, she recalled, adding that the number of deaths due to chronic diseases caused by heatwaves will additionally increase if we fail to act on climate change.
Francine Pickup, UNDP Resident Representative in Serbia
“The fight against pollution and environmental degradation is also a fight for fairness and equality. Pollution’s most harmful impacts on human health are typically borne by the most vulnerable groups, such as poor, children, elderly, and people with chronic conditions,” said Pickup.
The power of joint action
Ida Reuterswärd, First Secretary at the Embassy of Sweden to Serbia, stressed the importance of multilateralism and joint action around the world. The conference in Stockholm in June will revive the dialogue on shared environmental challenges, according to her.
The conference in Stockholm in June will revive the dialogue on shared environmental challenges
She said that already in the declaration of 1972 a clear link was established between the environment, health, wellbeing, and the economy, adding that now there are opportunities to take the next step together.
Reuterswärd said that the European integration process is also a tool that can help achieve better environmental standards, noting that the European Union (EU) has found a way to set higher environmental standards through directives and legislation.
Public health and environmental protection
Environmental protection is one of the key goals when it comes to preserving both wellbeing and overall public health, said Verica Jovanović, acting director of Serbia’s public health institute, Dr. Milan Jovanović Batut. She added that it is essential to keep in mind the complexity of public health and adopt a multisectoral approach to individual and collective safety, as well as to include non-healthcare sectors.
The complexity of public health requires a multisectoral approach to individual and collective safety
Dragana Jović, head of the center for hygiene and human ecology at the Batut institute, said that lockdown measures during the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on the environment, including increased quantities of household waste, residential noise, and household wastewater. The pandemic also had an impact on energy consumption, and caused an increase in the amounts of medical waste.
Panel on the relationship between the environment and health
Lockdown measures during the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on air quality and ecosystem services
At the same time, commercial and industrial waste was reduced, as was traffic noise, air pollution, and industrial wastewater pollution, among others, according to Jović.
Dragana Jovanović, who is in charge of cooperation with the WHO and the Protocol on Water and Health at the Batut institute, talked about global and regional initiatives for improving water supply, sanitation, and hygiene in Serbia, implemented by the Ministry of Health and the Batut institute. In addition to the Protocol on Water and Health, these include the Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS) and the Joint Monitoring Programme.
The pandemic highlighted the connection between human health and the health of the planet, said Biljana Filipović-Đušić, adviser at the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
It is necessary to support solutions based on nature
Filipović-Đušić also said it is necessary to review the existing waste management legislation, support solutions based on nature, and invest in green infrastructure.
Serbia expected to adopt a circular economy development program
Serbia has prepared a circular economy roadmap which highlights the importance of cooperation with the civil sector and the academic community, while the incoming government is expected to adopt a program of the circular economy development for 2022-2024, said Aleksandra Vučinić, head of the green and circular economy department at the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
Each local government should draw up its own circular economy roadmap
In the field of circular economy, nothing can be done without engaging the citizens, Vučinić explained. She also stressed the significance of local governments, and recommended that each local authority develop its own circular economy roadmap. It is important for society to become resource resilient, and that is where local authorities will play a major role, she said.
Panel: Accelerating the implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development and the role of local self-governments
Nebojša Vraneš, adviser at the circular economy center at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia (PKS), spoke about the role of business and a circular economy in sustainable development. He said the PKS has set up the circular economy center, a circular economy academy, as well as a digital platform for a circular economy.
Over the coming period, the PKS intends to acquaint businesspeople with the complexity of new regulations on CO2 emissions and circular products. The chamber has also produced a decarbonization guide to bring the topic closer to citizens and businesses, according to him.
Subotica: decades of struggle helped solve environmental problems
Žika Reh, head of environmental protection and sustainable development at the Subotica municipal administration, explained how the northern Serbian city had managed to solve the problem of wastewater as well as solid waste.
All untreated wastewater from Subotica used to end up in nearby Lake Palić, causing an environmental disaster and killing all the fish in the lake in the 1970s. Since then, the city has built a water treatment plant, remediated the lake, built a regional landfill, and thus solved the problems, according to Reh.
Local governments still don’t have inspection oversight over wastewater discharge
However, local government still don’t have inspection oversight over wastewater discharge, he said, noting it is important to enable local authorities to influence polluters.
Priboj: a switch to renewables in district heating
The municipality of Priboj was among the first in Serbia to overhaul its district heating system and replace fuel oil with biomass, a greener fuel. Saša Vasilić, Priboj’s deputy mayor, said that there is good cooperation with other local governments and that the municipality of Arilje is expected to get a biomass heating plant this year as well.
The municipality has cut emissions by 30%, but household heating remains a problem
Vasilić said that quality heating with biomass can be delivered with good management, noting that the municipality has reduced CO2 emissions by 30% but that individual (household) heating remains a problem.
Kragujevac: a strategy to reduce emissions
The City of Kragujevac is among the first in Serbia to adopt a low-carbon development strategy, with the UNDP’s support, said Ana Radojević, the city’s energy manager. Following a thorough analysis, the city was presented with as many as 162 recommendations for improving the energy and climate situation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to her.
The analysis showed that residential buildings were the biggest energy consumers in Kragujevac. To improve the energy efficiency of households, the city took part in the Ministry of Mining and Energy’s subsidy program this year and in 2021.
A project to switch from fuel oil to natural gas in Kragujevac’s district heating is about to be completed
Radojević said that a project to switch from fuel oil to natural gas in Kragujevac’s district heating should be completed in the coming days, in what is expected to help solve the problem of excessive air pollution and harmful gases in the city.
Since the strategy also identified the transportation sector as one of the biggest polluters, the city has started building a northern bypass for trucks to avoid the city center, according to her.
Kragujevac, in cooperation with the UNDP, has also built a rooftop solar power plant at one of its kindergartens, and the facility should start producing green electricity in the coming days, she said.
Serbia’s national consultations will wrap up on May 20
In parallel with the consultation process, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the UNDP are preparing Serbia’s national report, a document that will integrate comments provided by participants in the meetings as well as comments by interested parties posted on the SparkBlue online platform by May 20.
The closing event ahead of the Stockholm conference, taking place on May 20 at the botanical garden Jevremovac in Belgrade, will serve to present some of the key elements of Serbia’s national report.