WHY IS REDUCTION OF FOREST AND OTHER "GREEN" AREAS IN KOŠUTNJAK UNACCEPTABLE
"The feeling of civic responsibility starts with respect for the forests." This is a thought of Denis de Rougemont, Swiss philosopher, sociologist and futurist, which he published in his capital work "The Future Is Within Us" (Literary News, 1989). De Rougemont was one of the idea-generators of the European Union concept, together with Robert Schumann (president of the European Coal and Steel Community, the embryo from which the European government was developed) and Arnold Toynbee (English historian and philosopher), based on the two fundamental principles: absolute equality of European nations and uncompromising environment protection. How equal European nations are, especially the ones who eagerly wait for the mercy of reception to the community of the privileged, who are being imposed new, and never seen before, principles and conditions, judge for yourself on the example of Serbia. At the same time, the policy of environment protection in Serbia is going from absolute dedication to the preservation of the natural values and creation of the best possible conditions for life, to brutal actions of the individuals and some companies, which lead to the environment degradation, ground, water and air pollution, with obvious violation of the law and soft or no reaction of the state organs. Evident is a constant pressure to further urbanize the central part of Belgrade, so several thousands multi-storey residential objects all over city municipalities Čukarica, Vračar, Savski Venac, Rakovica, Voždovac, Palilula. New buildings are often built on the parcels with the highest degree of urbanization, so that investors could offer more expensive square meters to the market and earn more money. This kind of urbanization has caused worrying reduction of the "green" surfaces, measured in hundreds of acres, where instead of forests, hedges, meadows, fields or orchards, we now see concrete and asphalt. Also, "conceptual" solutions are being placed from time to time, to check the pulse and sensibility of the public when it comes to realization of the new projects at the cost of the most valuable public space: building ski-slope in Avala (protected area) and removing several acres of high-quality forest; expansion of the golf court in Ada Ciganlija at the expense of more than 10 acres of forest on the right embankment of the Sava river bank. Usurpation of the public space, which should serve to all residents of the City of Belgrade, unveils the weakness and inefficiency of the state, which doesn't have strength to enforce existing laws and regulations. Endangering legal state concept is colorfully represented on the left bank of Sava river, from Ostružnica to Block 70, where several hundred illegal objects have been built in an area used exclusively for flood defense and protection of water sources.
Key global documents and agreements important for environment protection are the Rio Conventions: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change - UNFCCC (ratified in the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia in 2001), Convention on Biological Diversity - UNCBD (ratified in 2001) and United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification - UNCCD (ratified in 2007). Documents created with a purpose to apply and fulfil duties which are a result of accepting these conventions, represent the framework used to perceive the current state of the environment in Serbia, as well as the degree of fulfilling the international obligations in this domain. Numerous obligations from the Rio Conventions are in line with goals of the "Agenda of Sustainable Development until 2030", adopted by the heads of the states and governments 2015 and their "Sustainable Development Goals" (SDGs). UNCCD promotes the idea that involvement of the Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) as one of the SDGs is necessary to solve soil degradation problems and establish sustainable resource management mechanisms. LDN concept predicts to stop increasing the overall amount of the degraded soil, that is, that every country member of the UN should apply restauration measures and protect soil as a resource. Following measures have been predicted in Serbia to achieve neutrality of the soil degradation until 2030: increasing national forest area to 41.4% until 2050 (from current 29%) and increasing the forest area in Autonomous Province Vojvodina to 14.3% (from current 6.37%).
"The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services" (IPBES) report about "Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services" published on the UN summit in Paris on May 6 contributes a lot to the application of the Rio Conventions. IPBES is an independent, intergovernmental body established in 2012 by the 132 countries members of the UN, which Serbia joined in June 2020. Currently, almost a million of the plant and animal species is in danger to disappear due to the excessive exploitation of the primary natural resources (wood, water, soil, original bio-diversity), which endangers 75% of the land ecosystems and 66% aquatic ones.
Territory of the City of Belgrade is exposed to the intensive alternation of the environmental conditions with different effects, which manifest themselves through the loss of forest and other "green" areas (meadows, hedges, bushes, small forests,...), significant reduction of the bio-diversity, lack of the recreational areas, increase of the urban heat island effect, deteriorated living conditions of its inhabitants and more frequent floods. Belgrade has suffered an expansion during past century and become one of the biggest cities in the Balkans with more than 1.6 million residents. Expansion of the area covered with residential and business objects and infrastructure systems has lead to decrease of green surfaces to the city average of 14 square meters per resident and only 2 square meters in Vračar municipality. Intensive urbanization and reduction of the green surfaces, together with other factors (burning coal in thermal power plants, numerous individual households using fossil fuels, increase in the number of vehicles) have heavily affected the air quality, which was more than obvious in Winter 2019/2020, when Belgrade was one of the most polluted cities in the world in several occasions.
