Ms. Rupa Mukeriji visit in Kosovo – Climate change and what that means for Kosovo

23 June 2022,

It’s no secret that climate change is happening. And it’s also no secret that the effects of climate change are going to be catastrophic for the world’s underdeveloped countries. The poorest and most vulnerable nations on earth will be hit the hardest by global warming, droughts, floods, and other disasters related to a human-induced changing climate; and that includes Kosovo.

What would once be a pleasant early summer day in Pristina, on Thursday, the sun was scorching hot, the air was thick and a hot wind was passing through the open windows of an auditorium at the RIT University in Pristina, Kosovo. This was a perfect example of climate change in action for the participants of an event who were gathered to talk about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report and what Kosovo is doing to mitigate the risks and threats caused by climate change. And it’s hot days like these that have led Rupa Mukerji, lead author of the IPCC 6th Assessment Report to travel to Kosovo and present the findings on hand.  The event was organized by Helvetas Kosovo in partnership with RIT Kosovo (A.U.K) and it brought together representatives of the local and central government, a climate change think tanks, private sector entities, students, and activists alike.

Together with Dr. Veruska Muccione from the University of Zurich, Ms. Mukerji – Director of Advisory Services, Helvetas Switzerland – reiterated that IPCC 6th assessment report paints a dire picture of the future if climate change isn’t addressed and that we will experience more extreme weather events, devastating droughts, and catastrophic flooding. She presented the findings from all three IPCC assessment reports the Science Report, the Impact, Adaptation, and Vulnerability Report, and the Mitigation Report. A lot of people have been waiting for the latter, to have a roadmap on how to get out of this climate mess.

“The first working group takes a look at the physical science, and what they say about what is happening. The second working group takes a step forward and shows us how we experience these climate changes and what it means for people and different sectors of the economy. While, the third working group shows us how to reduce the causes of climate change, how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and what are the alternative options in different sectors.” – said Mukerji.

The report says that we need to halve global emissions by 2030 and go carbon-neutral by 2050 and that can be achieved only if we transform the way we produce and use energy, how we move around, how we consume, how we build our cities, and manage our land. We need to do this in an unprecedented way and at an unprecedented speed. The next eight years are critical if we want to avoid a climate catastrophe and we have to take drastic action to cut greenhouse gas emissions or else the world will be irreversibly changed.

“We can change a lot as citizens by changing the political culture of our countries. A green agenda is not a political agenda of a party, but rather a unifying agenda across parties and departments. We can do a lot as citizens, we can choose as individual investors that our money is not going to projects that damage our environment, and as consumers choose what we buy and how we spend our money” – adds Ms. Mukeriji

The Minister of Environment, Spatial Planning, and Infrastructure, also took part in the event, and in his welcoming remarks, he assured that all ministers are committed to coordinating closely with relevant actors to make climate change and environmental issues a priority.

“We are committed to working together with the EU and to reform energy transport sectors. As a result, we are working with the Ministry of Economy to set targets for greenhouse gas reduction by 2030. As a continuation of our commitment in January of this year, we have established a national concept for climate change consisting of several ministries in order to coordinate green agenda, to advocate and advance it.” – says the minister.

After hearing the very confronting scientific evidence about our future, the panelists gave their insights into what this means for Kosovo. The conversation went quickly into energy transition and the ambition for more renewable energy, as the national energy strategy is being drafted.

The Chief of Staff from the Ministry of Economy explained how modeling was used for the vision of the future of energy. The Deputy Mayor of Pristina outlined how she saw the future of smart cities, including making public buildings more energy-efficient, and with more room for cyclists and vertical gardens. The founder of the Green Foundation also saw a future in urban gardens. As a passionate promoter and practitioner of permaculture, he emphasized the need for agro-ecological practices and green entrepreneurship, e.g in food waste, as part of the circular economy. An innovative company, GoBeyond has such a vision, they are working on alternative proteins, using insects, to counter the food crisis. “Everything is connected to Food” the founder explained.

What is still lacking is data. Though Climate Change is now on the agenda, thanks to the Sophia declaration, there is not enough citizen awareness on the topic, according to Burim Ejupi Director of the thinktank INDEP. All panelists agreed that there is a need for more awareness among citizens. “We need to improve Climate literacy” according to the founder of the Green Foundation. Only if citizens are more aware of Climate Change will they be able to request investments on this topic, according to the Deputy Mayor.

Rupa concluded that there is not enough preparedness for the future. Businesses need the support of the government, to invest in circular economy, where agro-ecology is a pathway. This will create opportunities for youth employment. “We need to leverage the opportunities that climate-resilient development will bring”.

The event on climate change was followed by an exchange between Rupa and a specific population segment who are climate champions in Kosovo: the youth. The talk was held in a community-run center in Prishtina which is also a hub with the mission of urban and civil exchange, reflection and, change-making – Termokiss. In the past, Termokiss also gathered young activists, who organized “Fridays for Future” with the goal to get people to take climate change seriously and demand action from their governments.

During the discussion, the young people explained how their creativity and energy have spurred out innovative solutions to climate change.

One of the young activists, Nikki Murseli, founded DYVO; a company that takes waste in the form of acrylic plastics and turns them into trendy, fashionable, and – most importantly – sustainable products.

Another eclectic duo of innovators, Tarina Rugova and Rreze Gjakova, are in the final phase of developing Rea – an app that creates a space where people can get clear, reliable, and personalized information on the impact of air pollution on health, and where they can get personalized recommendations and simple health protection solutions.

Ben Dida, founded Climate Awareness Association, a Non-profit organization from Prishtina, with an aim of raising awareness among the citizens of Kosova and beyond about climate change and its impact. “We gather scientific data from the most reliable reports such as the IPCC and try to present to the public in a form of “Learn by Playing” – said Ben.

Rupa’s visit to Kosovo was capped off with a TV appearance where she explained to the wider audience that we need to increase our ambition when it comes to climate change – this means setting targets for greenhouse gas reductions by 2030 and working towards them. When asked “How can we reduce GHG emission when the world population is only increasing, and people only want to consume more?”, Rupa answered: “I think that COVID has taught us that we can have a good quality of living even if we consume responsibly; we can have good times with our family, friends, neighbors without traveling by plane all the time, or without burning fossil fuels all the time.” And finally, when asked “are you concerned about what climate change can do or do you see a light at the end of the tunnel?”, Rupa said “It’s both, I have to be honest with you. Sometimes when I see the data about the things that were predicted to happen in 2050 are happening today, it’s concerning. But, I also see a lot of hope. Yesterday we had a huge crowd of people at our discussion who were giving ideas on how to counter climate change, how to allocate finances, the government is developing policies, so everyone is working towards finding a solution”.

And finally, in a meeting with the Prime Minister, she reiterated this message.

In a meeting with HELVETAS Kosovo colleagues, Rupa pointed out the importance of the topic within Helvetas and for the projects that HELVETAS is implementing in Kosovo on governance, skills and jobs, and economy. Green jobs, locally led energy systems, and blue and green infrastructure in municipal plans were discussed among others. Climate change is a stress multiplier, Rupa emphasized.

Rupa’s visit was only one step in the right direction. Now it’s up to all actors to play a role in countering climate change, and it all starts with making small changes. We can all start by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, recycling more, and planting trees. If every one of us makes these simple steps, we can make a real difference in getting out of this climate mess. What will you do to help?