The European Commission said on Tuesday that it is aware of what it called “the deeply problematic air pollution situation in the western Balkans and the need to ensure a transition away from coal in the energy supply” following reports of “a thick cloud of toxic smog mainly attributable to lignite-fired power stations”.
Replying to a question from Demetris Papadakis MEP, Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said that the Commission is working with the countries of the region to improve their legislation in line with inter EU air quality standards.
“The Commission supports improving air quality through a range of instruments and financial support, including projects under the Instrument for Pre-Accession or others laid out in the ‘Clean air for all’ Communication”, the commissioner said.
He recalled that the Western Balkan countries are also Contracting Parties to the Treaty establishing the Energy Community, including provisions of the EU Industrial Emission legislation. “Power plants have to comply with these requirements by 2028 to limit harmful emissions,” he added.
According to the Commissioner, a joint initiative by the Commission, World Bank, EBRD, College of Europe and the Energy Community will soon be launched to help coal regions in the western Balkans and Ukraine in their transition to a low-carbon economy.
Papadakis recalled in his question that lignite, the most pollutant type of coal, is widely available in the western Balkans, providing cheap energy and that a recent UN Environment Program survey showed that air pollution accounts for 20 % of premature deaths in 19 cities in the Western Balkans.