The BiH ESAP 2030+ will help protect the environment, provide a critical tool for relevant authorities to achieve environmental sustainability, improve citizen health and contribute to BiH’s EU membership aspirations. During the month of February 2022, government representatives of BiH have shared with us their messages on why the BiH ESAP2030+ is so important for BiH. In this interview we got the chance to talk to Mehmed Cero, Assistant Minister in the Sector of Environment, Federal Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBIH).

What are the biggest environmental challenges that FBiH is currently facing and how will BiH ESAP 2030+ help in addressing them?

The biggest environmental challenges in the Federation of BiH, as well as in the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), are primarily related to water management, air quality management, climate change, waste management, chemicals and noise management, protection and sustainable use of nature and biodiversity. These challenges have been recognised and defined in previous action plans.

BiH Environmental Strategy and Action Plan 2030+ (BiH ESAP) will cover similar topics and for each of the mentioned thematic areas, specific measures will be defined in terms of certain activities that will contribute to improving the state of the environment. Of course, the implementation of measures should be accompanied by institutional support, i.e., legislation based on European standards. Europe has the highest standards of environmental legislation in the world, and BiH is on its way to approach those standards. BiH ESAP will help BiH today as a pre-candidate, and tomorrow as a candidate for accession to the European Union.

The BiH ESAP project will also provide easier access to the necessary investments to improve the state of the environment, which will further strengthen the economy, enable the creation of new jobs and the creation of new values. It will also facilitate access to available grants to which we are entitled as a developing country, as well as favourable loans without which we can hardly make progress.

How much and how can we improve citizens’ health, the economy, but also other social aspects with this environmental strategy and action plan?

The BiH ESAP will result in the improvement of the state of the environment, which would mean improvements of air quality, water quality, natural capacities, or better and higher soil quality, which will ultimately affect our citizens´ health and quality of life.

We have serious problems with air quality, especially in certain parts of BiH, particularly in Sarajevo Canton, Tuzla Canton and Zenica-Doboj Canton, where many people and industries are concentrated. According to the World Bank data, it is estimated that about 3,000 people die each year due to air pollution, and a large number of people remain on sick leave for a long time. Thus, the problem of air quality is related to both economic and social aspects. By solving these problems, we will create a precondition for better human health, but also economic development.

The new BiH ESAP will also help achieve the goals of the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans, specifically the goal on decarbonisation, i.e., the reduction or cessation of the use of fossil fuels. To decarbonise our society, we need to introduce renewable energy sources and transfer our energy capacities, which will be a great challenge for our energy industry.

Furthermore, in our calculations, as a contribution of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the fight against climate change, with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, we predicted that 20% of greenhouse gases will be “captured” by better forest management, with the restoration of certain ecosystems, and this is feasible with the new Environmental Strategy.

Mehmed Cero, Assistant Minister in Sector of Environment, Federal Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBIH)

A participatory approach was chosen for the development of BiH ESAP 2030+. In your opinion, how and why is the equal participation of various actors (government institutions, non-governmental sector, academia, business entities, citizens) in the development of the strategy important?

A participatory approach is extremely important because it leads to the best possible solutions. We are a democratic society with democratic mechanisms, which means that the public is invited to participate in decision-making processes, and our obligation is to involve it as much as possible.

On the other hand, the Federal Ministry of Environment and Tourism´s capacities are limited. We often need to engage additional capacities of the academic community and experts, either in specific jobs or if a particular topic, law or strategy is being discussed.

From the level of governments, the interaction of all departments is important to make changes, because the BiH ESAP directly or indirectly affects other sectoral strategies and policies. These include for example, spatial planning, energy strategy, agriculture strategy, mineral use strategy, water management, education curriculums. All relevant departments must be networked, linked and coordinated.

Ultimately, the contribution of the cantons is important, which will be included in the later stages with the cantonal action plans. All this will contribute to creating the best possible strategy. The adoption of the strategy is expected in mid-2022, after which it will become legally binding. This means that we will all have to adhere to it, not only the Federal Ministry of Environment and Tourism, but also all institutions that are recognised in the action plan as implementers of certain activities.

How would you describe the cooperation of the Federal Ministry of Environment and Tourism with the non-governmental sector?

The non-governmental sector is of great importance for the development of civil society, the rule of law, and in accordance with the area of activity, they are involved in solving various problems in society, including environmental issues. Government institutions and the non-governmental sector need to establish partnerships to solve a wide range of problems more effectively. This can be done by joint projects or by transferring certain services from the public to the non-governmental sector, which includes the role and responsibility of non-governmental organisations for transparency in their work and operations.

Establishing functional cooperation is one of the most important priorities for us. In general, the participation of the public, including non-governmental organisations, in all environmental issues, is very important, and our system envisages their participation based on the principles of the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, which Bosnia and Herzegovina ratified.

The non-governmental sector is our strong partner, either at the level of defining certain regulations or drafting strategies such as the BiH ESAP 2030+, as well as in certain administrative procedures and other issues. It is very important that the relationship between the governmental and non-governmental sectors is transparent and open, and that data on the state of the environment are visible, timely, reliable, accurate and accessible to all interested parties. The Federal Ministry of Environment and Tourism is continuously working to strengthen relations with the non-governmental sector, and to invite and involve it in activities and projects aimed at improving the environment.

BiH is rich in natural beauties. What are the “must see” destinations for you that you would recommend to our readers and why?

It is true, BiH is rich in unrealistically beautiful natural areas, and it is very difficult to single out just a few. However, for me, the special destination is the National Park “Una” with all its facilities, contents and offers. I would also like to single out the area of Prenj and Neretva, as particularly beautiful, and to which I am emotionally attached. But I need also to mention Zelengora, Tjentiste and Sutjeska, which abound in rich flora and fauna and natural beauties, unique in Europe.

The interview was published on the portal on February 25, 2022.