Stana Božović, State Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection: Ecology as priority of Serbian government

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Our task and obligation is to prepare 94 legal acts by the end of 2018 in order for our legislation to fully comply to the EU Acquis in the segment of environmental protection and climate change.

In the period from 2014 to 2020, Serbia has 160 million EUR worth of grants for investments in environmental protection at its disposal. If we take into consideration that that is 80% of the total project value, that means that, with the help of the EU funds, we are going to be able to fund projects of the total value of 200 million EUR.

How far along is Serbia in harmonizing its environmental protection legislation with the EU’s?

The Republic of Serbia has been recording continous success in terms of harmonizing its environmental legislatin with the EU Acquis. In February 2016, we adopted amendments and supplements to three laws that are crucial for regulating environmental issues, and these are the Environmental Protection Law which gives legal basis for the Green Foundation that started operating early this year with the budget of over 2 billion dinars; the Law on Waste Management which brought essential changes to the segment of separation and recycling of utility waste on the local level; and the Law on Nature Protection.

In May this year, we ratified the Paris Agreement, with Serbia now being legally obligated to reach the target in reduction of emission of greenhouse gases. Serbia is the first country in the region and 10th in the world to have submitted its target regarding reduction of greenhouse gases to the UN Secretary General. In the last few years, our economy suffered losses in the amount of 5 billion EUR du to the consequences of climate change.

The Serbian government, the line ministry and the negotiation group, which comprises of 22 institutions wiht over 200 domestic and foreign experts, are working together on adopting and harmonizing over 700 different legal acts. To illustrate how huge this committment is, let me just say that, in the course of the EU accession talks, we are the only candidate country to have unconditionally opened Chapter 27 (environmental protection).

This chapter covers a wide range of sectors – from air quality to controlling industrial pollution to civil protection. How did you delegate tasks in the government regarding these complex issues?

We have been cooperating with almost all line ministries, the EU Integration Office, the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities, and the representatives of civil society organizations on this complex task. Our job is to ensure and facilitate communication and coordination between required institutions so that we, as a candidate country, could invest in this segment. Water supply is one of the cooperation areas, and we expect 2 billion EUR worth of investments in water supply systems and securing healthy, drinking water for all citizens of Serbia.

How much do we, in Serbia, implement the European rule that environmental protection should be incorporated into other EU policies concerning agriculture, transport, and energy, for instance?

Environmental protection is a field that is completely intertwined with all aspects of our society, which includes agriculture, transport and energy.

In terms of agriculture, I would like to mention an example that we are all familiar with and it relates to organic production. Growing and consuming organic produce significantly contributes to well-being of the entire eco-system. Thanks to the policies we have mentioned, agri-ecological measures have become an important subject to finance from IPARD funds on which preparation and utilization our ministry and minister Nedimović have been regularly and successfully working on. One of the most demanding environmental directives – the Nitrates Directive – stipulates measures and way to limit the level of nitrates in land and waters that originate from agricultural production.

On the other hand, energy is one of the segments that will receive the biggest investments in terms of environmental protection. This entails devising programmes and projects pertaining to energy efficiency, using renewable energy sources instead of fossil fuels, using desulphurization filters and similar, as well as projects like filtering waste waters in large heat and electricity generation systems.

Do you think that Serbia has enough qualified professionals to see that this job is done?

Yes, Serbia has enough qualified environmental protection experts.

I would like to use this opportunity to announce a youth job fair that will cover jobs in environmental protection that will take place in September this year, and that we are organizing in cooperation with consultancies, universities, institutions and donors that we are collaborating with. However, the issue of administrative capacities is the issue that we have to constantly work on. Our Ministry doesn’t have enough people to deal with these tasks and for now we are trying to compensate this lack in staff with increasing the efficiency in certain sectors and providing various types of technical support.

When the time comes to use European and pre-accession structural funds we want to be ready in order to fully utilize all the opportunities available to us. Also, we would like to avoid mistakes and learn from bad examples of some of the newer EU members which, although having a billion euros worth of grants for water supply, sewage, waste management and waste water filtering projects, did not have enough qualified professionals or serious projects to use these grants.

How much money could Serbia get from the EU pre-accession IPA funds for infrastructure projects relating to environmental protection?

In the period from 2014 to 2020, Serbia has 160 million EUR worth of grants for investments in environmental protection at its disposal. After a three-year-break, during which we have been working on resolving the issues with certain infrastructure projects dating back from the 2008-2012 period, the Serbian government and line ministry can again use the pre-accession funds for investments in infrastructure. The Ministry inherited around 20 different and quite problematic infrastructure projects. We have managed to reduce the number of these projects to only 3 in record time and with rather limited financial resources. These projects are waste water filtering in Vrbas and Leskovac, and water supply system in Smederevska Palanka and Velika Plana which are supposed to become operational in 18 months’ time.

What other financial resources do you use in this segment and what are the Ministry’s priorities?

There are four different financial sources for this segment: 1) grants from the EU funds or bilateral funds, 2) long-term infrastructure loans granted by KfW, EBRD or EIB, 3) funds from private partners invested through the concession systems or other types of public-private partnership, and 4) national funds, be it state or local funds. Also, there is the environmental fee that big polluters pay which is now 20% higher compared to the same period last year. Also, as a result of implementing various payment measures and instruments for the first time ever, we expect a 50% increase in the collected amount by the end of 2017 and relative to 2016.

The Ministry’s priorities are investing in development of infrastructure, primarily in waste management, water supply, construction of sewage and waste water filtering. In the following period, Serbia will invest around 8 billion EUR in these segments alone.

Currently, we are filtering less than 8% of the municipal waste water, and our goal, which entails constructing and launching 320 waste water filtering facilities in the next 25 years, is 100%.

Also, while we are on the subject of waste management, we have a lot of work ahead of us on establishing new regions, separation and recycling of waste with an ancillary infrastructure, hazardous waste management, construction of sanitary landfills and biodegradable waste treatment systems with or without energy utilization, and proper closure and re-cultivation of over 160 local landfills that take around 2 million tons of waste every year.

Despite high costs, this segment is very appealing to investors too. How many FDIs could Serbia count on in this sector?

Our long-term financing plan, which also contains a forecast of financing resources for environmental protection, says that 20% of investments will come from the private sector which, in translation means, that we expect around 2 billion EUR worth of private investments in this area. It is encouraging to see that private funds have invested in 50% of the regional sanitary landfills in Serbia, and that there is a growing interest among international financial institutions, investment funds and renowned global companies in the waste and water management sector.

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