Serbia’s Climate Talks held in anticipation of COP26 in Glasgow

September 22, 2021

Belgrade, September 22 - In order to stimulate discussion on climate change and the climate ambitions of Serbia in the society, a forum that brought together decision makers, representatives of the international community, the economy, and civil society, and experts on climate change was held today.

The meeting was opened by Francois Jacob, UN Resident Coordinator in Serbia, and Irena Vujović, Minister of Environmental Protection, while the panel of high-ranking guests included Shan McLeod, British Ambassador to Serbia, Carlo Lo Caso, Italian Ambassador to Serbia, Nicola Bertolini, Head of Cooperation in the EU Delegation to Serbia and Francine Pickup, the Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Serbia.

The climate talks, organized by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the UNDP, were launched ahead of the COP26 Global Climate Change Conference to be held from October 31 to November 12, 2021 in Glasgow, UK. The leaders of 197 countries, including Serbia, will meet to present their plans and concrete activities for preventing further global warming. COP26 is believed to be the last chance to bring climate change under control through joint action.

Under the Paris Agreement, the signatory countries, including Serbia, committed to limiting the increase in average global temperature to less than 2°C by the end of the century, or 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial period, at the beginning of the 19th century. However, the recently published UN Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the result of the work of over 1,000 world experts, confirmed that humanity is now in the red zone regarding survival due to climate change. Unless states take urgent climate action and increase their ambitions, the goals of the Paris agreement will not be achieved.

The Minister of Environmental Protection, Irena Vujović, asserted that COP26 is an important event for all of us and that it is a great honor for Serbia to be one of the Vice Presidents of this conference. "The Republic of Serbia will increase its climate ambitions and revise its nationally determined contributions so that a reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG) of 33% is achieved by 2030, in comparison to the 1990s." On this occasion, the Minister announced that, in accordance with the Green Agenda of the European Union for the Western Balkans, the Ministry will launch new initiatives that will be aimed at transitioning to a circular economy in the public and private sectors.

"The period from 2016 to 2020 was the warmest ever recorded. The intensity and frequency of extreme weather conditions has increased, globally and in Serbia, negatively affecting the production of food and energy, biodiversity, and access to drinking water, destroying homes and infrastructure, and endangering human lives. UNDP is assisting the Government of Serbia, local governments, and the economy to take the necessary measures in time to reduce the negative impact of climate change on human health, the economy, and the environment," stated Francine Pickup, adding: "We know that Serbia is in the region where the average temperature is increasing by as much as 1 degree Celsius faster compared to the world average. From 2000 until today, due to droughts and floods, the economy has incurred losses of 6 billion dollars, and estimates say that these could grow to $13 billion by 2030, if we do not adapt to the altered climatic conditions".

The UNDP has already proposed a series of measures that can be taken, especially in the most vulnerable sectors such as agriculture and water supply, to make Serbia more resilient to climate change. For this adaptation financial resources are needed, and, thanks to the EU and international financial institutions, Serbia has funds at its disposal from which it can finance the green transformation. Yet it is also necessary to involve the private sector, claimed Pickup: "So far, we have supported, in partnership with the Government, the Global Environment Facility, and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), more than 30 small and medium-sized enterprises to switch to low-carbon and circular economy business models. $40 million of private capital and commercial loans and $2.5 million in grants have been invested in these projects."

In order to encourage as many enterprises as possible to engage in the green transition, making them more competitive in the EU and in the global market, which is increasingly looking for low-carbon products and services, there must be legislation in place that encourages green investment, and companies need to have access to available funds and to receive adequate training for the transition to green business – declared the participants of the panel dedicated to financing.

The participants in the meeting highlighted the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, through which the EU has allocated up to 9 billion dollars in non-refundable aid for the green transformation of the economy and the public sector in the region. Transitioning to green models of business will enable Serbian companies to access and utilize not only these funds, but also the funds of other international financial institutions that have included green business as one of the key criteria for approving loans and credits.

According to UNDP reports, what Serbia lacks most are the resources to implement climate change adaptation measures at the national and local levels. Therefore, the assistance of partners such as the Green Climate Fund, which financially supported the development of the first National Plan for Adaptation to Climate Change, on which the UNDP is working in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Water Management, is of great importance.

The participants in the forum pointed out that Serbia has already increased its goals of reducing GHG emissions by 3 times compared to 1990 levels. Achieving these goals necessitates a gradual transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, but for this transformation to be carried out in a fair way, new opportunities for green jobs and the retraining of workers must be realized, especially in the energy sector, the experts insisted.

However, there are other solutions that can accelerate Serbia on its path to a low-carbon society, such as afforestation, employing cleaner technologies in industrial production, and transitioning to a circular economy, which includes reducing waste and treating waste as a resource, among other activities.

Another key segment that would help Serbia achieve its climate ambition is a transparent system for collecting and analyzing climate data. One of the panels presented the results of the development of a system for monitoring, reporting, and verifying data in the field of climate change. Such a system would enable better collection, accessibility, and exchange of data related to climate change between different institutions, which would help the Government of Serbia identify where additional efforts are needed. At the same time, this would contribute to the implementation of the Law on Climate Change, adopted this year, and to the fulfillment of obligations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement.

The climate change talks were realized with the support of UNDP projects implemented in cooperation with the Government of the Republic of Serbia, and with the help of partners such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the Government of the Republic of Austria, and the Government of Switzerland, as well as with the UN agencies UNOPS, UNICEF, FAO, and UNECE.