The City of Belgrade has adopted the "Action Plan for Adaptation to Climate Changes With the Vulnerability Estimation" (City Administration of the City of Belgrade, Secretariat for Environmental Protection, 2015) as well as the strategy of the forestation of Belgrade (adopted by the resolution of the Assembly of the City of Belgrade, Nr. 501-438/11-S from 13 June 2011). Forestation strategy predicts that 50,000 acres of the city territory is covered by the forest during the 2011-2021 period. Dominant part of the contingent of surfaces predicted for forestation are degraded and eroded surfaces, which indirectly supports preventive activities on the protection from erosion and floods. However, only 730 acres has been covered by forests in the period from October 2011 when the action started, until the end of fall 2017.
From 2010 to 2020, City of Belgrade's Secretariat for Environmental Protection has, through the cooperation with the Faculty of Forestry of the University of Belgrade, developed a concept of the "blue-green" corridors, used to identify, protect and connect the remaining open water flows, fragments of the forest vegetation and valuable green surfaces. The goal is to provide the dedicated areas for sports and recreational activities (walking paths, open-air gyms, rest places, bike lanes and running trails, playgrounds), save and renew biodiversity, affirm aesthetic and spiritual values of these areas. It is well known that quality vegetation and preserved water bodies ennoble the landscape, and that staying in forest or next to the water is good for humans' psyche.
Environment protection on the territory of the City of Belgrade represents a complex system, because it is done over an area of around 3,532 km2, on a wide landscape scale between plains and high landscapes, from dense urban to rural areas. Erosion processes and floods present the risk factors (example from May 2014) which, apart from the environment, also endanger economical development of the society, human lives and health, as well as cultural heritage. It is the reduction of forest and other "green" surfaces which increases the risk of flooding. The concept of "green infrastructure" development, which is considered to be an element of the disaster risk reduction system, especially of floods in urban areas ("green" roofs, "rain" gardens, green corridors along the streets, walking and coastal areas), is used all over the world (New York, Berlin, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Oslo, Trondheim). Using this approach, city cores are connected with suburbs and rural areas, air quality is improved, significant water retention capacity is created, as well as the new recreational zones, biodiversity is protected and coastal areas guarded. Development of the "blue-green" infrastructure contributes to the preservation and renewal of ecosystems, mitigation of the effects of climate change and re-humanization of the urban ambient. Benefits of access to "blue-green" areas include improvement of physical and mental health of the population, recovery from stress, stronger social cohesion, carbon bonding and preservation of the biodiversity.
Removal of the forests and other "green" surfaces in urban parts of Belgrade causes following consequences: increased greenhouse gas emission, lower Oxygen production, increasing "heat island" effect in the period of expressed climate anomalies, biodiversity degradation, de-humanization of the city space with worsened living conditions, increased flood potential, especially in the Topčiderka basin and surrounding smaller water courses.
Planned activities in Košutnjak urbanization, with further reduction of the "green" surfaces, represent the negation of all principles from the documents adopted by the City of Belgrade, as well as from the global Rio Conventions, which Serbia has ratified in the national assembly. It is hard to understand the principles of "development" and urbanization with further reduction of forest and other "green" surfaces and drastic population increase, with even more intensive traffic on already congested local streets.
Belgrade needs projects where concept of the solution for permanent protection of the remaining natural potential in urban zones, with a methodology of their expansion is shaped with a goal to: increase the forestation degree, connect the existing urban "green" surfaces with the surrounding forest areas, create recreation-relaxation zones with corresponding contents (walking, running and cycling trails, playgrounds for children, playgrounds for the disabled children, open-air gyms, rest places with shades and benches), form zones which, apart from the functional, also have visual, spiritual and aesthetic values. Good examples to look after can be found in the world: Don Valley Brick Works, Toronto, Canada; restauration of the Cheonggyecheon stream in Seoul, South Korea; Emerald Necklace (Massachusetts, SAD); River Valley in Edmonton (Canada); Kalang river bank (Singapore); Bishan–Ang Mo Kio park (Singapore); Manzanares river bank (Spain); „blue-green“ projects in Portland (Oregon, SAD); „blue-green“ corridors in Copenhagen (Denmark).
Model of the sustainable management of the territory of the City of Belgrade, from the perspective of ultimate environment protection and protection of the life quality of the population, mitigation of the climate change effects, prevention of the future catastrophes and air pollution reduction, should be led by an idea "that sustainable future is built on the three pillars: economical, ecological and ethical, with maximum benefit for as many users as possible" (Joseph Desjardins: "Environmental Ethics: An Introduction to Environmental Philosophy", The Official Gazette, 2006). Planned removal of the green surfaces in Košutnjak area, regardless of whether they are protected or not, whether they present more or less valuable forest, is a direct negation of the interest of the majority of inhabitants and an attempt of satisfying naked materialistic interest of the individuals and interest groups.
Professor of the Faculty of Forestry, Belgrade University