Local communities are often more progressive on climate actions than national governments. This is true globally but also true for a region like the Western Balkans. In our April 30 “Talking Climate” on-line event we invited three speakers to learn about the Western Balkans to get a glimpse on possible scenarios to strengthen the local planning, local implementation of the Paris Agreement to demonstrate to national governments, that cities, communities are in the frontline of climate action.
And why it is so important to better understand the challenges and the opportunities in the Western Balkan countries? Key information on climate change in the region shows alarming increase of temperature over the whole territory with observed temperature increase of 1.2°C in the near future and destined to warm further by 1.7 – 4.0°C by the end of the century, depending on the global effort in greenhouse gas emission reduction.
Based on this forecast, the study of the Regional Cooperation Council analysis recognize the human health, safety and life quality as highly vulnerable to natural hazards and sectorial weather related to climate change in the region.
To explore how we can reduce the impact three panelists – Egzona Shala from Kosovo; Mihallaq Qirjo from Albania, and Igor Jezdimirovic from Serbia – were invited to the live session. They are all active members of their communities, experts on climate and sustainability issues and last but not least members of the European Climate Reality Leaders network.
The first part of the discussion focused on the most successful forms of uniting communities in the region. As Egzona Shala emphasized the more visible and immediate the impact is, the easier to unite a community. “They must see the action, they must feel the action happening,” said Egzona Shala. Supporting this path Kosovo Environmental Network joins the efforts of 23 environmental NGOs to amplify results in the region including issues like clean air or water pollution.
Mihallaq Qirjo from Albania emphasized that local solution is the real solution for the various environmental problems. Global challenges are too far. “Bringing science closer to communities, educating them, will help them to be better prepared, more resilient,” said Mihallaq Qirjo. Learning from the past disasters now communities organize local forums and workshops to be better prepared involving state and municipality institutions. The 2019 November earthquake also activated discussions and actions bringing content to context. While Albania does not produce energy from coal locally, but the country imports it from the neighboring countries. It is also important that adaptation and mitigation measures and solutions should be checked how the impact of the efforts can be maximized.
“Lack of discussion culture, lack of public debate is a real barrier in Serbia,” started Igor Jezdimirovic his contribution. It is time to change attitude and stop considering environment as a cost. He also mentioned that Serbia started to use the masks much earlier than the pandemic arrived to the country due to the extreme air pollution level in the early days of 2020. The pollution comes mainly from low-quality lignite power plants and also from the old car-pool. “The environmental data should be monitored and better explained to the society, and government should act and plan accordingly.”
During the event our speakers also shared their experiences on how local communities can initiate a dialogue with officials. The experience in Kosovo shows that it is very difficult to start such process, a possible scenario is to demonstrate solutions through actions. As Kosovo is not part of the UN, this means also special difficulties as international conventions, agreements are not recognized in Kosovo.
Albania as a non-annex country is also in a difficult situation. Emission reduction is often considered as a barrier of economic development. On top of it, local communities are not recognized as stakeholders in policy development.
In Serbia local decision-makers are often more engaged with the national government than with the local community. Unfortunately, the EU accession process is not transparent enough, NGOs are often invited but they are not allowed to consult with their local networks. Physical demonstrations seem the most powerful tool to bring change into processes – on local level too.
While Western Balkan countries and communities are often facing with difficulties to unite their voices and sending a powerful message it was a clear outcome, that problems and challenges make them recognize that there is a need to look for local solutions, bringing science and data closer to the communities.
Understanding and facilitating the community needs and demands is the best way to change attitude and develop action. Also, bringing closer communities to education should be part of the solution if we want green economy to be recognized as driver of the future. “Time and energy must be invested to reach the trust of the community,” closed Igor Jezdimirovic.