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News article10 November 2020

Launching the Green Agenda : EU support in decarbonising the Western Balkans

Visual on how to improve air quality in the Western Balkans
© European Union, 2020 / European Union, 2020

The Green Agenda for the Western Balkans, envisaged by the European Green Deal, and the connected Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans adopted last October 6th, will be discussed today by the Western Balkan leaders at the Sofia Summit. Earlier this year, the JRC published a report on the status of air pollution and emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the countries of the Western Balkans. It describes the existing level of knowledge and the gaps with respect to the EU legislation in order to benchmark the future progress in this field.

The six countries of the Western Balkans (Albania, Kosovo[1], Serbia, Montenegro, North-Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina) are at different steps in their way to join the European Union. Before joining, they have to align and implement their legislations with the EU “acquis” or the accumulated legislation, legal acts, and court decisions that constitute the body of the EU law.

The adoption, implementation and enforcement of the EU acquis on Environment is an obligation for accessing countries in the framework of the Stabilisation and association process. Reducing the emissions of air pollutants and GHG is a priority, which is strongly interlinked with energy, transport and health policies, among others. Successful implementation of the EU air quality legislation in the Western Balkans would also help EU neighbouring countries to reach their limit values for some air pollutants.

Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), SO2, O3 and NO2 are the air pollutants whose levels are most frequently above the legislation limits in the Western Balkans. They are mainly emitted by human activities such as industry (including electricity production), household heating and transport. Agriculture contributes to secondary pollution. In addition, transboundary pollution from within and outside the region makes a considerable contribution to the observed concentrations.

How can we improve air quality and climate policies in the Western Balkans?

A continuing commitment is needed in the Western Balkans (WB) to achieve full alignment with EU environment acquis.

The transposition of the Ambient Air Quality Directive is at a satisfactory level in almost all WB region countries. However, implementation is not yet fully effective in all the countries and the alignment of the climate change legislation is much slower. It is necessary to reduce the fragmentation of air quality monitoring and reporting between national and local authorities and the complete set of air quality indicators required by the legislation should be monitored.

Moreover, integrated environmental monitoring systems that provide access to both real time and processed data online should be developed to provide timely and comprehensive analyses of the air quality situation. To develop complete and accurate emission inventories should be a priority in the WB area.

Assessing the atmospheric transport processes and the formation of secondary pollutants is needed to quantify the impact of their sources on air quality. Source apportionment is a necessary step for the development of effective abatement strategies and air quality plans.

Coal is still fundamental to the energy sector in the Western Balkans, accounting for around 70% of electricity produced in the region, and in some countries even 97%. Albania, with strongly developed hydropower, is a notable exception. The initial focus of the air quality management policies should be on the pollutants which levels are most frequently above the European legislation limit values. Among these are particulate matter (PM10, PM2.5) and SO2 emissions from obsolete and inefficient coal-burning facilities in the industrial and power sectors. The combustion of biomass for residential heating also leads to considerable emissions of particulate matter and associated pollutants such as black carbon and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Main findings

  • WB countries are at different stages in addressing air pollution issues in terms of national strategies, policy development, funding, monitoring and reporting.
  • Progress in the climate sector is slower compared to the one on air pollution.
  • Despite the progress made, the implementation of Ambient Air Quality Directive is not fully effective in all the WB countries and air quality monitoring networks, online data process and QA/QC procedures are at different stages of development.
  • Often, air pollution reporting in the WB does not fulfil all the required criteria and the number and proportion of reporting stations, time series and data coverage are quite variable.
  • Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), SO2, O3 and NO2 concentrations are often above the yearly average, daily maximum and hourly maximum limits. Despite the decreasing trend in air pollutant emissions observed in some countries, particulate matter is critical in almost all of them and the hourly SO2 and NO2 concentrations are elevated in most areas.
  • Air pollution in the WB is influenced by meteorological conditions, mainly air temperature and humidity. Ozone and particulate matter episodes in the Balkans region in 2017 coincided with elevated air temperatures.
  • Thermal power plants, industry, residential heating, transport, agriculture and uncontrolled waste burning are the main sources of PM10 emissions in the WB region. Despite the decreasing trend in yearly average PM10 pollution, concentrations are still above the limits.
  • In 2018, yearly average concentrations of fine particles (PM2.5), an indicator of health impact, were up to six times the WHO guidelines (10 µg/m3 ).
  • Thermal power plants and industry are among the main sources of SO2 emissions in the region while thermal power plants and transport sector are the main sources of NOx emissions.
  • CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion have been increasing in the WB region since 2000. Despite the growth in renewables since 1990, the energy mix portfolio in the region is still dominated by fossil fuels.
  • After an initial decrease of GHG emissions in the WB region, a steady increase is observed in some countries since 1995. Energy and transport are the main sources of GHG emissions in the region, covering more than 2/3 of the total.

Related and future work

The JRC is contributing to fill the information gaps in some of the most critical areas identified in the report by applying modelling tools. The work aims to improve estimates of the different sectoral and spatial sources of pollutants and GHGs and their impacts on climate, health and crops. The JRC is also planning to deliver training on air quality measurements and modelling and on the development of emission inventories dedicated to Western Balkan experts and institutions.

[1] This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSC 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.

Related Content

JRC report: Status of air pollutants and greenhouse gases in the Western Balkans

(2.72 MB - PDF)

JRC news: Science for policy in the Western Balkans


Publication date
10 November 2020