A local voice for global action

October 21, 2019

With increasing awareness to climate change, more and more voices are getting louder calling for action. One of them is  Kosovo’s very own Agim Mazreku.

21 September marked a significant day in the fight against climate change, as the United Nations hosted the first ever UN Youth Climate Summit, ahead of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit on 23 September.

Young leaders around the world gathered in New York City to present solutions to combating the imminent threat. Amongst those delegates was also Agim, originally from Prizren, now attending university in the United States. He has also worked with UNDP Kosovo in search for a solution to the defining issue of our time.

Last summer Mazreku was involved in the ‘Support for a Sustainable Prizren’ project, through which UNDP is working together with the municipality to take initiative for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to rapid urban growth, while promoting environmental awareness. 

Mazreku has also worked with the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning and is now completing his Master’s degree in Climate Science and Policy at Bard College in New York. 

We sat down with Mazreku for an interview, to learn more about his experience at the UN Youth Climate Summit and Kosovo’s future in environmental sustainability. 

What inspired you to become involved in promoting climate change awareness in Kosovo?

It was around the age of 16 when I first got introduced to climate change as a term. Later on, when I moved to finish high school in Italy, our “Environmental Systems and Societies” professor pointed out the evidence of climate change impacts in the Dolomites mountains. We would go to the Dolomites for skiing classes and year after year, the organizers of orienteering championships were forced to use artificial snow due to lower snow falls.

It is around that time when I decided that I ought to pay back the mountains that had raised me. The mountains that I call “home” are the Sharri/Šar Mountains, which are also critical sources of drinking water for people in Prizren. Therefore, if water is life, I do not hesitate to say that the Sharri/Šar mountains were an essential component of my personal growth and commitment towards environmental protection. I found inspiration in the mountains, and I also understood the injustice that is being done to the Sharri/Šar ecosystem due to human activity.

Seeking justice for my beloved mountains and for the environment in general became my biggest inspiration that kept me engaged in this climate emergency of ours. Kosovo lacks reforms in many spheres; hence, I hope to do my best in making sure we at least reform our approach toward environmental issues.

Due to its high degree of socio-economic vulnerability, climate change affects Kosovo more than many other places. While Kosovo’s overall contribution to the climate crisis may be relatively small, it faces significant consequences due to the changing climate.

What does it mean to you to be representing Kosovo at the UN Youth Climate Action Summit and the UN Climate Action Summit?

In August 2019, the United Nations announced the names of 100 outstanding young climate champions who were chosen from around the world to attend the first ever UN Youth Climate Summit and the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit. From a pool of more than 7,000 applicants, I was selected to be one of the 100 Green Ticket recipients. There I shared stories of my work in Kosovo and I attended meetings on the theme of energy transition.

In addition, in coordination with fellow members from the YOUNGO (International Youth Climate Movement) constituency of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), we attended other relevant events to promote climate action and to announce a declaration of the youth to the world. 

I was the only Kosovan at the summit. There was no other representation from Kosovo, from either institutions or environmental NGOs due to Kosovo not being a UN Member State.

Our main message is that the climate change crisis must be considered a global emergency, and as such, it requires immediate action. International negotiations on a subject such as our common climate must not leave behind places like Kosovo. Representing Kosovo is a unique opportunity to promote the climate change work in Kosovo. Moreover, it gave me the opportunity to discuss the challenges concerning coal power development in Kosovo.

How is Prizren fighting climate change in Kosovo?

The city of Prizren still has a long way to go to be considered a green city. However, the current initiatives in Prizren are a sign that it is on the right path to being a climate resilient green city. The Mayor and municipal officials have been very helpful in advancing initiatives aimed at environmental sustainability. 

Also, local civil society organisations and researchers are continuously working and advocating for climate adaptation and mitigation and the starting point is the increasing number of green spaces in the city. Students continue their research regarding the degradation of the Sharri/Šar National Park located near Prizren. 

Very importantly, the private sector has also the potential to step in and promote a transition towards a sustainable energy system in the city. All these initiatives make Prizren the leading municipality fighting climate change in Kosovo.

Can you elaborate on the importance of the Support for a Sustainable Prizren project?

The project “Support for a Sustainable Prizren” is a unique opportunity for the municipality of Prizren to be a leader in terms of urban climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. I have seen how beneficial this project has been in communicating the evidence of climate change to municipal officials, civil society and people at large. Immediately after the first steps of introducing climate change and its local relevance, the stakeholders were very keen to come up with ideas that would result in climate change mitigation intervention plans. The level of professionalism and creativity of various stakeholders makes the project run smoothly. 

And if through the “Support for a Sustainable Prizren” project the Prizren Green Growth Center manages to set up a monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) system for greenhouse gases (GHG), it could very well be replicated in other municipalities. We cannot reduce what we cannot measure, and that principle allows for a connection between policy-making and science.

It did not take long to move through the key steps of the project which, nevertheless, did carry their own challenges. I was born and raised in Prizren, and it made me happy to know that, through this project, our city keeps up to our ideals for a sustainable and healthy urban living.