Regional Cooperation in Improving Air Quality

May 30, 2023
UNDP Serbia

Belgrade, 30 May 2023 – Yesterday in the United Nations building in Belgrade, a regional conference was held titled "Protection of Air" and organised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in cooperation with the Ministry of Environmental Protection and partners in the "EU for Green Agenda in Serbia" project. The aim of this event was to facilitate the exchange of experiences pertaining to protection measures, as well as to present successful solutions for improving the quality of air.

The conference was attended by representatives of competent ministries and local self-governments from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and North Macedonia, as well as the EU Delegation in the Republic of Serbia, the Swedish Embassy in Serbia and international organisations.   

"The official air quality measurements confirm that citizens all over the region have been very exposed to polluted air, especially in densely populated areas, such as big cities. In order to help cities and municipalities in Serbia have better quality air, we have supported 12 local self-governments in developing and improving their Air Quality Plans, while we have provided training for representatives of 17 local self-governments in planning the measures of air quality protection based on air quality data," said Anas Qarman, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Serbia.

He also stated that within the "EU for Green Agenda in Serbia" project and its public calls, more than 200,000 USD of financial support was distributed in 2022 to five innovative solutions for cleaner air, including the project of improving the quality of air by replacing inefficient and pollution-generating individual boiler room in a school complex in Sokobanja, with a cleaner alternative – waste thermal water from the spa baths, the project of improving the efficiency of combustion in individual combustion facilities, "Street Air Purifier" – a smart zero-energy urban network of devices for controlling air pollution with digital remote control, a software and hardware solution to improve functionality and efficiency of combustion in individual facilities and the devices using solid fuels, as well as a project of improving the quality of air by improving e-vehicles infrastructure in Belgrade, to enable the use of the batteries charged with solar energy.  

State Secretary of the Ministry of Environmental Protection Sara Pavkov noted that the Ministry is the pioneer in publishing public calls for co-financing projects for afforestation and reducing the air pollution coming from individual facilities and boiler rooms. Thus, in 47 local self-governments, 350 million RSD have been allocated in 2021, 2022, and 2023 for a project to replace home furnaces, while 620 million RSD have been allocated during the same three years in 76 LSGUs within a project to remove boiler rooms.

"In December 2022, the Government of the Republic of Serbia adopted the Programme of Air Protection in the Republic of Serbia 2022-2030. The Programme defines 17 measures and 49 activities that will be implemented in the following period with the aim of improving the quality of air. Among the measures for the improvement of air quality, it has been recommended that some inferior-quality agricultural land be afforested, in addition to some land that has not been leased recently. Public institutions have been advised to extinguish boiler rooms of less than 50 MW that use coal, mazut, or fuel oil where there is an option of connecting to a remote heating system or gas pipeline. "Moreover, the Environmental Protection Agency has been authorised, in cooperation with the Vojvodina Secretariat for Urban Planning and Environmental Protection and LSGUs, to implement in the Republic of Serbia the air quality index, which is in line with the European Air Quality Index," said Pavkov.

UNDP Serbia

Antoin Avignon, Programme Manager for Environmental Protection and Climate Changes of the EU Delegation in the Republic of Serbia, said that local self-governments had important competences in the protection of the air. "Moreover," added Avignon, "cities and municipalities need to undertake important activities, such as identifying major local polluters and engaging themselves so as to secure a decrease in air pollution and monitoring the results."

"Within the "EU for Green Agenda in Serbia" project, together with UNDP, we strive to help local self-governments solve the challenges they face in the process of planning and implementing concrete measures, while the new call for LSGUs to co-finance the measures of air protection will be published on 5 June. The idea is to help the LSGUs, which have already prepared their local air quality plans or have made significant progress in air quality planning, implement concrete measures," said Avignon, and clarified that the call would involve the system of co-financing of up to 50% of the total value of each solution, with the amounts ranging from 20,000 USD to 40,000 USD for small projects and from 40,000 USD to 80,000 USD for large projects. The remaining amounts need to be secured by cities and municipalities from their own budgets or other sources.

First Secretary of the Embassy of Sweden in Belgrade, Ida Reuterswärd, said that Sweden supported regional and bilateral projects in the Western Balkans through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), including regional and bilateral projects in the Western Balkans for the improvement of air quality, using the framework and experience of the EU in establishing better policies, monitoring and investing in measures.

"Air pollution is a topic that is highly relevant for everyone’s health and a key issue of regional cooperation. As the country presiding over the European Council, Sweden is dedicated to supporting the green transition in the European Union and in the Western Balkans. Air pollution is a hard and challenging question that requires good monitoring, smart measures and substantial investments. We have gathered here today to exchange our experiences and lessons learned so as to address this issue quicker and better regionally, nationally and locally."

Participants in the conference spoke of the challenges faced by the local self-governments in the region, such as determining major sources of pollution, selecting optimal measures for the prevention and reduction of pollution, as well as securing financial resources for the implementation of air protection measures.

Užice was singled out as a good practise example, where in the last eight years, more than 250 million RSD was allocated to co-finance replacement of combustion facilities and energy rehabilitation of buildings, with only one boiler room facility in the city today using mazut as the energy source, two boiler rooms using pellets, and the remaining nine being converted to gas.

The increase in the prices of energy sources, which most severely hits socially vulnerable households, was also discussed. Since they mostly use inefficient heating equipment, often older than 30 years, the City of Užice helped them obtain heating equipment that consumes less energy, provides more heat and pollutes the environment less. Participants emphasised that it is necessary to carefully design the incentives for citizens so that no one is left behind.

The conference also included a presentation of the process of air quality planning in North Macedonia. The research results concerning the sources of air pollution in Skopje have shown that the use of wood for heating is the greatest source of extreme air pollution, especially in the wintertime. It is followed by traffic and open-air combustion, and thus the conclusion of the study is that it is necessary to put the emphasis on replacing the heating sources and improving energy efficiency, especially in private households.

The event was organised within the "EU for Green Agenda in Serbia" project, with the technical and financial support of the EU and in partnership with the Ministry of Environmental Protection, implemented by UNDP in cooperation with the Embassy of Sweden and the European Investment Bank (EIB), where additional funding is provided by the governments of Sweden, Switzerland and Serbia.