By Žikica Milošević
Since October, the media in Serbia and the region have extensively been reporting about extreme cases of air pollution, and the topic has become hotter than chatting about politics. Countries in transition, from China and India to Poland and the Balkans, are struggling to fight pollution. But how can a country where production accounts for 20% of GDP can do it better?
TO REDUCE PERSONAL USE OF VEHICLES
When talking about the quality of life in various cities around the world, the cost of public transport is often taken into consideration. In some cities such as London, the figure can be as low as 180 euro per month, in others this cost is much lower. As you can deduce, this is the case with the countries where liberalism is less alive, and where horizontal solidarity is much greater. Germany is one such country, and other highly developed countries, or those with the Protestant spirit, such as Luxembourg or Estonia, have already introduced free public transport. This may soon happen in certain German cities too as a result of the desire to reduce pollution to the lowest possible level.
Clearly, the idea is for people to use their personal cars less, unless they are using them for a personal trip. But if they are using them to go to work, which is the reason for most traffic jams in Los Angeles or Delhi, and most of the pollution, it’s perfectly legitimate to use public transportation lines: underground, trams, which are eco-friendly, or buses, which are increasingly becoming eco-friendly since an increasing number of them are using natural gas, hydrogen or electricity. In a country that has a bunch of big cities and one Ruhr area, this can be of crucial importance. There are also plans to expand pedestrian zones in major cities, as well as tram and railway grids. That does not sound odd at all in the country of perpetual infrastructure works.
REDUCING USE OF COAL AND CLEANER CARS
This is not a new idea. East Germany reunited with its Western counterpart 30 years ago, bringing to the new country many thermal power plants and buildings that use coal for heating. Since 1990, this has been one of the topics that united Germany had to tackle, namely how to help the East get rid of pollutants. In the meantime, Germany has become a leader in green technologies and the green technology industry is now worth 400 billion euro. But that is not enough. Germany now has an ambitious energy transition plan (“Energiewende”) that aims to win the eternal battle with air pollution. Needless to say, in a country boasting business honesty, the scandal with Volkswagen fixing its emission data from 2015 was very painful. It was an alarm for companies and individuals to press harder for green technologies. The plan is to achieve a large-scale reduction by phasing-out old-fashioned diesel vehicles in 2020 (city buses, cars, heavy trucks).
In August 2019, the European Commission granted EUR 450 million to Germany as financial assistance for the replacement of garbage trucks, buses and other municipal vehicles with diesel engines. Also, in 2007, an eco-tax of 65 cents per litre of petrol was introduced. Over the past 13 years, substantial money has been allocated to the green technology fund. The plan is also to reduce thermal energy loss by 14% by 2020 by investing in thermal insulation (so less fuel will be consumed). Not that Germany is in so much danger of rising sea levels, but some parts of Germany in the North Sea are. On the other hand, the destruction of the planet means the destruction of all of us, as no-one will do well in a negative scenario. Add to this the medical costs of treating ailments and illnesses caused by air pollution and shorter life span, the harm of not fighting pollution multiplies.
Although Germany is violating the EU’s set levels of pollution, the country is determined to tackle air pollution. In 2017, the particulate matter stood at 65mg, and as early as mid-2019, it was 40mg per cubic metre. There is no doubt that, considering the increasingly stronger and more agile green parties which are the mainstay in this political agenda, the fight against air pollution will be successful.