Environment Sector in North Macedonia

climate-change nature-protection air-quality environment business-environment
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To become the European Union member state, North Macedonia still needs to address the issues it has with climate change, water and air quality, waste management, nature protection, industrial pollution, chemicals, noise and civil protection. In 2005, after the country had been granted candidate status for accession to the EU, the environmental situation in North Macedonia was totally incomparable with the requirements of Chapter 27 on Environment. Since 2016, some signs of improvement could be detected, but there is still a lot of work to do. North Macedonia has the biggest need for improvement in the fields of air quality, nature protection and climate change. The reasons are multi-layered but the main challenges stem from the weak capacities of local self-government, bad communication between local and national authorities, lack of accurate and complete data and lack of resources to finance the infrastructure in this sector. At the same time, there is a need for increased public awareness and education of the citizens that would tackle the problem of neglecting the environment. Transparency, awareness of the basics of recycling and reusing should be spread more efficiently in addition to infrastructural developments in this field.

Finnish institutions Metsähallitus and the Environmental Institute SYKE, together with Lithuania as the Junior Partner, have been selected by the North Macedonian Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning (MoEPP) to implement the Twinning project "Strengthening the capacities for effective implementation of the acquis in the field of nature protection". The aim of this project is to aid the North Macedonian authorities in the implementation of Nature Protection legislation by developing the legislation and other nature-related documents. The project started in November 2017.

Institutional background

The Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning is responsible for environment protection activities in North Macedonia. It prepares national action plans and strategies and enforces anti-pollution measures. It is also in charge of monitoring and managing information systems and cadastres. MoEPP is also responsible for the fulfilment of the criteria related to Chapter 27. There are five departments within MoEPP: Department for Environment; Department for Industrial Pollution and Risk Management; Department for Nature; Department for Waters and Department for Waste.

Air quality and pollution

North Macedonia is currently one of the most polluted countries in Europe and Skopje was the most polluted capital in 2018 according to WHO. Main sources contributing to pollution are burning coal in power plants, exhaust fumes from old cars, industry combustion and wood-burning stoves. The ratio between greenhouse gas emissions and GDP is five times higher than the EU average. Most of the particulate matter pollution comes from the largest industrial cities and their industrial sites. One of the most important factors in reducing pollution is to modernize the outdated industrial equipment and practices. The focus should be on renewable energy that would reduce the air pollution significantly.

Three of North Macedonia’s coal power plants are among Europe’s top polluting power plants. EU’s tightened emission-trading scheme and regulations regarding emissions pose North Macedonia pressure to reduce its emissions by 2028, or even earlier depending on the EU membership process. For example, power plants Bitola and Oslomej need to reduce emissions approximately by 95 %, because the current emissions are 14 to 20 times greater than the rules set by the Industrial Emissions Directive. Overall health costs associated with air pollution in North Macedonia are 21.5 % of GDP. 

Even though the legislation on pollution is still not completely aligned with the relevant EU directives, the legislation on air quality is advanced. However, its implementation has fallen behind. Some measures to reduce pollution have been taken but the process is still at its early stages. The main obstacle so far was lack of sufficient administrative and financial resources. The North Macedonian government itself approved a €1.6 million programme in November 2018 to tackle air pollution. The government is aiming to halve pollution in Skopje in the next two years and to give subsidies to households to use central heating instead of wood-burning stoves. However, central heating is still very costly, and therefore the transition can be very slow. The levels of air pollution are especially high during the winter months. 

Even though there is a downward trend in the emissions of most pollutants, it is still necessary to fully implement all measures from the National Plan for air quality. Particular emphasis should be placed on the reduction of emissions and solid concentrations of particles in the air. At the moment, air quality plans exist only for the cities of Skopje, Bitola and Tetovo. There is a need to solve the technical issues related to monitoring and to introduce monitoring of air quality in other cities, as well. Furthermore, reporting must be improved and enforced. The emission standards and pollution from transport also require further efforts, e.g. enforcing more efficient transport policies and practices.

