How many people who had troubles with breathing this winter do you know? As we try to count all those who have ended up in "pumps", in health centers and hospitals, locked up in their homes in recent months; we had the opportunity to hear that the Government of Serbia adopted the NERP or the National Emission Reduction Plan as a priority measure for reducing air pollution. What is NERP? Why now and why urgently?

In 2005, the Republic of Serbia (RS) joined the Energy Community by signing the Treaty, committing itself, inter alia, to the implementation of the Large Combustion Plants Directive starting from 2018. Within the obligations stipulated by the Treaty, the most challenging part is certainly related to the reduction of pollution from thermal power plants, that is, compliance with emission limit values ​​and regulation of standards concerning sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and powdered particles. This is precisely regulated by the Large Combustion Plants Directive and the Industrial Emissions Directive, which succeeded the former in the EU.

What is and why is the Industrial Emissions Directive? What are the mechanisms for reaching the objectives of the Directive? You can find the answers in the SHORT SUMMARY OF THE MOST IMPORTANT DECISIONS OF THE 11th MEETING OF THE MINISTERIAL COUNCIL OF THE ENERGY COMMUNITY.

What is NERP?

“Due to high standards envisaged by the two aforementioned Directives, the Energy Community, in line with the EU, envisaged certain opportunities for a transition period, during which countries would gradually adopt the prescribed standards. The Large Combustion Plants Directive provides for an opt-out mechanism or the possibility of limited lifetime derogation of energy installations. There are two criteria for an opt-out mechanism, and energy plants that opt ​​for this option (according to the Energy Community, four plants from the RS opted for this option) between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2023 may work a total of 20,000 working hours. It is up to the plants themselves to decide whether they will be operating at full capacity during this period, and will reach 20,000 working hours after 2 to 3 years, or adjust the number of working hours so that the said 20,000 will expire on December 31, 2023 at the latest. in the event of exhaustion of authorized working hours, or in the other case on expiry of the deadline, plants have the opportunity to align the technology with standards or to cease operations. On the other hand, it is the obligation of the states to keep records of working hours as of January 1, 2019 and to report to the Energy Community Secretariat (the Energy Community Secretariat is the only permanent Energy Community institution responsible for supporting the activities of the Energy Community and monitoring the implementation of the Energy Treaty community).

Another option, envisaged as a "bridge" from the Large Combustion Plants Directive to the new Industrial Emissions Directive, is to include non-optimum thermal power plants in the National Emission Reduction Plan (NERP). This option allows until December 31, 2027, the emission limit values not to be verified for each power plant individually, but to determine the national emission limit values at the national level. These two options give a dose of flexibility to the energy sector to align with the standards and to plan the dynamics of necessary investments. It is important to emphasize that this flexible approach does not delay the application of the provisions of the said Directives." [1]

Prepare yourself. Winter is coming. And with it, NERP.

At the beginning of September 2019, who knows for what time the expert public has warned of the consequences that winter 2020 may bring, which are also linked to warnings from the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the European Commission and the European Parliament about alarmingly high levels of air pollution exposed citizens of Serbia. More in the text WINTER AIR IN THE WESTERN BALKANS MORE DANGEROUS THAN NIGHT KING.

At the end of September, we wrote about the Directive on Large Combustion Plants in the text LARGE COMBUSTION PLANTS DIRECTIVE - STILL WITHOUT A PLAN and the "nonexistent" plan for Serbia to reduce emissions of powdered matter, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the air. Just the particles that we have been hearing about in the last few months that are choking us and are the cause of air pollution.

NERP: Why now and why urgently?

Having in mind that in its annual report, the Energy Community warns Serbia four years back about the obligation to reduce pollution from thermal power plants, ie to respect emission limit values ​​and to regulate standards, while on the other hand there is no progress - the Secretariat of the Energy Community initiates proceedings against the Republic of Serbia 15 January 2020. Only 15 days afterwards, and in the midst of high levels of air pollution throughout Serbia, the Government of the Republic of Serbia adopts the NERP.

The logical question that follows is whether, in the 14 years from commitment to entry into force, the consequences of the winter of 2020, but also of every previous year, could have been prevented by long-term planning and the preparation of a plan that we knew from 2005 that will be mandatory from 2018. Were we able to prevent pollution, not because of pre-litigation before the Energy Community for default, but for the sake of protecting citizens' health and the environment. Also, it remains open whether and how it is possible to prevent these situations from being prevented in the future?

It is this historical perspective that teaches us that, although necessary, adopting the NERP only acts as a well-used timing, rather than a good intention to change something in the future with long-term planning. However, a glimmer of hope remains in the implementation of the NERP in the coming period during the implementation of the envisaged measures.

14 years without responsibility for "unprepared"

Lastly, what does NERP mean to our loved ones, our grandparents, chronic patients, who have had difficulty breathing more than every winter so far. What does NERP mean for working-age people who have difficulty breathing every morning on their way to work, and what does it mean for all born and unborn babies?

What we haven't written about yet, and should have said at the outset, is - responsibility. It is high time we asked ourselves who is responsible for this winter, nature or people? The answer to this question is as complex as the solution to the problem from the beginning. However, we do not have much left, choking in the air or fighting for the right to a healthy environment, guaranteed by the Constitution, laws of the Republic of Serbia and international treaties signed by the Republic of Serbia on behalf of all citizens. Welcoming the adoption of the NERP, the Secretariat of the Energy Community emphasized that this was a good but not sufficient move to protect citizens' health and the environment. Were we able to conclude it ourselves the day after the adoption of NERP, or did it pass us in the fog, like most of the winter months in 2020?

Varvara Aleksic, Belgrade Open School

[1] Taken form Aleksic V. 2018. Ka održivoj energetici sa civilnim sektorom i industrijom u Srbiji, Asocijacija za održivi razvoj (ASOR), Beograd.