June 30, 2016 | Thursday
The EU Information and Cultural Centre in Pristina held a panel discussion as part of the EU Talks program on protecting Kosovo’s environment. The discussion was part of the EUICC bi monthly campaign on Environmental Sustainability, reflecting on environmental challenges facing Kosovo, with a focus on air quality, major polluters and the long term environmental impact of deforestation. The panel consisted of environmentalists, researchers and experts on environmental issues who provided an overview on the current state on environment in Kosovo. Based on the 2015 progress report for Kosovo, legislation to address increasing environmental challenges in Kosovo has not been fully harmonized with the acquis or implemented. Furthermore, there has been little progress in implementing the acquis on nature protection and the volume of illegal logging is still too high for sustainable forest management.
The air quality monitoring system is equipped, but not fully operational. In addition, the Kosovo Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality reports contain no inventory or measurement of air polluters and pollution from the main sources (in particular from the Kosovo A power plant). The RIT Center for Energy and Natural Resources conducted a study of wood fuel usage by households in Kosovo revealing that 2.05 million cubic meters of wood are consumed annually. This is approximately 1.21.3 million cubic meters more than what is allowed by law to be harvested, as estimated by the Norwegian Forestry Group and Ministry of Agriculture of Kosovo. “Each individual inhales 11,000 litres of air per day and that makes us understand the importance of air quality that maintains life or causes death” stated panelist Learta Hollaj, Researcher at the Institute for Development Policy (INDEP) drawing attention to the quality of air we inhale every day. Ms. Hollaj expressed concerns about the low level of interest by Kosovo institutions and the public on air pollution and climate change, referring to various reports conducted in this area by credible international institutions (e.g. World Bank) in recent years. According to Ms. Hollaj, the greatest air polluters are the industries with the largest factories such as energy and transport. The public institutions often rationalize the lack of progress in environmental protection noting economic development as a priority.
The INDEP institute initiated a project with municipalities establishing a fund for energy efficiency which can help to reduce coal based energy consumption. Agron Bektashi, Director of the Regional Environmental Centre (REC) spoke of deforestation and its degradation in our region, emphasizing the danger posed to our forests by illegal logging and wildfires. The deforestation also endangers biodiversity and balance of ecosystem, stated Mr. Bektashi. He qualified deforestation in Kosovo as an environmental crime and appealed for institutional and social mobilisation to combat this phenomenon which is threatening both forest health and our air quality. He emphasized the consistent efforts by REC on informing the public and raising awareness in regard to environmental problems.
“As we all know our air is purified by the forests,” stated Krenare Salihu, Forest Management Expert. She noted that forestation has slowly become a government priority, however, more needs to be done, especially by the Department of Forestry in the Ministry of Agriculture, the Regional Agency for Forestry as well as the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning with a greater role in monitoring of forest health. Ms. Salihu warned of the difficulties in sanctioning illegal logging considering that the perpetrators are usually family providers trying to gain income, but she also highlighted the weak legal system which lags behind with implementation of sanctions, affecting reforestation and deforestation in the long term. Furthermore, she stressed the importance of Kosovo’s National Forest Health Program and the National Program for Afforestation and Reforestation supported by the International Convention on Forest Health (ICP Forest). Kosovo is expected to become a member in 2016, whereas members can monitor the forest health and air pollution in their country and report to the ICP Forest headquarters in Germany. “There are 32 monitoring points established to report on forest health and air quality in our country as part of this Convention,” stated Ms. Salihu. Chad Briggs from Global Interconnections and RIT Kosovo highlighted the lack of renewable resources in Kosovo such as water and the challenges of poor wastewater treatment facilities. He noted that most water goes to household supplies, comparatively very little to industry, and an overwhelming amount goes to Kosovo Energy Distribution System (KEDS) and that in itself limits its capacities for renewable energy production, stated Mr. Briggs. Mr. Briggs brought attention to another issue, indoor pollution, which can lead to various respiratory diseases for the local population. He illustrated how water and energy are related hence the shortage of one conditions the other, therefore these environmental considerations must be made a priority. In conclusion, audience members noted that often a lack of coordination among civil society and government institutions hinders progress in the sector, specifically utilization of Kosovo’s Eco Fund as established by the Law on Environmental Protection. The usage of biomass was recommended as a substitute for wood in order to prevent deforestation at its current level. The audience members also stressed the alarming amount of CO2 emission caused by heavy car traffic and specific industries, something they hoped the government would soon address.