Western Balkan Journalists Tackle Challenges of Sustainable Development in Awarded stories

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As climate change and environmental disasters increasingly dominate the concerns of Western Balkan countries, a significant need remains to raise awareness of future sustainable development.

Photo: Freepik

Once again, media outlets have underscored their crucial role in addressing this urgent matter, with the current edition of the Western Balkans Sustainable Energy Journalism Award acknowledging outstanding stories.

The focus of this year’s Sustainable Energy Journalism Awards centred on energy transition, featuring stories on environmental corruption, greenwashing and the social inequality of green transition.

The 24 applications received for the award came from all six countries in the region – Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, and Albania – reflecting the widespread interest of journalists in shedding light on these issues. The awarded stories were chosen by three international and independent jurors.

The two awardees brought attention to unjust practices in their countries’ solar transitions. “Solar Blossoms”, the winning story by journalist and academic researcher Lirika Demiri, portrayed the challenges faced by citizens transitioning to solar energy in coal-dependent Kosovo, revealing broader obstacles and power interests impeding the solar industry’s full potential.

The third-placed investigative story “Solar Boom in Stolac”,  by Naratorium journalists Alena Beširević and Harun Dindarević, focused on energy transition, exposing how laws in Bosnia and Herzegovina favour investors at the expense of citizens.

Themes like climate change, decarbonization and green energy can be difficult to acknowledge. But storytellers like Katerina Topalova made it easier. Her story, “Hard Winter”,  in five short videos, explained problems and solutions related to food and energy after the war in Ukraine and Covid-19 in a way that’s easy to understand. She used videos, graphics, and animation to make it interesting – and won second place in the selection.

Numerous journalist stories adopted an informative approach, such as podcasts on solar energy panels, while one media from Bosnia educated citizens about energy prosumers and opportunities for electricity self-sufficiency.

Other narratives investigated the environmental impact of hydropower plants, such as collaborative efforts by media from Bosnia and Albania, shedding light on the complexities of small hydro plant construction in Albania and their repercussions on communities. Journalists from Montenegro documented local efforts to preserve rivers from destructive mini-hydropower plants in their stories.

Several stories underscored social injustice and energy poverty, exposing challenges faced by impoverished families and marginalized communities in accessing sustainable energy services.

The Green Agenda for the Western Balkans designates this region as among the most severely affected in Europe by the repercussions of climate change, a trend expected to persist.

A 2022 survey in the Western Balkans found that 67 per cent of respondents consider climate change a problem, while 31 per cent do not. An EU survey showed 93 per cent of EU citizens regard climate change as a serious problem.

Through their stories, journalists disseminated information about environmental issues, educated society, demanded accountability and transparency, and advocated for mobilization. This was made possible through the active engagement of stakeholders, communities, activists, experts and local governments.

The Sustainable Energy Journalism Award has emerged as a significant motivator for journalists committed to addressing the challenges of sustainable development facing the future of the Western Balkans. BIRN is committed to furthering the capacity building of journalists and media outlets as they strive to investigate topics related to sustainable energy.