The preparation of the Skopje Green City needs to be transparent and to include citizens and civil society in a meaningful way from the early stages of planning.
Davor Pehchevski, National campaigner in North Macedonia | 29 July 2019
Thick dark smog covering Skopje during winter months claims hundreds of lives every year. Photo credit: RadioMOF
Skopje is one of 29 cities that is preparing Green City Action Plans (GCAP) to help address its most pressing climate change and local environmental challenges. The plan is prepared with the support of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and donor funds, including financing from the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The EBRD-GCF agreement includes nine countries eligible to receive support – Albania, Armenia, Georgia, Jordan, Moldova, Mongolia, North Macedonia, Serbia and Tunisia.
While in theory the “EBRD Green Cities strives to build a better and more sustainable future for cities and their residents”, the practice so far shows that participation of civil society organisations (CSOs) and the public in the development of the Skopje Green City Action Plan is not welcome. The presentations and workshops are invitation-only and the CSOs that have really made a positive difference in greening Skopje during the last several years are not yet involved despite formally declaring interest to be engaged as stakeholders in the technical assessment and planning process.
In recent years Skopje is mostly famous for being the most polluted capital in Europe and one of the cities with the lowest quality of life. The citizens’ unrest and opposition for many of the planned and ongoing projects is growing because they do not reflect their current needs and issues. Thus, an urgent shift in the city’s development is necessary, together with a stronger enforcement of legislation and most importantly wide and meaningful public participation.
The Skopje GCAP presents a long-term green city vision (10-15 years) based on a previously identified baseline data and strategic priorities in the following six sectors: transport, energy, building, industry, water, solid waste, and land-use. The development of the GCAP is a process spreading over 12 months and the final GCAP should reflect the inputs of all stakeholders, including CSOs and a wider public.
There have been many plans and programmes made by the city officials to accommodate the needs of the businesses and construction companies – from urban plans decimating green areas to non-inclusive traffic plans impeding the mobility of many citizens, including pedestrians, elderly and disabled persons, and parents.
The last thing that this city needs is another action plan that does not reflect the issues that people are facing every day.
That is why after we found out that the GCAP is under development during the EBRD Annual Meeting in early April 2019, we instantly requested from the EBRD to ensure wider public participation. We prepared a shortlist of CSOs that are the most relevant at this stage and we were promised that they would be invited to the workshop where the baseline data and the priority issues would be presented and concluded. But this never happened. Green organisations were not invited to the workshop. Instead, after the event, the City of Skopje sent out an email requesting a written input, but it did not include local CSOs that work on urban mobility, air pollution, waste management, urban planning, etc.
So now again, the priorities are mostly defined by the input from authorities and municipality owned companies that can barely provide that baseline data – the very same stakeholders whose work is heavily influenced by political decisions and who are in big part responsible for many of the problems the residents are having, such as a barely functional waste management system, over-urbanisation at the expense of green spaces, non-existent waste water treatment and inefficient public transportation, to name a few.
“External experts and citizens representatives will confirm or dispute the relevance of identified green city challenges,” – EBRD Green Cities Programme Methodology.
In a last effort to include timely participation of citizens, we requested that the deadline for comments on the Technical Assessment Report is prolonged. Every single project and action that will come out of the GCAP will influence the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in one way or another and every single one of them is derived from the baseline data and the prioritisation. So how does one develop an action plan that will bring a better future for the residents, if the residents are not asked what future they want for themselves?
Looking ahead, we sincerely hope for a truly transparent and participatory process for the GCAP for Skopje. In a society that has been plagued by corruption and incompetence for decades, the spirit of cooperation from the EBRD policies and the Aarhus convention is most welcome in any future plans and developments.
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