Interview with the Minister of Environment and Physical Planning Naser Nuredini

Naser Nuredini: „The idea is when we talk about a green economy that we actually think of the future as a sustainable investment. When we talk about the green economy we may need to change the terminology for it. Let's name it a more efficient investment“

KlimatskiPromeniMk: Dear Minister, in the past six months the public awareness campaign “The Climate is Changing Why aren’t You” is being implemented. A lot of efforts have been made to encourage and increase the number of climate actions taken. What do we need to do next in order to comply with the international obligations and commitments of the Republic of North Macedonia regarding climate change?

Nuredini: We are already working on the next steps; we have been working on them in the last few years. The key progress that we have made in our institution and in our country is the fact that we have a Long Term Strategy on Climate Change, it is being finalized as we speak; we have a Law on Climate Change as well, which has been harmonized with all the other institutions because this law will actually encompass all the stakeholders in our country. We are also being ambitious. We have updated our NDC targets for the Paris Agreement; we are being ambitious as we try to lower the carbon emissions in our country. We have also actually managed to identify where the majority of the pollution is coming from. And that is actually the end generation of energy. That is one of the big topics to look into in our country and we have to actually create a long term strategy on energy.

One of the key steps that we need to take, if we want to be successful, is to include all the institutions. Because we are actually a policy maker as an institution, but at the same time we need the Ministry of Transport to be involved, we need the Ministry of Health to be involved, we need the Ministry of Education; in other words we need everyone to be on board, so that we can actually have a success in the long run.

KlimatskiPromeniMk: During the campaign we have noticed a lot of interest by young people; more than 30 posters were submitted containing messages for taking climate action. How to channel the enthusiasm of the young people and the preparedness of the civil society for raising the awareness about climate change? What to do in order to enable their greater involvement in the decision making process and thus to increase the number of climate actions? 

Nuredini: I think it is a great positive when you see the youth actually being involved; that they are aware, they see that this is one of the key topics of our generation, right now. It is very important that the youth actually speaks up, there is no question about it. I would like to say that I am also part of the youth group. I am trying to be vocal. Globally the youth is speaking up. We are seeing different kinds of events, we are seeing different kind of activities. It is very important that the youth is actually able to transmit the message appropriately to everyone else, and also to the older generations. It does not mean that the older generation is not aware of it. We need to be able to bring the message across appropriately. And it is not just the youth, we need to start at the bottom, we need to start with our children, with our schoolchildren, with our educational system. Because if the child, if my child comes home and talks to me about climate change, nature and what effects we are having as individuals on our nature, on something our children will inherit tomorrow, I as a parent will feel morally and emotionally obliged to act upon it. So we go to the root of it, which is the children, the educational system, the youth which is very aware of it, to actually make everybody aware. And not just making everybody aware that climate change is happening, but what needs to be done to minimize the effect. I think the NGOs, the civil society, the youth need to be included; every single one of us needs to be included. Me as a citizen, I need to be included. Every single one of us needs to be involved in the process.

KlimatskiPromeniMk:  At the beginning of your mandate, you announced that you are going to enhance your communication with the municipalities. How is this cooperation going and how this improves addressing climate change.

Nuredini: We need to think do we have sufficient cycle lanes in our countries, in our cities, do we have sufficient public transport, do we have sufficient green transport, green energy, what do we do with our waste. This is something that we all need to be involved with. This is why we all need to speak up and be rational as well, we need to be rational about it and we also need to be realistic about our goals. Sometimes we cannot compare the status that we are in today, with other countries which have already gone through the process. So we need to think how we are going to get there. I would love it if we can have the same standards as some western countries, but this takes time, this takes effort and this takes all the stakeholders, institutional stakeholders, the local municipalities, and us the citizens.

KlimatskiPromeniMk:  The public opinion survey showed that more than 90% of the respondents are aware of climate change. Do you think that we need to go one step forward, with the introduction of new curricula in the education, as well as scientific and research activities as a source of data and education of climate change?

Nuredini: I think 90% is very optimistic number to be honest with you. Now, whether we are aware is one thing, whether we understand what it means is a different thing. I think we need to work a bit harder to make people not only aware about climate change, but make people aware of what the effects will be of climate change. Yes, the majority know, they would say, yes I have heard of climate change. But the question that we need to ask is what will the effects be of climate change on our daily lives? And the studies? We are approaching it, but unfortunately I don’t see many courses for our students to study environmental issues, climate change. We have certain studies which go in that direction but do not focus on environmental studies and on climate change.

I have spoken to my colleagues, the Minister of Education; I have also spoken to some members of our academia here. They are willing, they want to, but we have not initiated them as just yet. Because it is not just making people aware and just talking about it, but understanding it. We cannot expect international experts to come and teach us about it, we need somebody who will actually walk it tomorrow; we need our own experts, our local experts to implement what we are talking about.

