BIRN Conference Highlights Importance of Environmental Journalism in Balkans

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Reporting on environmental issues in the Balkans is still not a priority for the media, which are struggling with political and financial pressures and lack of dedication, a BIRN conference in Sarajevo concluded.

By Azem Kurtic

The environmental crisis in the western Balkan has become more visible in the wake of Russian invasion of Ukraine in February last year, as countries struggled to obtain enough energy with rising prices, putting environmental protection in the shade.

“The crisis was already existent in the region and the war made it clearer that this is something that will stay for years and will take a lot of efforts to change,” said Pippa Gallop, Southeast Europe energy advisor at Bankwatch.

Over 50 journalists gathered in Sarajevo, Bosnia, for the “Going Environmental” conference, the culmination of a project by BIRN and German partner n-ost.

The project’s goal was to promote collaborative environmental journalism in the region by bringing together journalists from Western Balkan countries to collaborate and provide regional perspectives on environmental and climate change issues – which are quite often common ones.

The Western Balkans face a significant challenge in the form of its reliance on coal for electricity and heating, which has resulted in cities in the region frequently appearing on lists of the world’s most air-polluted cities.

However, with the escalating energy crisis, conference participants emphasized that many countries are now shifting away from renewable energy sources.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example, closure of the Tuzla power plant’s Block 5 and Kakanj power plant’s Block 4, originally planned for 2022, has been postponed.

“We still don’t have a state-level environment protection strategy and are waiting for on to be made, which will be a historical moment in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” said Sabina Sahman – Salihbegovic, secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the two entities in the country.

Training programs were held for journalists to report on various critical topics, including the effects of pesticide use, the loss of protected heritage sites to construction projects, illegal deforestation, and the consequences of small hydropower plants.

A special emphasis was placed on cross-border journalism, leading to the production of 19 insightful articles that were published in media outlets across the western Balkans.

In 2022, 18 participants from six Western Balkan countries underwent two training sessions with the objective of developing a new regional approach to environmental issues in the Balkans.

The culmination of their work was showcased at a presentation in Sarajevo on Thursday. The event highlighted the vital role of media in fostering an open and informed public discourse on the fight against climate change, as well as the far-reaching impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on environmental and energy policies in Europe and the Balkans.