As Kosovo continues to urbanize rapidly, municipalities are faced with the challenge of ensuring proper urban planning. Air and water pollution continue to increase, posing a threat to people’s wellbeing.

However, Prizren is championing the cause for change. Located in southwestern Kosovo, it is the second-largest city with a population of almost 200,000 residents, in addition, there are 74 villages comprising the municipality of Prizren. Renowned as a famous tourist destination, the city ranked as 4th in the Lonely Planet’s Best in Europe 2018 list.

Tour the castle arching above the city, walk down to the cobblestone streets and cross the bridge overlooking the river and you’ll begin to understand the importance of nature’s coexistence in urban landscapes.

While greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in Kosovo may be comparatively low per capita when compared with other European countries, climate change is posing as a substantial risk to Kosovo’s development. Despite Kosovo’s positive economic progress, poverty remains a threat, and together with the impacts of climate change, it makes people more vulnerable to any shocks.

Prizren leading the way

So how is Prizren altering this narrative?

“Municipality plays a key role in solving environmental problems and promoting energy efficiency at the local level. This is where everything starts,” said distinguished environment activist Faruk Bojaxhi, member of the Support for Sustainable Prizren – Initiating Urban NAMAs (Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions) project and Professor at the University of Prizren.

With financial support from the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) and the Municipality of Prizren, UNDP Kosovo  supports the efforts to set Prizren on the right path towards a greener future and sustainable economic growth.

The project aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through effective monitoring and reporting, while identifying means to reduce emissions.

“The biggest obstacles in Kosovo is financing and people’s perception about the environment. When we host trainings at some municipalities, you see that things are not moving because there is no budget to get tools and equipment,” said Nehat Bojaxhiu, Executive Director of the NGO Environment and Community Development (ECD).

NGO’s in Prizren are launching a new approach to education in this area, hoping to motivate children to become more aware of the changing planet. Excursions will be organized, for example to travel in the waste trucks to learn where the rubbish ends up.

“When it comes to communities, the basic problem is that common approach to environmental habits means ‘I clean my garden and I do not care about surroundings.’ Education about this is very important,” said Ajradin Alija, who is the Head of the Office of Communities in the Municipality of Prizren and is responsible for protection of community rights.

The fundamental challenge is the low awareness of the problem. Looking after yourself is not enough when it comes to protecting the environment.

“Did you know that natural fertilizers are still dropped in the river instead of soil! It showcases the basic misunderstanding of environment,” added Alija.

The Burden of Flawed Energy Efficiency

There is an overlooked part of society in Kosovo that will be more affected by the climate change than the others.

"For me, this topic is very important because if the electricity goes off I cannot move. I will use the opportunity to raise the voice of people with disabilities because energy shortage affects us the most,” said Resmije Rrahmani, a prominent rights activist for people with disabilities. She is an active member of the Humanitarian Organization for Muscular Dystrophy, which aims to improve the current state of people with dystrophy in Kosovo.

People with disabilities suffer more than most people when it comes to challenges related to energy efficiency, particularly electricity shortages which make it impossible to charge wheelchairs in order to become mobile.

"I was able to walk until I was 10 years of age and after that I ended up being in the wheelchair and family is taking care of me,” revealed Rrahmani. “In so many ways and on so many levels I feel excluded. People like me do care very much about the energy efficiency because I can only function if there is electricity. No electricity means no freedom for me.”

Through the implementation of solar charging stations for electric wheelchairs, provide more opportunities for people such as Rrahmani to be mobile and integrate into society.

Rrahmani has been heavily involved in many trainings and workshops, including a workshop on Integrating Gender Issues, and Integrating the Interests of Marginalized Groups and Communities into the Cross-Sectoral Plan, a component of the Support for a Sustainable Prizren project

The Path to Sustainability

Kosovo has a long path ahead in terms of climate adaptation and mitigation, however, the first step is always the most crucial one. Prizren has the capability to act as a role model and set a course for other municipalities to follow.

As we are concerned about climate change, it is not only our future we should worry about, but the generation that will come after. Kosovo has Europe’s youngest population, which is why as a part of the project, the municipality has established a Green Growth Center. It will serve as a hub for information and will host workshops to promote environmental awareness.

It will be the first city with an established Monitoring Reporting and Verification (MRV) system, a GHG inventory and Urban NAMA’s. With the help of UNDP and its partners, we can decrease our carbon footprint and walk away with our footprints in the healthy soil.

written by Jakob Weizman

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