Belgrade: the city where dirty air is seen as a ‘consequence of economic growth’
Belgrade: the city where dirty air is seen as a ‘consequence of economic growth’ The Guardian
Belgrade’s Air Pollution Crisis: A Threat to Sustainable Development
When the Yugoslav prime minister Džemal Bijedić promised to clean the country’s air at a conference in Belgrade in 1974, a reporter from the New York Times wrote that there was little hope of early relief for the city’s residents, who felt the pollution was getting worse. “The choking, sulphurous atmosphere of Belgrade and several other major Yugoslav cities reddens eyes, shreds nylon stockings and ruins pianissimo passages in the concert hall because of the nearly continuous coughing it causes in audiences,” the writer said.
The Current State of Air Pollution in Belgrade
Half a century later, residents of Belgrade are still holding their breath. “I have asthma and it’s killing me,” says Dejan, 40, a graffiti artist and MC who runs a paint shop in the industrial Palilula district. “It’s not smog, man, it’s a black fog. You cannot see.”
The air in the capital of Serbia, a country of 7 million people in line to join the EU, is worse than in almost any other city in Europe. Belgrade is home to five of the 15 most polluted districts on the continent, Guardian analysis of modelling based on European air quality data has revealed. Foul coal plants, vast landfills, old vehicles and bad heaters spew a cocktail of toxic particles that land in the lungs and veins of the city’s residents.
The Impact on Public Health
Bubbling anger has at times boiled over into protests, but little has been done to make the air safe. Last month, in one of its first attempts to protect children from toxic fumes, the city put out a tender for 11,500 air purifiers to go in its schools and kindergartens.
A study funded by the Serbian science ministry this year looked at pollution data for summer months and estimated that fine particulates were responsible for one in five strokes, one in four cases of ischemic heart disease and one in 11 cases of lung cancer. It called on the city council to tell citizens when the air is bad and ask them to stay indoors.
The Need for Urgent Action
“Effective measures that curb air pollution need to be improved as soon as possible,” the researchers said.
Like many capitals of the republics that made up Yugoslavia, Belgrade is powered by ageing power plants that burn lignite, a particularly dirty type of coal. In 2016, the 16 coal plants in the western Balkans emitted more sulphur dioxide than the EU’s fleet of 250 plants, according to a report from the nonprofit Health and Environment Alliance.
The Role of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Last year, Serbia adopted a €2.6bn (£2.2bn) action plan to reduce air pollution over the decade. It includes measures to clean up factories and speed up the phase-out of old cars, boilers and stoves.
Critics say there is not enough political will to clean the air quickly. Milenko Jovanović, who was fired from Serbia’s environmental protection agency (Sepa) in 2020, says he lost his job after objecting to a decision to raise the threshold at which air pollution is termed dangerous. The Serbian high court ordered the agency to reinstate him after ruling in his favor.
In recent years, residents of Belgrade have elected a handful of green politicians to the city council who are frustrated with the pace of change. Dobrica Veselinović, from the Green-Left Front, a party that grew out of a protest movement against a waterfront construction project, says proposals to clean the air are argued down because bad air is seen as a “consequence of economic growth”.
The Importance of Sustainable Development
“Even in 1974, our prime minister was aware of what sustainable development is,” says Paunović, who was a teenager in Belgrade at the time. “You cannot develop with completely destroyed nature.”
SDGs, Targets, and Indicators
1. Which SDGs are addressed or connected to the issues highlighted in the article?
- SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being
- SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
- SDG 13: Climate Action
2. What specific targets under those SDGs can be identified based on the article’s content?
- SDG 3.9: By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water, and soil pollution and contamination.
- SDG 11.6: By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management.
- SDG 13.2: Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies, and planning.
3. Are there any indicators mentioned or implied in the article that can be used to measure progress towards the identified targets?
- Indicator for SDG 3.9: Number of deaths and illnesses attributed to air pollution.
- Indicator for SDG 11.6: Concentration of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the air.
- Indicator for SDG 13.2: Adoption of national policies and strategies that address climate change.
Table: SDGs, Targets, and Indicators
|SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being||3.9: By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water, and soil pollution and contamination.||Number of deaths and illnesses attributed to air pollution.|
|SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities||11.6: By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management.||Concentration of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the air.|
|SDG 13: Climate Action||13.2: Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies, and planning.||Adoption of national policies and strategies that address climate change.|
The article highlights the issues of air pollution in Belgrade, which is connected to SDGs 3, 11, and 13. SDG 3 aims to ensure good health and well-being, and the target 3.9 specifically focuses on reducing deaths and illnesses from air pollution. SDG 11 focuses on sustainable cities and communities, with target 11.6 aiming to reduce the adverse environmental impact of cities, including air quality. SDG 13 addresses climate action, and target 13.2 emphasizes the integration of climate change measures into national policies.
The indicators mentioned in the article that can be used to measure progress towards these targets include the number of deaths and illnesses attributed to air pollution (indicator for SDG 3.9), the concentration of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the air (indicator for SDG 11.6), and the adoption of national policies and strategies that address climate change (indicator for SDG 13.2).
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