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North Macedonia on path to sustainable development but must step up efforts on air quality and waste management, says UNECE Environmental Performance Review

Published: 04 November 2019

Over the past eight years, North Macedonia has taken important strides in improving its environmental performance in several areas, including reducing its dependence on fossil fuels to generate electricity in favour of renewables, and strengthening waste and chemicals management. However, a number of key issues remain to be addressed according to a comprehensive review of the country’s environmental performance undertaken by UNECE.

The Third Environmental Performance Review (EPR) of North Macedonia, launched in Skopje on 4 November 2019, looks at progress made in 2011–2018 and makes 72 recommendations for future action to improve the country’s environmental performance. By carrying out an EPR for the third time, the country demonstrates its sustained commitment to improving its environmental performance.

The Review addresses pressing environmental challenges in the country, covering legal and policy frameworks, greening the economy, environmental monitoring, public participation and education for sustainable development. It assesses issues of specific importance to the country related to air quality, biodiversity and protected areas, as well as water, waste and chemicals management, and provides a substantive and policy analysis of the country’s climate change adaptation and mitigation measures and its participation in international mechanisms.

The Review has an additional thematic angle on the Sustainable Development Goals: it includes assessments related to 41 targets of 13 Sustainable Development Goals, taking an integrated approach that highlights the synergies between issues and solutions related to energy, transport, industry, housing and forestry and more.

Improving air quality and waste management remain two areas of pressing concern in the country.

The Review’s main findings on air quality show that, over the past eight years, the country has:

  • Improved the air quality monitoring network.
  • Decreased air pollution by reducing the use of fossil fuels in energy production and by gasification of the heating sector.
  • Operated a subsidy programme for the promotion of renewable energy sources and improvements in energy efficiency in households.
  • Increased public awareness of the sources and impacts of air pollution as well as on the measures to mitigate them.

At the same time, more needs to be done, including taking action to:

  • Monitor population’s exposure:  air pollution caused some 3,200 premature deaths in 2015 (see box 8.1). Reducing PM2.5 levels to the European Union limit value would save approximately 874 lives; reduction to the WHO guideline would bring greater health gains – up to 1,464 lives.
  • Address air pollution from the transport residential heating and energy production sectors. The average age of the country’s vehicle fleet is18.6 years and urban and suburban public transport use was at only 11.9 per cent in 2016). Energy production contributed 91 per cent of SO2 emissions and 41 per cent of the NOx emissions in 2016. 
  • Amend the 2018 Programme for Reduction of Air Pollution to make it more operational and monitor implementation. 
  • Accept amendments to the Protocols on Heavy Metals, on Persistent Organic Pollutants, and to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone (Gothenburg Protocol) to the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution.

In the area of waste management, the review identified that, over the last eight years, the country has advanced:

  • The separate collection and recycling of waste streams that are under extended producer responsibility schemes.
  • The sound management of chemicals focussing on the remediation of contaminated sites.

The next steps to be taken are to:

  • Improve waste management with the construction of regional landfills and encourage waste collectors to collect waste separately – by type – wherever waste is generated.   
  • Make the country’s Waste Management Information System operational. Reports by municipalities, health-care facilities, enterprises on the extended producer responsibility scheme and public communal companies are submitted on paper, which makes their validation, further processing and publication much more burdensome. Data collection is mostly not evidence based and, because of some overlap in institutional responsibilities, there are significant discrepancies in the published data sets for some waste types.
  • Establish an effective mechanism for regular consultation and assistance by the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning to municipalities for implementing their environment-related competences.  

Other priorities for the future are:

  • Establishing an environmental protection agency;
  • Advancing the use of integrated approaches to environmental sustainability such as Strategic Environmental Assessment, Integrated Water Resources Management and Environmental Impact Assessment, including in a transboundary context;
  • Greening the public procurement process to support environmental protection;
  • Improving wastewater management with the construction of sewage treatment plants;
  • Completing the process of revalorization and re-proclamation of existing protected areas;
  • Implementing legally-binding renewable energy targets by tapping the country’s potential for solar photovoltaic power;
  • Promoting and supporting eco-schools.

The establishment of a multistakeholder inter-institutional process for the implementation of the 72 recommendations from the Review and the regular monitoring of the implementation progress, under the leadership of the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning, could help the country to put into practice the recommendations in a timely and effective way.

Collaboration with other ministries is needed. Integrating environmental concerns into other sectors and moving towards sustainable development requires joint efforts between various sectors.

Engaging civil society organizations in these activities is of paramount importance as is nationalizing the Sustainable Development Goals, raising awareness and ensuring multi-stakeholder participation in achieving the Goals.

UNECE will continue supporting North Macedonia’s sustainable development progress by assisting in the implementation of the EPR’s recommendations.

Note to editors:

The Third Environmental Performance Review of North Macedonia was conducted by UNECE in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning of North Macedonia and other governmental and non-governmental stakeholders. The Review is a joint effort of experts from Germany, Hungary, Sweden, UNECE and UNEP. Carrying out the review was made possible with funding from Germany, Norway, Portugal and Switzerland and overall support from UNDP in North Macedonia.


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