One step forward, two steps back -Is Serbia progressing in Chapter 27?

Are we moving further away, rather than getting closer towards the EU? Are we going one step forward, two steps back when it comes to the Chapter 27 – Environment and Climate Change? Progress Report of Serbia in Chapter 27 has been discussed at the presentation of the Shadow Report for Chapter 27: One step forward, two steps back organized by Coalition 27

Although citizens’ interest in environmental topics has been increasing over the years, most of them still do not know how to participate in the decision-making processes that affects the environment. On the other side, a lack of knowledge and political will to improve the state of the environment lead to regression, stagnation, or insignificant progress in this area.  

Although the right to a healthy environment and being informed about its condition is guaranteed right, there is no responsibility. This situation brought us to breathe polluted air, water resources are being jeopardized, number of illegal landfills and illegal forests’ cutting have been increased, and much more. Why do we have this situation? 

Quality of the air, non-availability of clean drinking water, endangerment of natural habitats and species, expansion of wild landfills are the consequences of missed deadlines for the implementation of EU legislation in Chapter 27. 

The conclusion is that Serbia is not approaching European standards and quality of the environment state with sure steps, but those standards are slowly but surely moving away. The Shadow Report of the Coalition 27 reviews the (un)achieved progress and gives recommendations in the field of air and water quality, nature protection, waste and chemical management, noise and climate change, forestry, as well as horizontal legislation. 

It seems that the state is sending a clear message – there is no commitment toward positive changes, which has a detrimental effect on citizens. The public does not receive all the necessary information to be involved in the decision-making process, which makes the processes non-transparent and often contrary to the needs of the public. Participation in the decision-making process is difficult for citizens, and in some cases completely impossible.  So far experience shows that any amended proposals to laws enters the parliamentary procedure without public hearing, and even if public hearings exist, they are often not published to the public or are held during public holidays. 

The most common reson for weak or non-existent progress in the field of environmental protection is the lack of expertise and capacity of institutions, while some of the existing laws in the field of environmental protection and climate change cannot be applied due to the lack of by-laws. 

Progress in this area is expensive, but necessary. Long terms solutions that can bring benefit to all of us imply the consistent application of the law and the involvement of interested citizens who have the right to ask about solutions that concern them. It is certain that Serbia will have large investment in infrastructure projects in this sector. Likewise, it is clear that the capacity of public administration is weak at all levels, and that those large projects request good management and transparency in its implementation. 

Smaller local communities are the key for mowing step forward toward changes, thus novelty in this year’s Shadow Report are “Green cards” that give insight into the implementation of environmental protection and improvement of policies at the local level. The “Green cards” show us that none of the local municipalities covered by the survey fully implement adopted standards and regulations in the field of environmental protection. 

The Shadow Report called One step forward, two steps back, covers the period from January 2021 to March 2022 and contains detailed recommendations for eight thematic areas of the Chapter 27. You can download the report HERE. 

Promotion of the Shadow Report brought together representatives of the institutions, civil society, academic sectors and interested citizens. Panellists during the presentation of the Shadow Report were representatives of the following organizations: Belgrade Open School, Environment Engineering Group, Young Researchers of Serbia, The Safer Chemicals Alternative and the World Wide Fund for Nature Adria – Serbia.