January 18, 2021 | Monday

Enisa Serhati: A resilient Kosovo requires economic recovery with environment at the center

It is not unusual for us humans to put problems in boxes, and then to go back and solve them one at a time. COVID-19 outbreak found Kosovo packed up with boxes of problems. There was the problem of one of the lowest GDP per capita in Europe and high unemployment in one box, the problem of poverty and inequality, low PISA ranking for education in another box, air pollution and environmental degradation in yet another box.  At its onset, the pandemic whirled across our boxes, cutting them all opened and awakening us collectively to the fact that we can no longer see development challenges in isolation.

Suddenly, Kosovo’s consistent positive economic growth of the past decades was far from meaningful due to a dysfunctional health system. Economic inequality left many families unable to provide children with access to education due to the lack of electronic devices. Winter 2020 came as smokey as always – and Kosovo air quality index is once again hitting highest global levels. The issue of hydropower plants still brought unrest among communities for whom rivers are a source of life.

So what do we do and why now?

A visionary and sustainable development requires systemic transformation. When aiming for a resilient system, we cannot look for recovery from COVID-19 by bringing to the table the box with economic terms only. It is a rather dynamic approach to growth that keeps environment at heart which creates long-term stability for Kosovo. An approach that sees the system as multidimensional single construct rather than a tree with independent boxes.

While the ongoing crisis has clearly exacerbated many of Kosovo’s outstanding economic issues, the recovery brings along an opportunity to do things differently. With modern economics and existing fiscal rules, it is rare for institutions to be able to pass interventions which are as massive as the ones being currently passed – and it is precisely the active role of the government and development partners who are working  closely with the private sector that can alter Kosovo’s environmental status. Development can happen along environmental recovery and not against it.

Fiscal stimulus is an opportunity to restructure the environmental impact of the economy through conditionality. Industries and firms that get access to support from the stimulus must comply with new environmental standards. This is not to penalize economic stakeholders for not being environmentally friendly by not supporting them, but rather inviting them to commit to being sustainable players of the ecosystem in the future. While traditional paradigm may deem this untimely – there are leading progressive thinkers and organizations around the world who are swiftly changing the new normal views.

Maintaining a green vision amidst all of it is key for Kosovo’s European future. The new Green Deal sets a Green Agenda for the Western Balkans, which makes circular economy and green growth drivers of competitiveness for the Kosovo economy.

Enisa Serhati – Project Coordinator, Sustainable Development and Environment Portfolio – UNDP