Our Green issue brings up a selection of points about a topic of global importance — protection of the environment. It’s a debate that was originally started more than 150 years ago, largely as a response to increased air pollution during the Industrial Revolution. Today, it addresses everything from land to air, oceans to rivers, wildlife to humans. Most significantly, the debate is now grounded on global warming and its subsequent effect of climate change.
The term “global warming” was first coined in a 1975 paper by US scientist Wallace Broecker, who predicted an increase in global temperatures as a result of rising carbon dioxide levels. Nearly 40 years later, a 2014 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated with 95 percent certainty that global warming is caused by human activities — alarmingly pointing to the growing impact of the human race on our environment. This human factor is expected to be the focus of the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in November and December in Paris, where officials from about 200 countries are set to meet. Proposals for the enforcement of stricter regulations are expected; ultimately, greater political commitments on the reduction of greenhouse emissions and a genuine acceptance of environmentally conscious policies will be needed in Paris from governments worldwide.
Much attention is being placed on this conference, particularly because of the failures of previous similar meetings; the 2005 Kyoto Protocol and 2009 Copenhagen Conference are notable recent examples (see our story “The boiling point” page 18). But while the eyes of the world’s environmentalists, politicians and scientists are set on Paris 2015, local discussions, and actions, carry just as much weight.
Worldwide, on a daily basis, countless local advocacy initiatives lobby and raise awareness about the immediate effects of climate change and the consequences that await us down the line. Meanwhile, for a wider understanding of the human impact on the degradation of the environment, it is important for states to lead the way with effective policies. The extent to which such issues find their rightful place in the public debate is just as important . Media play a great role here. And yet to date in Kosovo, this discussion has been sorely lacking.
That is why in this issue we embrace an approach that is informative, educational and practical. As global and local conversations happen all over the world (albeit, in some places to a greater degree than others), our Green issue offers an entryway to some of the gravest environmental problems and challenges facing Kosovo. On one hand, in this issue we point to the flaws in the legal framework, weak implementation of existing laws, and even how corruption networks can also play a part (see “Going against the flow” page 51 and “The recycling reality” on page 97). On the other hand, we are continuously attuned to the fact that an informative approach is just as essential if we truly strive for environmental protection to be a part of civic advocacy and individual commitment.
As such, alternative and economically sound energy production policies, responsible consumption, reduction of pollution as a health hazard, treatment of waste, and water as a human right are some of the topics at the core of this issue. As we examine the policies, their implementation and social awareness surrounding these topics, it becomes immediately apparent that Kosovo has a long way to go. Addressing environmental topics and any commitments to change will be a two-sided endeavor — for institutions certainly, but also for the public.
Our cover story “Destroying the environment, destroying lives” (see page 24) clearly ties into this discussion. It speaks of air pollution from industrial power plants and traffic (as the deadliest form of environmental degradation); industrial and household generated waste, which place Kosovo within some of the highest waste production rates in Europe; untreated sewage that pollutes and contaminates rivers; and the ongoing destruction of forests, with more than 40 percent of public woodlands in Kosovo illegally harvested. In this regard, of alarming proportions are the grave, and sometimes even fatal, consequences that pollution has on health and human life.
We have also placed particular importance on the energy sector, considering that a new lignite power plant, Kosovo C/RE, is all but confirmed, but the finer details of Kosovo’s energy future are still being negotiated. This project has often been a heated point of discussion and criticism, but the focus should quickly turn to scrutiny as well. On one hand, as this project is one of the bigger upcoming government capital investments, transparency and accountability should be at the forefront. Recent civil society studies presented at the conference organized by KFOS drew attention to the fact that one of the common threads among previous capital investments (such as the concession of the airport, privatization of KEDS energy distribution supply company, construction of the Kosovo-Albania highway, and failed privatization attempts of PTK) is lack of transparency. On the other hand, the construction of another lignite plant is planned in line with the shutting down of Kosovo A and the rehabilitation of Kosovo B in order to improve production and meet environmental standards, both set for 2017. As the situation currently stands, meeting these requirements on time appears to be unrealistic. But as the construction of Kosovo C/RE is still being debated, and proposed alternatives have emerged, a more inclusive and vocal public participation needs ground to grow (see “Power to the people” on page 54).
Thus, we come back to the human factor. Discussion of environmental protection is all too quickly shrugged off or met with cynicism in Kosovo — an attitude based on apathy and lack of belief that individual actions can have an impact. While political willingness is key for prioritizing this area, the weight and importance of our civic input and possibilities for change should not be underestimated (see profiles on page 72 and “Small steps to save our big planet” on page 104).
All too often, people in Kosovo feel that we’re just too small and irrelevant to have an effect on the global degradation of the environment. Our Green issue shows that there are no small places, and that each of us leaves behind a footprint on our planet and our well-being. That is why we hope that this issue will support the Kosovar interest in improving the everyday quality of life, by showing the ways in which protection of the environment is central to that goal.