UNRC Talking Points - Social Dialog on the legislative framework for environmental protection
01 October 2021
Talking points by Françoise Jacob, UNRC at the Social Dialog on the legislative framework for environmental protection
Dobar dan swima, madame la Ministre Comic, madame la Ministre Vujovic,
Once again I thank you for inviting me to this important multi-stakeholder dialogue on the topic of nature protection among the government, civil society sector, private sector and experts.
I am here this morning in my capacity of UN resident coordinator, but also, and possibly primarily in my capacity of citizen of the planet. If I wasn’t a UN official, I would be an environmental activist. This is a very important topic for me.
And one thing is very clear to me. Without nature’s help, we will not thrive or even survive.
1. Allow to briefly position this dialog in the global context:
From the United Nations Secretary General, we have very clear marching orders for 2021 and beyond: we have to tackle the three planetary crises: climate, nature and pollution, with a sense of urgency, and a comprehensive approach. Such Green Transformation is one of the 3 pillars of the United Nations Cooperation Programme with the Government of Serbia.
Addressing climate change and environmental degradation is not only about technology and finance. It is about people. It is about the relations between the people and the planet. If we want to tackle the breadth of the climate challenge and opportunities, we need to look at the intersections with public health, human rights, social justice, gender equality, affordable housing, food systems, financial risks, investments, and so much more.
Why I want to mention this right away? While we work on actual nature protection laws, mining laws, etc, we also have to engage with the broader legislative side of economic development and investments, spatial planning, agriculture etc, with other ministries.
We must make a fundamental shift in the way we measure the economy, include natural capital in measures of economic performance and promote a circular economy, a fundamental shift in the way we behave as citizens and consumers, and in the way we behave as countries. Without that fundamental shift, the targets that we have fixed in relation to biodiversity, in relation to pollution, and in relation to climate change, will not be achievable.
Finally I would like to briefly mention that there are remaining gaps in the legislation around Nature-Based Solutions, and in food systems strategies – addressing these gaps can help address numerous challenges and provide long-term environmental, societal, and economic benefits.
2. CONSULTATIVE AND INCLUSIVE PROCESS to develop and implement the laws
Let me go back to the national scene. In the past 12 months, much has been done on the legislative side to address climate change, pollution, and the protection of the environment, at national and municipal levels. Never before has there been such a push to establish the foundations of a green agenda, which indicates a sense of urgency from government side (on environment protection, specific focus has included Nature Protection Program for the period from 2021 to 2023, related Action Plan for Nature Protection, amendments to the Law on Nature Protection, Law on Noise Pollution, spatial planning law, etc). These changes also aim to harmonize legislation on protected areas with the recently adopted set of other laws, such as energy laws. This is great, and a step forward towards better integration of policy objectives in the national legislative framework.
At the same time, we have seen the rising of demonstrations and protests related to environmental matters, which for me, indicates a rise in awareness in parts of the society, and a rise in the willingness of citizens to act, this is very important. But it also indicates that the consultative process has not been as inclusive and comprehensive enough with civil society, private sector, and expert community.
In between these 2 , we still have a large, silent majority of people who either don’t care, don’t have time to care or don’t know what they should do to contribute to building a better world. We need to think of how to engage this majority of citizens, and the legislative framework is one important way to engage, but there is a lot more we should do there. Private citizens, as we also heard, can also play very much their part — by changing their diets, their travel habits, reducing their consumption of water and energy, and by exercising their civic rights.
My point here is that we need to communicate better, consult better, and most importantly, work together towards this green transformation, rather than against each other. There is no space for petty politics in pushing for the green agenda. All energies need to be positive, strategic and constructive.
3. Independent Monitoring and enforcement of the laws – the green agenda is about rule of law and governance
Most importantly, the multiple legislative and regulatory frameworks – including those of environmental nature - need to be understood, applied, monitored, and effectively enforced. This is probably where big gaps remain, and where we need dedicated efforts to strengthen and expand the capacities and independence of monitoring bodies, along with litigation capacities. This is critical at a time when Serbia benefits from increased private and public investments for large infrastructure schemes, real estate developments, transport and more. In that respect, I think ministry of justice, and the judiciary system need to be part of these dialogs. When there is an illegal dumpsite set up near the backwaters of the Danube, the police should be chasing the perpetrators, not the NGOs.
4. Implementation of the International conventions on chemicals, waste and climate change
Serbia is a Party to the Carpathian Convention (signature in 2003, ratification in 2008) and to most of the Convention Protocols (on Biodiversity, on Sustainable Forest Management, on Sustainable Tourism, on Sustainable Transport) while ratification of the Protocol on Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development and ratification of the Convention’s amendment, the Article 12bis on Climate Change is still pending.
5. Role of the private sector: we need to reach out, a lot more. Legislation is a good start. Green Bonds are great, and the recent establishment of the Green Bond Framework is a major step forward in directing and shaping environment friendly investments. More is needed, both in terms of incentives, knowledge management and development, and sticks. We need the private sector in this room today.
6. Finally a word on social justice: Environment degradation and overexploitation of resources is directly linked to social injustice and inequalities. The poorest neighborhoods are often the most affected by abusive environment exploitation, pollution, unhealthy urban infrastructure. I am not sure they are represented today. We have to make sure the laws and national programmes carve solutions for/with them.
Human well-being lies in protecting the health of the planet. It’s time to re-evaluate and reset our relationship with nature. I call on all of you today, and to stakeholders beyond this room, to build a strong coalition that is truly transformative.