IBNA Op-Ed/Air pollution in Skopje?

IBNA Op-Ed/Air pollution in Skopje?
By Peter Vanhoutte

Fighting air pollution? A few weeks ago, I published the article below — yes, discussion of measures such as I proposed is urgent, and even more: action is needed. First step: traffic restrictions: do keep vehicles out of the city — with the exception of public transport, and provide parking spaces with good public transport connection to the city. In addition: just promote the use of bicycles and walking. If there is less pollution, this will certainly be healthy. And maybe the discussion could start this time in parliament, now — and politicians could start giving the good example? So, let's add one golden rule:

Golden Rule 11: Time for every citizen to stop complaining and become an activist: You and you alone can stop the pollution:

  • •Stop complaining about air pollution, it is time for action!
  • •Avoid burning wood and garbage
  • •Leave your car at home and use the bus, train or bike.
  • •Convince your neighbors to do the same.

Ten Golden Rules to combat air pollution and climate change in Skopje

A few weeks ago, the Macedonian Parliament ratified the Paris Agreement calling all countries to take ambitious efforts to combat climate changes. Next question: what to do?

Maybe it is a good idea to start tackling the air pollution in Skopje. It is not only a necessary contribution to the Paris Agreement, it is also urgent, as according to the World Health Organization (WHO) air pollution is the world’s largest single environmental health risk. Based on their estimates, on an annual basis more than 1300 deaths in Skopje are caused every year by air pollution, while more than 35% of all diseases are caused by the air pollution. Most of the pollution comes from fine particles, or dust, and gas (e.g. nitrogen dioxide). The fine dust is the result of burning wood, oil and coal at high temperatures as well as the smelting of metals.

So far, it seemed difficult to act. Many people were complaining, but little or no action was taken. With the ratification of the Paris Agreement, action for change becomes urgent. The key question is: what do we need to do?

1. The Government should lead by example. The development of an ambitious program to improve isolation and lower the energy needs for all governmental buildings could be a first step. The transition of existing service vehicles to less polluting ones as well as promoting transport from home to work either by bike or public transport should also be considered. Additionally, the Government should develop an effective monitoring system for air pollution, as well as an extensive permanent control system of all industrial activities causing pollution.

2. Encourage walking and cycling. It is important to create large pedestrian zones where only walking and cycling are allowed in the heart of the city and the centres of the different neighbourhoods in Skopje. This offers also an opportunity to rethink the space for green (parks and trees). Green in the city is an effective way to help reducing air pollution and allow for lower temperatures in the middle of summer, reducing the energy needs for air conditioning.

3. Rethink the spatial plan. First it is necessary, in line with the ideas of Kenzo Tange when reconstructing Skopje after the 1963 earthquake, to create green lanes crossing the city and allowing wind to cross the city all year round, avoiding the build-up of smog. In addition, it is necessary to create extensive parking spaces at the outskirts of the city, combined with shuttles (public transport) between the parkings and the city centre driving with a high frequency (e.g. every 10 minutes).

4. Stop building new roads. Roads only add to the pollution problems as every new road attracts new traffic. The best solution for the traffic problems in Skopje is to keep the traffic out of the city.

5. For vehicles that need to be in the city, access should be prohibited for polluting vehicles. As a general measure, an additional taxation for polluting vehicles will support a shift towards less polluting vehicles. At a short term, stricter controls on the quality of fuels can also contribute to a reduction of air pollution.

6. For the construction of new private and public buildings, only low energy buildings should be allowed. Good isolation, minimizing the need for heating and cooling is key for this. In addition, on all new buildings, solar boilers and solar panels should be obliged.

7. Introduction of a free energy assessment of all existing buildings. Such assessments will provide clear guidance on how to improve isolation and lower the energy needs.

8. All radiators of existing heating systems should be equipped with thermostatic valves. Local governments should introduce a program subsidizing the transition. In addition, all existing windows should be equipped with double glazing.

9. The use of non-sustainable heating systems based on wood or oil should be phased out as soon as possible. This should be combined with the production of clean, sustainable energy with respect for existing valuable ecosystems.

10. Avoid the further suffocation of Skopje. A national spatial development plan and ambitious economic development strategy should make the different regions and their cities more attractive for people to stay instead of moving to Skopje. The further expansion of the capital should be discouraged.

(The author has been an EU mediator in resolving the recent political crisis in FYROM before the parliamentary elections. This article is part of his blog allowed to be published in IBNA)

Note: The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect IBNA’s editorial policy

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