Air pollution in Belgrade and Serbia: state of play and how to reach sustainable solutions

Lidija Radulović

15. November 2019

Air pollution in Belgrade and Serbia: state of play and how to reach sustainable solutions

On Wednesday, 13 November, at the premises of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia, an inter sectoral round table of the informal Green Parliamentary Group was held. This time the topic of the meeting was focused on the problem of air pollution, the current situation and how to find a solution.

The meeting was opened by the secretary of the Green Parliamentary group, Lidija Radulovic, and introduced the participants to the program at hand. The introductory part of the meeting was addressed by the Coordinator of the Green Parliamentary Group, Member of Parliament Nada Lazić, who stressed the importance of the topic of the round table, as well as the need to better inform citizens about the air pollution.

The panel discussion included Minister of the Environment Goran Trivan, Milenko Jovanovic, Head of the Air Quality Department at the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrej Sostaric of the City Institute for Public Health, Uros Rakic of the Institute of Public Health of Serbia, Mirjana Jovanovic of Belgrade Open School, Ivana Krstic, Secretary of the Secretariat for Environmental Protection of the City of Nis, Zvezdan Kalmar in front of Working Group 27 of the National Convention on the EU, with the moderation of Aleksandar Macura from the RES Foundation.

The first panelist was Andrej Sostaric, representative of the Belgrade City Institute for Public Health. In his presentation, Sostaric primarily cited decades of work by the City Institute in controlling air quality. He then turned his attention to the method of controlling and measuring air quality in the capital. He pointed out that Belgrade currently has 3 active measuring stations (Despota Stefana Boulevard, New Belgrade and Ovca). He also spoke about the process of developing an air quality plan in Belgrade. The process started in 2014 and was adopted in February 2016. While presenting the case, Andrej Sostaric said that the process was characterised by its inclusivity, that is, a large number of relevant institutions were consulted in the field of possible air pollution in the city. The second panelist was Milenko Jovanovic from the Environmental Protection Agency, who spoke about the extreme damage that PM (2.5 and 10) particles carry, as well as their presence in cities in Serbia. He pointed out that in Belgrade, poor air quality was 132 days in 2018, and in Smederevo as much as 146 days, according to the Agency’s report, which is public. Jovanovic also announced the establishment of 2 new measuring stations in Serbia in Leskovac and Novi Pazar, as well as the possible establishment of a station in Pirot. He also emphasised the importance of the process of monitoring (quality) air quality and the need for its continuous increase. “Without monitoring, there is no adequate therapy,” Jovanovic said. He also devoted his presentation to the causes of pollution, the largest share being 75% in small individual fireboxes, 30% in industry and 6% in road traffic. While thermal power plants are the largest pollutants for SO2 particles (91%). What is needed is an additional increase in the capacity of the measuring stations. It is also a problem that local governments do not have a list of pollutants.

Environment Minister Goran Trivan said the biggest polluter in Belgrade was traffic. The Minister also stated that the problems caused by pollution in the capital are directly related to the poor quality of used cars and the use of gasoline which is inadequate (Euro 3.4) and has an effect on the deterioration of air quality. He emphasised a number of measures that need to be taken to increase air quality primarily when it comes to the use of these cars, ie to ban the import of bad cars, more difficult criteria in the technical inspection of cars, reorientation towards the use of electric and hybrid cars, as well as subsidizing citizens for purchase of the same. Minister Trivan also spoke about the importance of transparency in the process of informing citizens about air quality. When asked by MP Dubravka Filipovski about whether Serbia is implementing the Convention on Transboundary Pollution, the Minister emphasized: “The Convention on Transboundary Pollution must be applied because of international rules and obligations that Serbia has”. In addition, the Minister also spoke about social policy, which, although not within the competence of the Ministry of the Environment, is particularly active in cooperation with institutions in the area concerned in order to find a long-term social solution. How to help those who have nothing to heat?! The problem of waste disposal is something that affects the quality not only of the environment but also of the air, which is why the Minister noted the particular need to build a treatment plant. He also stressed the importance of constant afforestation and “tightening control measures to combat unhealthy energy”. The Minister eventually concluded that he would need valuable assistance in the fight for environmental protection and the enhancement of air quality and that his strategy would be based on long-term plans.

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Uros Rakic ​​of the Institute of Public Health stated in his presentation that there is a clear lack of measuring stations and monitoring of air quality in Serbia. Rakic ​​also said that there is a reluctance of city governments to purchase metering stations. He continued with data from World Health Organisation’s research into how poor air quality is affecting the economies of countries, in fact poor air quality can lead to losses of 324 million euros and 2.5 million working days. He pointed out that 33% of Serbia’s GDP is being lost because of premature mortality from the effects of air pollution. He also spoke about the number of PM particles and the health damage to Belgrade citizens. A representative of the Institute spoke about the dramatic impact of environmental quality on the life expectancy of Serbian citizens. In the first part of her presentation, Mirjana Jovanovic of Coalition 27 stated that citizens are not satisfied with the way of informing and controlling air quality in Serbia. Mirjana stated that there was a need to increase resources and shared the views of previous speakers about the lack of measuring stations. She also shared her experiences of working with citizens and their needs.

At the roundtable, Ivana Krstic, as a representative of the Secretariat for Environmental Protection, had an opportunity to point out the state of air quality and the measures taken in Niš. Krstic emphasised that the city of Nis, unfortunately, does not yet have a cadastre of pollutants, but that a working group has been formed and the process of monitoring air quality in the city has been improved. Krstic emphasised that the role of urban planners in the development of the urban plan of the city due to the flow of it, which has an impact on improving the quality, is apodictically important in the quality of the air. Finally, Zvezdan Kalmar in front of Task Force 27 of the NKEU expressed concern about the lack of use of legal regulations primarily related to air quality, but also to other categories. Kalmar drew attention to the delicate situation in villages near large manufacturing plants. The representative of the Working Group emphasized that conditional assistance to energy producers and the public interest is mutually exclusive, then that the integration of transport policies is necessary and the establishment of a comprehensive strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Dragan Djurica, Assistant Provincial Secretary for Environmental Monitoring and Information System, who said that Vojvodina has a local network of 7 measuring stations provided from the provincial budget that is immeasurably smaller than the budget of the Republic, continued the discussion. He emphasised that it is very important to involve Vojvodina to a greater extent, which has not been the practice so far.

MP Nada Lazic stressed that it was more necessary to animate the media in order to report more on air quality, and that it would be good to introduce monitors around the city that would publicly show air pollution in cities, such as the example in Budapest.

The moderator, Aleksandar Macura, emphasised the complexity of the topic of air pollution, that with this roundtable we only open the topic, and in view of this fact we cannot reach conclusions, except that it is necessary to discuss this topic as much as possible, and especially in the Assembly.

The implementation of this activity was supported by the office of the United Nations Development Program in Serbia (UNDP) as part of the project “Capacity Building for Enhanced Implementation of International Environmental Agreements”, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).