Coal Regions in Transition: Energy transition and air quality - solutions and good practices

On April 27th, the Initiative for Coal Regions in Transition in the Western Balkans and Ukraine hosted the third online seminar in the "Just Energy Transition" series. This time, the conversation topic was Energy transition and air quality, focusing on solutions and good practices, which the region most certainly needs.

©dreamstime_Kom Vitthayanukarun via Initiative for Coal Regions in Transition

The inputs were given by Peter Vajda (Energy Community Secretariat), Marta Babicz (National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management in Poland), and Emilija Sarafska (Advisor for Municipality of Bitola, North Macedonia). The conversation was moderated by Selma Šehović, FES SOE Project Manager, and the speakers gave examples from their experiences of cooperation, best practices, and success stories that can help improve the air quality in the region and further the energy transition process at the same time.

Mr. Vajda spoke about Europe's air quality status in 2023, which indicates that air pollution is Europe's most considerable environmental health risk. The report also shows that the geographical focus of the PM particle pollution is, in fact, central and eastern Europe and Italy, with one of the primary concerns being the use of solid fuels for domestic heating and industry. One of the conclusions from the Energy Community Secretariat is the pressing need to tackle air pollution, which prompted the initiation of the Clean Air Initiative, and the mayors of municipalities most affected by air pollution in the Western Balkans also signed the Initiative's Declaration.

Ms. Babicz, however, broadened the perspective a bit and stated that Western Balkans are not the only culprit. One of the biggest challenges remains coal usage in heating; therefore, she also presented the Clean Air program, which aims to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by replacing heat sources and improving the energy efficiency of single-family residential buildings in Poland. So far, the program has reached over 580 000 Polish households, and the European Commission decided to take over the program financing. Ms. Babicz also spoke about smaller examples of more sustainable practices that have since been adopted, like the digitalization of forms, particularly in these programs, which makes all necessary application procedures and communication regarding them – fully electronic.

Last but certainly not least, Ms. Sarafska spoke about the Municipality of Bitola, the biggest local authority in the cross-border area, as well as the economic and industrial center of the southwestern part of the country. The emphasis of her input focused on using positive experiences from the region, and the biggest contributor to Bitola's success story was financial support from the EU. \She emphasized that its important to choose a scenario for the transition to take place that will take into consideration the needs of the local population, which is why local authorities need to be involved in the process.

We were happy to be an active part of these series through moderation and topic-related insights, and we will continue promoting and supporting the rest of the activities within the Initiative's work. Regular updates are available on Energy4Europe and FES SOE social media.

For more information on just energy transition in the Southeast European region and all the potential it holds, check out FES SOE's Inclusive Energy Transition in Southeast Europe as an Opportunity.


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