Smoggy Kosovo skyline.
Smoggy Kosovo skyline.
Left Column

Tiny Kosovo is one of Europe’s big polluters

Kosovo sits in a region with more than a dozen outdated coal-fired power plants that billow out particulate matter and sulphur dioxide. Learn more about why Kosovo’s air quality can get so bad and what the country is doing about it.

Kosovo has what the World Bank has called the worst single-point source of pollution in Europe: a 45-year-old lignite-fired power plant.1 Its landlocked location doesn’t help its air quality – Kosovo sits in a region with more than a dozen outdated coal-fired power plants that billow out particulate matter and sulphur dioxide.

Kosovo’s air quality has shot up in the public’s consciousness since the U.S. Embassy in the capital of  Pristina started monitoring the air and sharing the data publicly. For the first time, residents were able to quantify the air pollution, shocked that at times it passed into the “hazardous” category on the U.S. Air Quality Index during the winter months, when many people burn coal and wood to keep warm.

Now, the Telecommunications company IPKO, owned by Telekom Slovenia and one of Kosovo’s biggest foreign investors, is setting up a network of 25 monitors to help citizens find out what the air is like in other areas of the Western Balkans country. IPKO  wants residents of the nation to be able to check pollution levels in their local areas in real time in order to take action to protect their health.

Why does Kosova burn so much coal?

Kosovo, which declared independence from neighboring Serbia in 2008, is one of the poorest countries in Europe and also one of the most polluted.2

Air pollution comes from coal-fired power plants and lignite mines, and many households still burn wood and coal for heating and cooking. Particulate matter is largely emitted by vehicle exhausts.

For decades, Kosovo has relied on the dirtiest coal, lignite, or brown coal for its power, mostly because it’s cheap and abundant in the country.

Two aging lignite-fired power plants, located just outside the capital, generate most of Kosovo’s electricity and emit vast quantities of ash.

Kosovo’s power plants
Kosovo’s two aged and heavily polluted power plants pump out smoke into the sky. Kosova A (left) and Kosova B (right) are 8 kilometers away from the capital city, Pristina.

 

The government plans to close one of them, the 45-year-old Kosova A, and replace it with a newly built, more efficient lignite-fired plant.

Kosovo hoped to gain the support of the World Bank with this move, but in late 2018, the loan-giving institution IPKO told Kosovo to turn its back on coal and invest in renewable energies instead – the World Bank said the cost of energy from renewable sources had fallen below that of coal.3

The Kosovo government nevertheless presses on with the project, , seeking to upgrade the 30-year-old Kosova B to bring it into line with European Union directives while also looking to bring renewables into its energy mix.

What else should I know about Kosovo's air quality?

Kosovo, with a population of 1.9 million, has an unreliable power supply, suffering frequent power outages.

And as the smallest country in the Balkans, Kosovo’s location contributes to its poor air quality.

A report by the Brussels-based Health and Environment Alliance HEAL in 2019 found that 16 old and inefficient coal-fired power plants in the Western Balkans emit “alarmingly high levels of pollutants that travel long distances” and into the neighboring European Union – particularly Romania, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece, and Croatia – and beyond.4

According to the report, these 16 plants emit more sulphur dioxide pollution than the entire European coal-powered fleet, combined with equally worrying levels of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides.

Each year, the 16 plants in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Serbia cause 3,000 premature deaths, 8,000 cases of bronchitis in children, and other chronic illnesses that cost between 6.1 billion to 11.5 billion euros in both health costs – mostly borne by the EU – and costs to economies.

Southeastern European countries had the highest air pollution levels in Europe last year, according to the 2018 World Air Quality Report, the first report to publish up-to-date information entirely from the past year. The report by IQAir AirVisual, in conjunction with Greenpeace, ranked Kosovo at no. 3. (Bosnia and Herzegovina was no. 1, and Kosovo’s neighbour Macedonia no. 2.)

What is Kosovo doing to combat its poor air quality?

IPKO has begun operating 20 monitors and sharing data on the AirVisual platform, which also reports the Pristina U.S. Embassy’s air quality readings. The telecom company, which directly employs more than 650 people and has a network of 3,000 contractors and distributors in Kosovo, officially launched its 25-strong monitoring network in 2019.

 

Air monitoring station in Kosovo
The housing of an outdoor AirVisual Pro monitor operated by IPKO Telecommunications L.L.C. in Kosovo

 

IPKO representative Edona Zogu said that “Air pollution in Kosovo has been a big concern for more than a year now, especially during the winter time. The levels of air pollution during this period become hazardous, exceeding 400 on the U.S. AQI, which pose a real danger to Kosovo residents.”

Because of this, IPKO decided to install 25 monitoring stations, “so that people can check in real time the pollution in their surroundings, and protect themselves,” said Zogu.

Zogu said they first chose to set up monitors in the country’s seven largest cities to give information to as many people as possible. “However, covering seven cities is still not enough, therefore we decided to install more stations in other cities as well, to make sure that the whole country is covered,” she added.

“Since the capital city is the main polluter, we installed stations in several locations of this single city.”

The network will also monitor air quality in Obiliq, where the power plants are located.

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