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Much Talk, Few “Green” Policies

Montenegro has a noticeable lack of “green” policies and recognition of ecological issues among both individuals and institutions. It therefore lacks an adequate response to address accumulated environmental problems

A whopping 32 and a half years have elapsed since Montenegro was first declared an ecological state. And yet, just like that first day, the reality differs from resounding goals and promises. Declaratively, the world’s first ecological state was supposed to adopt and implement the highest standards and norms in the field of environmental protection, nature conservation and economic development based on of the principles of an ecologically sustainable system… However, the country’s environment is being devastated in various ways. Apart from the global issue of climate change, much else remains unresolved in Montenegro, such as air pollution, illegal dumps, waste management, wastewater treatment, illegal construction etc.

Beautiful words and objectives for Montenegro to become a green oasis in the Balkans and a truly ecological state are echoed in unison ahead of every election, given that they have the declarative support of citizens, local communities, institutions and organisations… However, what usually drives citizens to ecological actions and activism isn’t ecological awareness and systematic action, but rather incidental situations or “when push comes to shove”.

Pljevlja resident Elzana Hrković recently sued Montenegro over air pollution in the town, claiming that the state has violated her right to a healthy environment. Air pollution in this mining town in northern Montenegro has been a decades-long problem, and the city was ranked among the world’s most polluted in December 2023, according to data from the WAQI (World Air Quality Index) website, which provides real-time information on air pollution.

Local industries in Pljevlja – including the thermal power plant and coal mine – along with heating systems and traffic, are the main sources of air pollution in this town, while domestic monitoring stations have shown that Pljevlja residents breathed polluted air for 124 days last year, with concentrations of harmful PM particles significantly exceeding the permitted level. This prompted Hrković to announce that, if she fails in domestic courts, she will sue Montenegro in Strasbourg.

Also testifying to the situation in Pljevlja is the fact that high levels of air pollution prompted NGO “Breznica” to request that the Ministry of Education postpone the start of the second semester in the town because students have to leave for school at seven in the morning, when temperatures are minus ten and the concentration of PM10 particles is five or more times higher than the permitted level.

While Pljevlja’s inhabitants struggle to cope with smog and their initiatives are barely heard elsewhere in the country, at the other end of Montenegro, residents, associations and environmental activists prevented – through protests that began in the summer of 2019 – part of Mount Sinjajevina from being turned into a military training ground for the purposes of the Army of Montenegro. The Sinjajevina range is considered the largest mountain grazing area in the Balkans, stretching 35 to 40 km in length and 10 to 15 km wide. However, the political juncture was also significant because, with the August 2020 change of government in Montenegro, every subsequent government avoided the issue of the military training ground and chose “not to touch Sinjajevina” because “the army can train elsewhere”.

Thus, apart from environmental activism, the political juncture was also crucial for the success of any environmental initiative. And while grazing pastures and summer settlements on Sinjajevina were saved, more than 4,000 households in Pljevlja, who heat their homes with coal and wood during the winter, alongside the nearby Thermal Power Plant, are still caught in a vicious circle. Despite all activism and initiatives, smoke and soot from heating and harmful emissions from the thermal power plant still increase the concentration of carcinogenic PM2.5 particles in the air—exceeding the permitted level by up to ten times.

There is no trace of an ecological state in the mining town of Pljevlja, while residents joke that they no longer greet each other with “see you later”

Returning from individual examples to the national level, Dr Ivana Vojinović, Director of the Centre for Climate Change at the University of Donja Gorica (UDG), reminds us that Montenegro “belongs to the region of Europe that’s most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change”.

As Professor Vojinović points out, Montenegro must increase its climate ambition, in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the existing target of 35% to a target of 55% by 2030, and accelerate the adoption of the National Energy and Climate Plan, which should be integrated into the EU’s climate-energy framework by 2030.

The director of the Centre for Climate Change states that as much as 75% of GHG emissions in Montenegro are sourced from the energy sector, mainly from coal-based energy production at the only thermal power plant, in Pljevlja, and adds that the process of energy transition and the shift to renewable sources must be fair and socially acceptable to the residents of Pljevlja and the whole of Montenegro.

However, she admits that citizens generally know little about climate change and preventative measures that can have a positive impact on the environment and reduce negative consequences. Vojinović emphasises that, when it comes to combating climate change, it is crucial to involve citizens, especially through the education of young people, which previous generations did not receive.

“This is because science indicates that today’s climate changes mostly come from human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, changes in land use (e.g., deforestation, urbanisation etc.), which together increase the concentration of gases in the atmosphere,” explains Vojinović.

She notes that climate change has already had a negative impact on every region of the planet, and that many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented over thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of years.

“Cities should also play a significant role in the process of adapting to climate change. The reason for highlighting them in the fight against climate change is that most of the population lives in urban areas, so local authorities must adopt so-called green spatial plans, which is also an obligation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 for every settlement that’s home to more than 25,000 inhabitants,” concludes Vojinović.


Citizens know little about the phenomenon of climate change and preventative measures that can positively impact the environment and reduce negative consequences


As much as 75% of greenhouse gas emissions in Montenegro come from the energy sector, mainly from coal-based energy production


The ecological actions of citizens and a change in the political climate saved Sinjajevina, which is considered the largest mountain grazing area in the Balkans

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