European Western Balkans

CSF 2023: WB governments should enhance capacities of authorities dealing with climate change

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The Civil Society and Think Tank Forum (CSF) under the Berlin Process is scheduled to be held on October 14-15 in Tirana. The primary objective of the CSF is to facilitate constructive and inclusive discussions on regional challenges. The forum is structured around seven thematic working groups, each led by civil society organizations from the region. These working groups have actively engaged in a comprehensive consultation process, involving civil society and regional experts, to collaboratively formulate policy recommendations.

During the conference, participants will have the opportunity to discuss issues related to the climate and green agenda and how to unite for sustainable infrastructure, biodiversity protection, and effective management.

The Thematic work group “Climate and Green Agenda”, led by the Institute for good governance and policies in the environment and climate change (IPECC) has dedicated several rounds of consultations to provide recommendations to the EU and Western Balkan countries’ leaders. 

President of IPECC Jadranka Ivanovsays for EWB that discussions were focused on the topic of “Green Infrastructure Investments”, highlighting the importance of “Good Governance in the Environment” and “Biodiversity and Protection of Natural Resources.”

“Consequently, the recommendations group prepared are related to these issues. Some of them are for the EU leaders that mainly address the need for more substantive financial support for the WB countries to meet EU requirements and decrease the current backlog that exists compared to the EU member states. Both the EU and the WB countries have a shared responsibility to enhance environmental performance in the WB region”, Ivanova explains.

She adds that civil society organizations call on the EU to establish a funding instrument that will consider regional countries’ accession needs and be based on solidarity and Cohesion policy operational modus and explore the possibility of establishing a “WB6 Regional Hub focused on Infrastructure Projects”. Also, TWG calls EU leaders to allocate about 30% of its climate-related funding for the Western Balkan countries to be invested in biodiversity and nature-based solutions.

When it comes to recommendations for regional countries, Ivanova says that governments from the region should take swift action to enhance the capacities of national and sub-national authorities entrusted with the environment and climate change responsibilities, including efforts to strengthen the effectiveness of donors’ programming and management and formulate and implement robust policies for staff retention.

“By doing so, the Western Balkan countries will be better positioned to navigate the complexities of environmental compliance and reaching climate neutrality, in consonance with the objectives of the EU integration process and the Green Agenda. Also, the government should acknowledge and use the CSO’s capacity to play an important role in addressing certain capacity needs, thereby supporting Western Balkan countries”, says Ivanova. 

According to her, it is important that WB leaders should try to secure sustainable funding for preserving and restoring the region’s natural resources.

“They should increase biodiversity protection funding to reach 30% of total national funding for environment and climate within the next five years. Additionally, aligning policies with the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and implementing measures to create a well-managed protected area network, covering at least 30% of land and sea areas, with a third designated as strictly protected, is crucial”, adds Ivanova. 

She assesses that the WB countries are simultaneously facing significant challenges related to climate and the Green Agenda, adding that these challenges are not unique to the region and have been observed in many other countries worldwide.

However, Ivanova underlines a few common challenges of all Western Balkan countries like environmental degradation, lack of energy diversity and green transition, inadequate waste management, climate change vulnerability, as well as inadequate national funding for environmental and climate change issues.

Speaking about the role of the EU in improving the situation in the region when it comes to climate and green agenda, Ivanova underlines that the EU plays a central and multi-faceted role in several key aspects.

“Foremost, the EU serves as a guiding force in setting environmental and climate standards that Western Balkan (WB) countries aspire to meet. This important role offers a clear direction for environmental policies and practices in the region. Without the EU’s guidance, WB countries would face substantial challenges in addressing environmental and climate issues. The EU accession process encourages and obliges WB countries to harmonize their legislation and policies with the EU acquis, which is the fundamental step toward achieving progress in the environment and climate sector”, says Ivanova.

According to her, the EU is also the largest financial contributor to the region, providing substantial financial assistance through various funding mechanisms. She adds that for more than a decade, the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) has provided significant resources to support environmental protection and sustainable development in the WB countries.

She explains that the EU plays a pivotal role in the capacity building of the WB administrations, both on national and local levels.

“This is achieved through technical assistance support and by allowing WB countries to participate in EU experts’ bodies and structures. Through its monitoring of the Western Balkan progress in the EU accession process, the EU serves as a corrective measure by providing valuable feedback and guidance for improving the environmental situation. This monitoring extends to environmental issues, including emissions and environmental quality, ensuring that progress aligns with EU standards”, says Jadranka Ivanova.

On the question of how far the Western Balkans is from the EU standards in this area, Ivanova underlines that the region has made some progress in aligning with the EU standards in aligning their national legislation with EU standards. However, countries have not yet achieved a satisfactory level of progress in terms of legislation implementation. 

“In fact,  the European Commission 2022 Annual Progress Reports show that the WB6 have weak and limited administrative capacity, moderate level of transposition, and are at an early stage of the implementation of the EU environmental acquis”, adds Ivanova. 

According to her, the situation is further intensified by the insufficient and weak administrative capacities to effectively utilize the already provided EU funds, adding a layer of complexity to the existing difficult situation arising from the need for more financial resources and substantial reforms in the sector. 

“It’s evident that Western Balkan countries have not fully capitalized on the opportunities provided by the EU accession process, as they have struggled to successfully utilize available funds. To improve the situation, we must enhance transparency and governance in environmental and climate change efforts. This entails addressing corruption, improve legislative enforcement, and increasing public participation in managing EU IPA funds”, stresses Jadranka Ivanova.

She concludes that all Balkan countries must enhance their administrative capacity to join the Unique EU administrative space, establishing a merit-based administration and implementing retention policy instruments are essential preconditions for meeting EU standards.

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