|1||Pirot, Central serb|
|2||Leskovac, Central serb|
|3||Vranje, Central Serbia|
|4||Lazarevac, Central serb|
|5||Nis, Central Serbia|
|6||Zemun, Central serb|
|7||Vozdovac, Central serb|
|8||Prokuplje, Central serb|
|9||Novi Sad, Autonomna Pokrajina Vojvodina|
|10||Kragujevac, Central Serbia|
(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
|1||Grabovac, Central serb|
|2||Obrenovac, Central Serbia|
|3||Bor, Central Serbia|
|4||KOSJERIC, Central Serbia|
|5||Novi Pazar, Central serb|
|6||Beska, Autonomna Pokrajina Vojvodina|
|7||Gornji Milanovac, Central serb|
|8||Pancevo, Autonomna Pokrajina Vojvodina|
|9||Stepojevac, Central serb|
|10||Cacak, Central Serbia|
(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
Serbia experiences some of the poorest air quality recorded in Europe. A landlocked country situated at the junction between central and south-eastern Europe, Serbia shares comparable levels of air pollution to its central and eastern European neighbours, while western European countries tend to experience lower levels of airborne pollution. This difference can partly be attributed to a broad trend of higher reliance on polluting coal power for energy provision in central and eastern European countries (such as Serbia, Czechia and Bulgaria) as well as member countries of the European Union being governed by stricter air quality policies and regulation. However, as Serbia aims to potentially join the EU in future, it is bringing increasing air quality management policies in line with the EU’s requirements, which may signal some forthcoming improvements to the country’s air pollution.
According to IQAir’s “2019 World Air Quality Report”, which aggregated air quality data for over 4000 cities globally, Serbia ranked as the 32nd most polluted country worldwide, of a list of 98 ranked countries for PM2.5 pollution. The country’s annual average PM2.5 concentration, when weighted by population, emerged as 23.3 μg/m3, which represents a twofold exceedance of the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s international guideline limit for PM2.5 of 10 μg/m3. The Serbian capital, Belgrade’s air quality also averaged a PM2.5 concentration of 23.3 μg/m3 that year, ranking as the world’s 31st most polluted capital city, of a list of 85 capitals.1 The World Health Organisation emphasises that, despite providing the annual PM2.5 guideline of 10 μg/m3 to minimise risks to human health, that there is no known “safe” limit for particle pollution, below which no negative health impacts may be observed.2 Therefore, Serbia’s significant exceedance of this guideline indicates a notable hazard to human health and room for improvement.
Real-time air pollution information can be viewed within the Serbia air quality map at the top of this page, together with a 7-day Serbia air quality forecast for cities across the country.
Serbia ranked as Europe’s 5th most polluted country, of a list of 37 European countries and regions, according to IQAir’s 2019 World Air Quality Report, with an average PM2.5 concentration weighted by population of 23.3 μg/m3. Conversely, Europe’s most polluted country by weighted average PM2.5 pollution emerged as Bosnia & Herzegovina’s air quality (34.6 μg/m3), followed by North Macedonia’s air pollution (32.4 μg/m3). The other countries with a higher average PM2.5 level than Serbia included Bulgaria (25.5 μg/m3) and Kosovo (23.5 μg/m3).
