Photo by Chandan Chaurasia on Unsplash.

Only if we are responsible towards our environment, ready to change the way we produce and use energy and treat our waste, can we hope to achieve better health for all and enjoy clean air and blue skies in the future.

This year for the first time, United Nations have marked the International Clean Air Day – for Blue Skies. For a while now, we are aware that the pollution is a serios issue, but we rarely think of its impact (aside from our breathing system). However, air pollution is a serious issue for health, it impacts children and economy as well. In its latest report on air pollution in Serbia, the Batut Public Health Institute states that the main emitters of pollutants in the country are the mining industry and energy sector, as well as transport and construction. The low-quality coal used for heating in individual households exacerbates this problem in the winter, as well as unsanitary landfills. We also know that stubble burning after the harvest season, which both destroys the humus in the soil and endangers the surrounding ecosystem, causes additional air pollution and the emission of a larger amount of CO2.

Last winter we could see people in the streets of Serbian cities wearing masks, not as a protection from coronavirus, as we all do these days, but because the air quality was so poor. The citizens, especially the young ones, recognized this problem as crucial for their health and quality of life, and protested, demanding solutions.

Talking to people in local communities, and those planning to leave Serbia, they tell us that the reasons for leaving the country are not just financial. Appreciating the environment and actively caring for it came across as something people in diaspora see as missing in Serbia. To reach the SDG target 3 of good health by 2030, we should substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from air, water and soil pollution.

When it comes to Serbia, the country is balancing the need to ensure stable energy supply by investing in switching to renewable, clean energy sources. However, it could do more, by helping individual households make this transition, as well as reducing and filtering the emissions from the power plants and industry. It would not only cut air pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but also make the country’s economy more competitive on the EU market and create green jobs (SDG 8 decent work and economic growth).

UNDP in Serbia is encouraging innovation in tackling environmental issues and making our cities and communities sustainable. In the past five years, in partnership with GEF and SIDA we supported over 20 companies to develop their green business ideas, from biogas power plants, to circular economy and new technologies to reduce GHGs in urban areas. This support will enable them to later access financing from EBRD and from commercial banks – and earn by protecting environment and tackling climate change.

For example, we enabled the construction of six biomass heat and power plants throughout Serbia, producing electricity in rural areas from agricultural waste and creating green jobs. We have also provided co-financing for businesses that reuse waste, to make new products and clean energy. To illustrate, some produce biogas out of food leftovers from restaurants, or make bio pellets and organic fertilizer from the remains of the plants used for essential oil production.

UNDP also helped Belgrade citizens to set-up measuring stations and collect real-time data on air quality around their homes. In order to reach more people with good ideas to curb air pollution in Serbia in new ways, we launched an Innovation Challenge Call  seeking innovative solutions that will contribute to improving the air quality. 

Only if we are responsible towards our environment, ready to change the way we produce and use energy and treat our waste, can we hope to achieve better health for all and enjoy clean air and blue skies in the future.

*The text was publihed in Vreme Magazine

 

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