Waste management

Current North Macedonian legislation on waste management has three main goals. The first one is to avoid waste generation and reduce the impact of waste on the environment, life and health. The second is to improve production technologies, reduce waste generation and packaging and to use ecological products. The final goal is to start recycling and reusing of waste. Even though a legal framework for waste management in North Macedonia exists, there are significant problems with its implementation. North Macedonia is aiming to align its legal framework with the EU rules. The new Law on Waste and the national waste prevention plan have not been adopted yet. However, the new national waste management plan for 2018-2024 has been prepared.

According to the data of the State Statistical Office, the total amount of collected municipal waste in the Republic of North Macedonia in 2018 was 625,386t. Compared to 2017, the total amount of collected municipal waste decreased by 1.6 %. 99.5 % of it was dumped in landfills. Thus, reusing, recycling, composting and incinerating waste with energy recovery should be encouraged and selective collection of waste increased. Waste disposal on uncontrolled landfills is estimated to be around 20%, which is a direct threat to environment and natural resources. Actions aiming at closing down these illegal dumping sites and building regional waste management sites continue. The goal of the Government is to have a system for selective collection of waste in every municipality by the end of 2020. However, economic efforts to promote recycling and reduction of waste are still scarce. Due to lacking administrative and financial resources, the regional waste management structures are only partially functional and the waste management plans have not been implemented fully. Waste has not been recognized as a source of energy yet. North Macedonia should implement an integrated regional waste management system, encourage the usage of up-to-date solutions and focus on shutting down the illegal landfills, while at the same time maintaining the proper ones.

In the field of waste management, there is currently one ongoing Twinning project "Strengthening the administrative capacities for implementation of Waste Framework Directive (WFD) and Special Waste Streams Directives (WEEED, WBAD and WPD)".

Water and wastewater management

Currently, water sector infrastructure in North Macedonia is old and unreliable, with seasonal water shortages as a result. Estimations show that maintenance and reconstruction of the infrastructure would equal even up to 4% of the GDP. As a consequence of poor pricing practices, water tariffs do not cover the costs. The gap between the revenue received from the water utilities and the cost of the water supply is around 0.4% of GDP.

Preparations to ensure a good quality and lasting water supply are ongoing. As of 2016, there is a law on the pricing of water services. However, a scheme to monitor the quality and quantity of water is needed, and risk management, such as flood prevention, requires special attention. There are some improvements in this area, as flood hazard and risk mapping have been developed for nearly all areas in North Macedonia. However, there is a need for further alignment with the EU legislation. Substantial investments are necessary to maintain and rebuild the water infrastructure and to make it more efficient.

Around 35 % of the households in North Macedonia are not connected to the sewage system. In 2013, out of the total untreated wastewater from industry and mining, 52.7% was discharged in watercourses, 10.9% in public sewers and the rest in the soil and reservoirs. Most of the pollution is caused by untreated wastewater in the urban areas. Directives on the treatment of urban wastewater and drinking water are being prepared but their implementation does not seem possible due to insufficient administrative capacities. The EU has mostly funded construction and renewal of the water infrastructure. As of 2018, four municipalities have secured EU funding for wastewater treatment plants as part of EU to YOU programme, as well as to achieve the quality standards required under the EU Urban Waste-Water Treatment Directive. EU is planning to fund even more wastewater treatment plants by 2020.

In the field of water quality, there is currently one ongoing Twinning project "Strengthening the capacities for effective implementation of the acquis in the field of water quality".

Opportunities for Finnish companies

North Macedonia has natural resources, but the usage of them is unsustainable. Thus, North Macedonia needs assistance and substantial investments from experienced foreign partners. Not that many Finnish environmental technology companies have found their way to the Western Balkans yet. However, in the near future, there is a great need for know-how and solutions to address the environmental issues in North Macedonia. On the other hand, the government must be active in the implementation, management and monitoring of the necessary measures.