Serbia’s air pollution stems from a range of sources, with Serbia’s reliance on lignite and coal-fuelled power stations one well known cause from the energy sector, in addition to the burning of solid fuels (such as coal and wood) to heat homes. Adding to these are pollution emissions from an ageing transport fleet, industrial activities, waste dump sites and agricultural emissions providing significant contributions.3 Specific industrial locations documented to be contributing air pollutants in Serbia include the petrochemical complex around the cities of Pančevo and Novi Sad; factories producing cement in Popovac, Kosjerić and Beočin; and metalworking and chemical plants around the cities of Smederevo, Bor, and the town of Sevojno. From the energy sector, particular pollution sources include coal- and lignite-powered thermal plants at Obrenovac, Lazarevac and Kostolac.3
The quantity of air pollution from different sources varies across different areas of Serbia. For example, within major urban areas such as Belgrade, Novi Sad and Niš, road traffic is a significant contributor to urban air pollution, and is on the rise. High transport emissions in Serbia are largely attributed to the country having a relatively old vehicle fleet, with an average car in the country estimated to be 17 years old.4 Conversely, air pollution emissions from residential burning of solid fuels (such as coal and wood) tend to be higher in peri-urban and rural towns.3
According to a report from the Serbian Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) on the country’s monitored air quality during 2018, the country’s electricity and heat production were responsible for 91% of SO2 emissions. Particulate matter pollution was predominantly emitted from heating plants with less than 50 megawatts capacity and households, with these contributing 57% of PM10 and 75% of PM2.5 emissions. Alternatively, the largest sources of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions were estimated to come from thermal power plants, along with the chemical and mineral industries.5
Serbia’s dependence on lignite and coal power for its electricity production is one well-known cause of the country’s air pollution. As large burners of fossil fuels, coal plants provide one of the most environmentally polluting sources of energy available, contributing significantly to both ground-level air pollution that affects people’s health, as well as carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions that accelerate global heating and climate change. Serbia relies on lignite-fuelled power plants for around 70% of its electricity production.6 Lignite is a poor-quality form of coal, partway between the geological transition from peat to hard coal, which emits around double the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions produced by natural gas for the same amount of energy output.
In terms of human health, coal power plants can emit a range of harmful pollutants, including particulate matter (PM), sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen-oxides (NOx), with NOx contributing indirectly to the formation of ozone pollution. Of these, the pollutants of most pressing health concern are PM and ozone. A study by the Serbian Tax Council in 2019 found that of the state-owned energy company, Elektroprivreda Srbije, or Electric Power Industry of Serbia (EPS)’s managed thermoelectric plants within the country, none met all of the national and European environmental standards for such plants.7 Furthermore, the study found that all EPS’ plants’ sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions in Serbia exceed the total amount of SO2 emitted by all of the lignite plants in the European Union combined, while also producing ten times less electricity than the EU plants.7
While historically, Europe has long relied on coal power for a substantial part of its energy supply, and still does provide a significant amount of power to countries including Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Germany, countries within the European Union (EU) are now accelerating their transition away from coal and to cleaner forms of renewable energy. According to leading European energy analyst groups, coal usage for power generation among the EU’s countries dropped by a record-breaking 24% during 2019.8 Until now, this rate of transition to cleaner energy has not been seen in Serbia, and in fact rather than shutting down coal plants around Begrade, Serbia has continued to open new ones. Commentators note that demonstrating a faster transition to cleaner energy within Serbia could be a key requirement for the country if it wants to join the European Union in future. However, achieving this transition is likely to be an expensive process, with Serbia’s Fiscal Council warning that reversing the pollution caused by mines and power plants is likely to cost in the region of €800 million euros or above.6
Exposure to air pollution can cause a wide range of health effects, mostly affecting the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. These effects can range from short-term irritation to contributing to premature death. Short-term health effects of exposure to air pollution can include respiratory symptoms such as coughing, the irritation of throat, nose and eyes, and aggravation of existing symptoms such as asthma. Long-term effects of exposure to air pollution can be more severe, including increased risk of developing respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, lung cancer, the worsening of existing respiratory conditions, and reduced lung function development in children. Cardiovascular impacts of air pollution can include altered cardiac autonomic function, hypertension, increased blood pressure, myocardial infarction, stroke, and ischemic heart disease (IDH).9
At the levels found within Serbia, a study by the World Health Organisation estimates that exposure to Serbia’s outdoor air pollution caused 6,592 premature deaths, and 131,183 years of life lost during 2016.3 Furthermore, the European NGO, Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) estimates that over 1,000 Serbians suffer from chronic bronchitis (a form of COPD, which involves the long-term inflammation of the airways) as a direct result of outdoor air pollution, while 600 are hospitalised as a consequence of respiratory or cardiovascular symptoms. HEAL further estimates that during 2010, a total of more than 10,000 people in Serbia died prematurely as a consequence of exposure to particulate matter and ozone pollution, indicating the second highest amount of premature air pollution-related deaths in Europe.9
In order to measure the level of various key air pollutants and gauge hazard to its population, Serbia’s Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has operated a nationwide network of governmental air sensors since 2006. This network now involves around 60 monitoring stations, which are located at different types of sites, intended to monitor either ‘background’ (ambient) air quality levels, ‘traffic’ emissions (such as nearby busy roads), or ‘industrial’ emissions (for example, nearby a factory). Of this network, 13 stations are located within the capital city, Belgrade.10 From the data collected by this network, SEPA is also mandated by Serbian law (the ‘Law on Air Protection’) to publish an annual report on air quality across the country.
