UNDP and Switzerland team up to tackle climate change in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Oct 27, 2015

The Prespa Lake Basin is over 5 million years old and its waters are amongst the most ancient freshwater lakes in the world. Photo by: UNDP/Ljubomir Stefanov

Lake Prespa in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is one of only a handful of ancient freshwater lakes in the world, and its waters and wetlands are home to many plants and animals that are found nowhere else. It is a national treasure, as well as a crucial source of livelihoods for the 40,000 people who live and work in the region.

But climate change is already taking its toll—due to a dramatic drop in rainfall, the lake’s levels have dropped more than 7 meters over the last decades. And as the effects of climate change continue to grow in scale and frequency, the lake and its dependents stand to witness even more dramatic changes.

In response, UNDP, with financing from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, has been working closely with the Municipality of Resen on both climate change adaptation and mitigation measures. The purpose of this is to help restore the health of the Prespa Lake Basin while simultaneously decreasing carbon emissions.

The project is a holistic effort that requires not only attention to the lake itself, but to the human infrastructure that surrounds and impacts it. The energy costs of buildings, especially old buildings, constitute 10 percent of total energy costs for municipalities throughout FYR Macedonia, as well as account for some 70 percent of the country’s total emissions of greenhouse gases—emissions that are contributing to the same changes in weather patterns that are having such clear impacts on the lake.

Last year a major refurbishment of the Resen Municipal Building was undertaken, a project that would create the region’s first completely energy-efficient building. Built in the early 1970s, the building’s offices cover over 2,500 square metres and were originally heated with both electricity and oil.

“The energy costs of heating and maintaining the building were ridiculously high,” explains Naume Tashovski, one of the 150 municipality staff who work in the offices. “But that was only one of the problems. It was also an uncomfortable and unhealthy place to work. There were a lot of draughts and the temperature was unpredictable. Plus we still had asbestos tiles in place, making us employees seriously concerned for our long-term health.”

UNDP undertook an expert assessment that came to the conclusion that a complete refurbishment of the building was needed.

“We set about a total re-design,” says UNDP Prespa Project Manager Dimitrija Sekovski. “Reconstructing the heating system in line with state-of-the-art methods for increasing energy efficiency; renovating all the windows, doors, roofs and even the facades of the building. And, of course, we removed all the asbestos tiles and replaced them with natural, healthy and energy-efficient materials.”

The results of the refurbishment—completed earlier this year—are already being felt by employees.

“It’s a much more attractive, comfortable and healthy place to work now,” says Naume’s colleague Bojana Karapalevska. “We all feel a lot more positive about the working conditions—and a lot safer since they took out the asbestos.”

“One of the aspects of the project that’s really impressed us,” adds Naume, “is how the refurbishment has made the temperatures in the building so much more regular while saving so much on energy costs. It really shows how much old buildings waste resources.”

Since the refurbishment, the municipality has reduced its electricity consumption by 20 percent and its oil consumption by 42 percent.

"Thanks to this investment we have already been able to achieve savings of $20,000 USD in less than one year,” says the Mayor of Resen, Gjoko Strezovski, “This is a great model for future renovation projects.”

The Mayor has committed to investing the savings brought about by the project to help fund green jobs and monitor the water quality of the lake. “The money we’ve saved on heating will help protect our most valuable heritage of all,” he says. “And that is the beautiful Prespa Lake.”

UNDP’s partnership with the municipality is part of a larger programme to work with Macedonian municipalities on energy efficiency. Over 2,000 people throughout the country have already felt the direct benefits of energy efficient buildings like the one in Resen.

Following a recent decentralization process, municipalities are legally responsible for taking measures to boost energy efficiency. Many municipal authorities agree that energy efficiency is a sound economic goal—they just don’t always know how to attain it. The obstacles are considerable, particularly for smaller, rural municipalities with limited skills and equipment, like the Municipality of Resen.

“Investing in energy upgrades to buildings is the most sustainable and responsible way to save money, reduce energy bills, cut down on harmful pollution and preserve the environment for future generations,” says UNDP’s Resident Representative Louisa Vinton “Reducing energy costs will release significant funds for more development-oriented spending.”

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