Skopje, 28 Oct 2021 – Across Europe, many people are still at risk from the air they breathe. According to the European Union’s (EU) first Commission report to assess the implementation of the National Emission Reduction Commitments Directive (NEC Directive), many EU Member States are at risk of not complying with their 2020 or 2030 emission reduction commitments. Western Balkans countries are especially impacted by air pollution stemming from energy generation, car emissions and residential heating.
In spite of air pollution, only a small proportion of the North Macedonian population has adopted energy-efficient solutions and technologies used to implement energy from renewable sources in homes (e.g., insulation), and even less have adopted renewable energy solutions – technologies used to generate energy from renewable sources in homes (e.g., solar panels).
While the headline figures are alarming, they tend to cloud the disproportionate impacts of poor air quality and inequitable access to clean energy on those already experiencing societal inequities due to gender, age, or disability. Groups that may be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of exposure to poor air quality include internal migrants (e.g., rural-to-urban, urban-to-urban), daily commuters and returnees.
The risk of air pollution varies between male and female migrants; families staying behind, including women; and socially marginalized groups. Human mobility, as well, has a complex relationship with air pollution and can both increase and reduce exposure. Urban centres remain major destinations for internal migrants and migrants can be exposed to new risks in their destination, especially if they reside in peri-urban areas that have limited public services and amenities.
Understanding the issue
“There is limited understanding of how the experiences of different migrant groups influence their vulnerability to air pollution and shape their access to clean energy. This poses challenges for an integrated response,” stated Kaja Sukova, State Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning of the Republic of North Macedonia.
The interlinkages of such processes with migration are not understood and, therefore, often overlooked in policy deliberations. This poses a challenge when forming integrated responses and since these impacts are context-specific, they require tailored solutions.
Remittances comprise a significant part of the national GDP of North Macedonia. In 2019, North Macedonia received USD 317 million in the form of remittances. Although remittance-recipient families already spend a substantial portion of their income on housing, only some of them have spent on energy-efficient solutions (e.g., thermal insulation, energy-efficient water heaters, etc.). Renewable energy solutions are perceived as unaffordable due to the high upfront costs. This means that to be able to afford the renewable energy solutions, remittance-receiving families have had to subsidize this with other sources of funding from other institutions.
However, few remittance recipients had taken a green loan from a commercial bank or a subsidy from a municipality. Remittance recipients, particularly women staying behind, have reported difficulty accessing green loans from commercial banks because they do not have proof of income, limiting their ability to access renewable energy and energy-efficient solutions. For those able to apply for municipal green subsidies, the first come, first served nature of subsidy distribution has created underserved groups. There is also uncertainty around subsidy availability from the municipalities, as sometimes funding is reallocated. With enabling measures, their spending on renewable energy and energy-efficient solutions could be increased.
More attention is needed to increase understanding of the complex linkage between migration, air pollution and clean energy. Through the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans under the European Green Deal, proposed EU actions and commitments to combat air pollution can increase access to clean energy in Europe and transform cities into global standards for sustainability. Migrants and their families are key stakeholders and have a role in their achievement.
Towards a solution
To improve the access of clean energy communities in North Macedonia, EBRD, IOM, UNDP and UNECE have launched a joint-SDG Fund proposal, “Green Finance Facility to Improve Air Quality and Combat Climate Change in North Macedonia”, to operationalize a Green Financing Facility (GFF) to provide SMEs and underserved groups with access to affordable green financing from commercial banks for renewable energy and energy-efficient solutions.
“The programme will unlock investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency through the provision of subsidized loans, performance-based payments, and technical assistance. The breadth of environmental challenges necessitates the development of multi-stakeholder responses,” said Naser Nuredini, Minister of Environment and Physical Planning of the Republic of North Macedonia, in his statement at IOM’s International Dialogue on Migration (IDM) on 27 May 2021.
One of the programme’s aims is to help commercial banks reach underserved groups, including female-headed households, single parents, Roma ethnic community, households with persons with disabilities, and employees who were affected by COVID-19. To tap into remittances, the programme also targets remittance recipients and returning migrants. This programme brings together the experiences and expertise of sectoral ministries, UN agencies, international financial institutions, commercial banks and other national actors. This multi-stakeholder partnership is critical to meet the objectives of the Government of North Macedonia’s National Plan for Clean Air.
To support the immediate actions of the Government of North Macedonia, IOM has launched a project entitled ‘A Systems Approach to Assess the Nexus between Air Pollution and Human Mobility in North Macedonia’, supported by the IOM Development Fund. The project will contribute to addressing the knowledge and policy gaps regarding the complex interlinkages between human mobility, air pollution and clean energy. It will also improve our understanding of the impacts of air pollution on internal migrants, including female migrants, women staying behind and children.
The evidence generated by these projects will help raise awareness among relevant stakeholders in North Macedonia and help to integrate the migration perspective in the planned initiatives under the National Plan for Clean Air.