Serbia is aiming to comply with the European Union’s air quality management obligations, with the view of potentially joining the EU in future. While the EU’s air quality monitoring obligations have been fulfilled by Serbia’s existing air quality monitoring network, another principle of European air quality legislation is to divide a territory into a number of zones and agglomerations. The air quality in these zones and agglomerations should then be monitored, with this data publicly shared, and measured against (European) target limit values. In areas where target limits are exceeded, an air quality action plan should then be developed to improve air quality at that location, in order to better meet the target value.5
According to these principles, Serbia has identified 3 zones and 8 agglomerations, and measures air quality across these according to a system of ‘air quality categories’ which express air pollution values in the context of both ‘limit values’ and ‘tolerant values’, using a traffic light style colour-coded system. ‘Category I’ (green) represents clean or slightly polluted air, where pollutants are below established limit values; ‘Category II’ (yellow) represents moderately polluted air, where some parameters exceed target limits but are below tolerant values; and ‘Category III’ (red) represents overly polluted air quality, which exceeds both target limits and tolerant values. According to this system, in areas where air quality has exceeded limit or ‘tolerant’ values, the local government of the agglomeration must develop an air quality action plan. This system has been put in place and several air quality plans have been approved by the Serbian government in order to improve air quality according to this European framework.5
Serbia does use its own air quality index (AQI) system to communicate air pollution levels to the public, as recorded by its governmental network of air quality monitors. The Serbia air quality index assigns one of five colour-coded categories to a range of six measured key pollutants: sulphur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The colour-coded Serbia AQI categories range from:
At a site where multiple pollutants are being measured, whichever pollutant is assigned the highest (or most hazardous) Serbia AQI level, will determine that location’s overall index. The Serbia AQI’s categorisation for a healthy level of PM2.5 pollution falls somewhere between the World Health Organisation’s relatively stringent international annual guideline (10 μg/m3), and the European Union’s more tolerant annual PM2.5 guideline (25 μg/m3). The Serbia AQI categorisation for PM2.5 at an “excellent” level describes concentrations between 0 – 15 μg/m3, while “good” describes PM2.5 concentrations between 15.01 – 30 μg/m3. The use of this colour-coded system is a means for the Serbia EPA (SEPA) to strive to quickly communicate changing air quality levels and associated health hazards to the public, in a simplified and intuitive way, with the aim to enable the public to quickly respond with actions to protect health when needed.
+ Article resources
 IQAir. “2019 World Air Quality Report”. IQAir website, March 18, 2020.
 World Health Organisation. “Ambient (outdoor) air pollution”. WHO website, May 2, 2018.
 World Health Organisation. “Health impact of ambient air pollution in Serbia”. United Nations Serbia website, 2019.
 Reuters. “Belgrade joins world’s most polluted cities as farmers torch fields”. Reuters, October 24, 2019.
 ENVAP (Republic of Serbia Ministry of Environmental Protection). “ENVAP Fact Sheet on Air Quality”. Swedish Environmental Protection Agency website, n.d.
 Milivoje Pantovic. “How Serbia’s addiction to coal could cloud its future in Europe”. Euronews, October 21, 2020.
 Antonela Riha. “Serbia, Europe’s most polluted country”. Osservatorio balcani e caucaso transeuropa, January 23, 2020.
 Kieran Cooke. “It’s a galloping goodbye to Europe’s coal”. Eco Business, April 27, 2020.
 Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL). “Air Pollution & Health in Serbia”. HEAL website, December, 2014.
 World Health Organisation. “Health impact of ambient air pollution in Serbia”. United Nations Serbia website, 2019.
 Serbia Environmental Protection Agency. “National network of automatic stations for air quality monitoring: Stations List”. Serbia EPA website, n.d.
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