The European Green Deal that was presented on 11 December 2019 set the new path that should make the European economy sustainable and climate neutral by 2050. These EU plans also involve the six countries of the so-called Western Balkans, which in addition to North Macedonia includes Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo.
The summit in Sofia, Bulgaria held in November 2020 saw the signing of the Sofia Declaration for the “Green Agenda for the Western Balkans”, meaning that these six country recognize the European Green Deal and its goals for neutral and competitive economy that will use resources efficiently.
One of the important elements in the Sofia Declaration relates to the Economic and Investment Plan, designed for long-term support toward green and sustainable economy that would bring the region closer to the European market. With a population of almost 18 million, this region is an important market for the EU and a transit area for European and international goods, with qualified workforce and economy ready for investments. For these reasons the Western Balkan countries have a key role in the global value chains supplying the EU.
The figure below shows how the process has evolved from its inception in 2014 in Berlin
What does the “Green Agenda for Western Balkans” entail and how much funds have been earmarked?
The European Commission with the Economic and Investment Plan proposes the mobilization of 9 billion euros, funds through the IPA III programme for the 2021-2027 period. These funds would support the economic convergence with the EU by increasing national competition, inclusive growth and green and digital transition. In addition to these 9 billion euros in grants, the plan also creates a guarantee facility for the Western Balkans that could support investments of up to 20 billion euros in total. The plan is presented in the figure below:
The implementation plan is focused on these five pillars:
- Decarbonization: Climate, energy and mobility, commitment to achieve together with the EU a carbon neutral continent by 2050 through the adoption of strict climate policies and reforms in the energy and transportation sector. This flagship will particularly focus on:
- Harmonization of national legislation on climate change with the EU regulations and development of integrated national energy and climate plans;
- Decoupling of economic growth and resource consumption that would lead to greater resistance of economy to climate change and would decrease the risk of disasters;
- Preparations to introduce the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) and carbon pricing, which means that the polluters who surpass the permitted quantities of CO2 emissions will have to pay;
- Giving advantage to energy efficiency and improving it in all sectors, with a particular focus on energy renovation of buildings;
- Increasing the percentage of renewable energy sources and reducing energy poverty;
- Supporting smart infrastructure, digitalization of all types of transport, defining new corridors in rail transport and introducing new alternative fuels (hydrogen)
- Circular economy, that is to say moving from linear consumption of resources, to their recycling and reuse and creating minimum or zero waste. In almost all Western Balkan countries the concept of circular economy is new. This concept has two fundamental pillars that have to be implemented: 1) waste management 2) recycling.
Within this pillar each country should develop a strategy for circular economy that would cover the entire life cycle of a product. This means that waste production should be prevented and if there is waste, technologically advanced waste management should be used, it should be recycled, reused and remanufactured.
Plastic should be reduced and there should be initiatives to raise awareness among consumers. In the forthcoming period each country will have to implement an effective scheme for selection and collection of paper, metal, plastics, glass and bio-waste.
- Reducing pollution of air, water and soil will be one of the flagships that all WB countries will have to achieve equally because of the EU position – there is only one atmosphere for everyone. As one of the most polluted regions in Europe, the expenses of the healthcare system are far greater than those in the EU and this requires work. The figure below shows the cost of pollution impact on health
As per the Action Plan for Implementation of the Green Agenda, it will be necessary to:
- Ratify the Convention on long-range transboundary air pollution;
- Develop and implement a Strategy on air quality and use the best available technologies in line with the Industrial Emissions Directive
- Establish a system for monitoring air quality;
- Construct the necessary infrastructure for waste water treatment
- Integrate soil protection in other laws and regulations as well establish a regional soil partnership.
- Sustainable food production and farming is the fourth important pillar that the EU believes requires serious improvement in the Western Balkan countries, having in mind that this sector contributes around 10% of the gross domestic product (GDP), while in some countries the percentage of workforce in this sector is up to 20%. Even though this region is rich in resources, there are major structural problems in farming so the following activities are envisaged:
- Harmonize the farming sector and food production with EU standards on food protection and safety, animal health and prevention of diseases;
- Strengthen sanitation controls in the whole food chain and improve the traceability and labelling of food products;
- Raise people’s awareness about sustainable food production and promote organic production;
- Reduce the use of chemical products in food production such as pesticides, veterinary drugs and fertilizers;
- Reduce waste along roads and rivers and modernize the sector;
- Biodiversity – protection and restoration of ecosystems in the Western Balkan countries should also be harmonized with EU legislation. Having in mind that the region is rich in endemic species of animals and environments, it must be preserved and restored with the following activities:
- Support for the region to develop and implement a plan for biodiversity until 2030 for the Western Balkans;
- Support for the development and implementation of a plan for forest restoration
- Strengthening the mechanisms for regional cooperation for biodiversity conservation and preservation and inclusion of the United Nations Rio Convention.
The implementation of all activities envisaged with the Green Agenda and the Action Plan will require excellent financial management, good communication with financial institutions and donors, as well as impeccable transparency in spending for greater mutual trust among all stakeholders.
About the Author
Igor Pancevski – Energy consultant
Igor Panchevski is an engineer that has been developing professional service skills in the energy sector for more than 15 years.
He is a trainer and educator for energy auditors, municipalities and NGOs. Passionate about energy efficiency, renewable energy, digitalization.
He is a BIM ambassador and promotor of low-carbon technologies.