KlimatskiPromeniMk:  The initiation of the negotiations for EU membership is ahead of us, and especially the Environment Chapter will be one of the most difficult ones. What institutional capacity will be needed and what are the biggest challenges that we will need to overcome? 

Nuredini: The Chapter 27 is probably one of the largest, if not second largest of all the chapters, when it comes to EU negotiations. We know that there will be, I wouldn’t say difficulties, let’s look at them as challenges. We are going to face a lot of challenges. Challenges that we are going to rise up to. Where do I see necessary improvements? Where do we improve? We need to get more experts on board in our institution, we have great people working for our institution right now, but we need more experts in the field of environment, as we talked earlier. And this is going to cost a lot of money. But we are going to get a lot of support from the EU, we have certain budgetary restrictions in our country, we also need to be realistic about that. We are growing economically but, we have certain restrictions.

Now the laws, we are going to work on those. The transposition of the EU acquis, we are working on those. We are working very hard on them and we are getting there. But at the same time it is not just the laws, as I said earlier. We are talking about the infrastructure, about the clean air; we are talking about the waste management. These actually need dedication, we need political will to change these things, and we need firm investments. Now when we, especially now in the time of Covid -19, when we are going to have an economic shortcoming in the future (unfortunately it is going to happen, just like it is going to happen in any other country in the world), we need to think about capital investments we do in the future. So we need to think about investing in the infrastructure, maybe drinking water, waste water, waste water treatment plants, energy efficiency, public transport and many, many others.

These are as we call them green investments. These green investments are infrastructural investments and they are sustainable for the long run. They create new jobs. So with Chapter 27 we don’t only face challenges, we have opportunities. Opportunities to improve the standard of life in our country.

There are three pillars we need to look at. It is the health system, educational system and there is infrastructure and environment. If we can fix these three pillars in our country, we don’t need to be speaking about the youth leaving the country and looking for other opportunities. We will have these standards in our country. These are the three pillars we need to focus on.

KlimatskiPromeniMk:  The Ministry that you are heading has been working on significant changes in the laws for handling waste, water protection, air and nature protection. What are the main improvements that will be facilitated by these legal changes?

Nuredini: On the clean air, we actually proposed the law to the Government, we passed it at the Government; it went to the Parliament; unfortunately the Parliament could not process it in time before it became dissolved. And now we are unfortunately in this current situation of the pandemic, of the Covid – 19. That law will actually give more obligations to the local municipalities. Not only recommendations which were mild at the beginning, these will be stricter. They actually have to take action. If there are certain rises in the air pollution they have to take certain action. May it be the transport, may it be the industry, maybe the heating. We know the sources. We know that we cannot stop all of them, but we can control them better. However we need the local municipalities to actually act. Not only implementing mild restrictions, but sometimes to benefit the health of our citizens, they have to impose stricter measures.

The waste laws, we have six different laws in waste, some of them are brand new, so we are actually going to focus on oils, textile, used cars and tires, used tires. These are all new laws that we are working on, we have worked on, we are ready and once the Parliament convenes we will propose them to the Government and then propose them to the Parliament.

So it is not just me, my mandate is finishing, but whoever is coming after us, can continue this good work with the staff who has been here.

KlimatskiPromeniMk:  Your experience in the banking sector is related to green finance. Is it possible to have economic development in the country that will not be linked with CO2 emissions and to what extent energy transformation is important?

Nuredini: Absolutely. For some reason when people think of green economy, everyone thinks of added costs. When we think about green economy, maybe we need to change the terminology about it. Call it more efficient investment. Because energy efficiency it is also called green economy. We are trying to be greener. But energy efficiency means the company, the household uses less energy to fulfil their requirements. Thereby the investments in the green economy or in the renewables in the long run will benefit the owner of the company, will benefit the owner of the household, because they will have lower costs in the long run. The investments will pay off and then they will have lower costs.

Recycling is also green economy. It creates green jobs. It is possible. Unfortunately this is not a large part of our economy yet. But why should not we be able to do it? We have to think in the long run. Look at the past, for the last 20 – 30 years unfortunately we didn’t consider how much we consumed. Thankfully our economy has grown, our purchasing power has grown for us, individually as citizens, so we are able to consume more. So back then, unfortunately, we did not think that we are going to consume more today. So we have not made the development necessary. Now we need to think not only about today, but also about the next ten years, as an economy, as a green economy. So, when you think about green economy you are actually thinking about the future as sustainable investments. So we can reuse our natural wealth, reuse are raw products we place on the market, and create jobs, create an industry out of it as well.

KlimatskiPromeniMk: Thank you for your answers. I hope that these messages for taking climate action will reach many and that joint efforts for raising awareness, better education and information will continue in future as well.  



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