Environment protection in Serbia is on the margins of public policies and social life. A long-held neglect, lawlessness and irresponsibility of public officers on all levels have turned our country into one of the most polluted ones in Europe. According to the data of the Fiscal Council, when the state of our environment is concerned, we lag far behind even the SEE countries, to which we could compare until recently. Public sewerage is used by only 62% of the population, while more than 3 million people still use cesspits. Some 10,400 km of sewer network is lacking. Only 12% of wastewater is treated and 350 treatment plants need to be constructed. Some 350,000 t of waste ends up each year on 1,600 registered but unarranged disposal sites, certainly outnumbered by unregistered ones. Even the organized waste disposal is operated at 160 municipal landfills, which fail to conform to the prescribed conditions, so there is virtually no difference where the waste eventually lands. Approximately 2.5 million people live in the areas with excessively polluted air that contains at least one pollutant substance in a quantity that can be considered hazardous to human health.
Only 7.63% of Serbia's territory is under the protection of nature, out of the 10% planned. Even so, such protection is seldom applied in practice, which makes the loss of biodiversity already noticeable. Water springs are being sold. Mountain rivers are being put into pipes. The damages from droughts, floods and other effects of climate changes reach the amount of several hundred million euros per year, and Serbia is still unable, five years upon signing the Paris Agreement, to make the first steps towards sustainable future. Vojvodina is one of the least forested areas in Europe. It lacks some 170,000 ha of new forests. Notwithstanding this, considerable areas of forests are cut, and the money from the forest fund is spent, instead on growing new forests, on the construction of forest roads. Instead of enforcing the regulations and protecting the public interest, governmental institutions overtly side with financial interests of reckless individuals. Polluters have become aware of the absence of consequences of their actions, and they behave accordingly. The strategies of environmental protection, even when there are any, are not applied. Just for the last nine years, all governments, on all levels, without any consequences whatsoever, have spent half a billion euros for undesignated purposes, collected from businesses and citizens through eco-fees, for some other purposes, rather than for the protection of environment, as originally prescribed.
The future of the world we live in is not bright. Economic crises caused by systematic greed, social crises caused by ruthless exploitation of people and nature, climate change, the lack of potable water, calamities in agriculture, pandemics, have already become a part of our everyday lives, and we can expect it only to get worse in the future. That is why we are concerned whether our country and our society, in the state they are currently in, will manage to tackle the challenges. An alternative can be only a prudent policy of environmental protection, which is not merely decorative, but the initiator of changes instead, underlying all social spheres - economy, agriculture, energy, education, culture, social policy. We need a policy that would transform the entire society in the direction of sustainability, equity, solidarity, circular economy, long-term planning, where the protection of environment would be an indisputable public interest, rather than a part of marketing, business arrangements or political opportunism.
As responsible and concerned citizens of Serbia, we demand from all political and social elites and governmental institutions, an urgent solution for environmental issues. We demand the following:
1) to exercise the right of Serbian citizens warranted by the Constitution to healthy environment, to apply the existing laws and regulations, to prosecute
and sanction all those who destroy rivers and forests, pollute water, air and soil, who destroy protected species and their habitats - as individuals and especially as corporations.
2) to ensure, by amending the Law on Nature Protection and other regulations, fundamental implementation of measures and financing of nature protection, to change the protected areas management model, prohibit the construction of small hydropower plants in the protected areas, to increase the total area under protection, as well as the areas in the first level of protection, to reduce and ban commercial wood harvesting in the protected areas.
3) to expand the list of projects, by amending the Law on Environmental Impact Assessment and other regulations, for which a study of environmental impact assessment can be requested, to reduce the prescribed capacities for the preparation of the study and to clearly define the prescribed measures of environmental protection in case the study is not necessary. To introduce sanctions for breaching the Law by amending the Law on Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment.
4) to bring back, by amending the Budget System Law, the original purpose to eco-fees and the fees for leasing agricultural land, to implement sanctions for undesignated spending, to considerably increase the funds of the Republic Green Fund under the Budget Law, to increase the capacities of inspectorates, to invest in the institutions that perform expert analyses, research and monitoring of the environment conditions.
5) to enact an ambitious Law on Climate Change and an Action Plan for fighting the climate changes, to prescribe changes in the energy sector, transport, civil engineering, agriculture, forestry and education, for the purpose of reducing the emission of greenhouse gases and decreasing the energy poverty, to sanction emitters of hazardous gases and to effectively reduce emissions, to use subsidies for migrating to sustainable energy production and consumption for the development of renewable energy sources, energy efficiency and upgrade of infrastructure, rather than for small hydropower plants.
6) to introduce, by amending the Forestry Law and other regulations, a mandatory preparation of forestation plans on all levels, as well as the obligation to set aside a part of agricultural land
for forestation, which would help resolve the obstacles associated with cadastre, property and legal-related matters and other issues that obstruct forestation, particularly in the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina.
7) by amending the Law on Agricultural Land, the Law on Incentives in Agriculture and associated annual programmes, to inspire more extensive measures of control
of the soil quality, the measures for growing protective belts, and to reduce the measures of soil exploitation, to considerably increase the amounts for direct payments and the measures of rural development for organic and traditional agriculture, adaptation to climate change, the well-being of animals, promotion of healthy food.
8) to apply the provision of the Water Law concerning the water and submersible land as public and inalienable good, to carry out without delay removal of the facilities that jeopardize watercourses and groundwater and privatize the access to water resources. The state should guarantee a sustainable supply of households with high-quality potable water on a non-profit basis. Investments should be made in public infrastructure and wastewater treatment and water supply without enormous losses in the network. Further privatization and commercialization of fresh water springs should be abolished.
9) to perform cadastre-mapping of urban green areas, to legally convert the current verdure into green areas, and to increase the number of trees in towns
as well as the areas with vacant land. To conform the public infrastructure to the needs of environmental protection by amending regulations, to promote the transportation with the lowest footprint on the environment, and with the highest capacity for carrying passengers.
10) to enable, by amending all of the aforementioned laws, and other laws, de facto participation of citizens in decision-making processes; to consistently implement the Aarhus Convention and to timely and actively brief the citizens on the conditions of environment and on all the plans concerning our environment.
The organizations and initiatives that endorsed our declaration:
- Odbranimo šume Fruške gore (Defend the Forests of Fruška Gora)
– Odbranimo reke Stare planine (Defend the Rivers of Stara Planina)
– Savski nasip (the Sava Embankment)
– Za Šabac bez smoga (For Smog-Free Sabac)
– Tvrđava Smederevo (the Smederevo Fortress)
– Inženjeri zaštite životne sredine (Environmental Engineering Group)
– Eko Straža (Eco Watch)
– Pravo na vodu (the Right to Water)
– CEKOR – Centar za ekologiju i održivi razvoj (Centre for Ecology and Sustainable Development)
– Hodanje po zemlji (Walking by the Earth)