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Situated in landlocked position in the heart of eastern Europe, Kosovo experiences some of the worst air quality in Europe. Key causes for this include Kosovo’s dependence on coal power to provide much of its energy supply, in addition to a high rate of domestic solid fuel burning, particularly the burning of wood and coal to heat homes, which all contribute to domestic emissions of air pollution. While Kosovo’s air quality management policies are overall fewer and less stringent than those of some of its western European neighbours and the European Union, Kosovo’s air quality policies are actively being developed with the aim of tackling the country’s air pollution more effectively in future. This is a particular priority, in the context of meeting certain air quality management obligations required to support Kosovo’s future application to join the European Union.
According to IQAir’s 2019 World Air Quality Report, which aggregated and compared air quality data from over global 4000 cities, Kosovo ranked as the world’s 30th most polluted region of an included list of 98 countries and regions. Kosovo’s weighted average concentration of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution during 2019 matched the annual mean concentration in its capital city, Pristina, both averaging 23.5 μg/m3. For context, this exceeds the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s annual mean PM2.5 guideline target of 10 μg/m3 over twofold, indicating a notable hazard to human health when exposed year-round. While Pristina ranked as the world’s 30th most polluted city globally in the report, Pristina also emerged as the third most polluted capital within Europe, following of Sarajevo’s air quality (34.1 μg/m3) in Bosnia & Herzegovina, and of Sofia’s air pollution (26.5 μg/m3) in Bulgaria.
10 cities within Kosovo were included in the annual report, with Prizren’s air quality emerging as the most polluted (26 μg/m3), while Kosovo’s cleanest city for PM2.5 pollution emerged as the town of Glogovac (15.6 μg/m3).1 Real-time Kosovo air quality information can be viewed at the top of this page, by exploring the live Kosovo air quality map.
The main pollutant of concern in Kosovo is particulate matter, which describes microscopic airborne particles measuring less than 2.5 or 10 microns in diameter, abbreviated as PM2.5 or PM10 respectively. For context, PM2.5 particles measure approximately one thirtieth of the width of a human hair. This type of pollution is known to be the most hazardous to human health worldwide, both due to its prevalence affecting populations globally, and its tiny size enabling these particles to travel deep into the human system and cause a range of health effects.
Within Europe, there are several key pollutants that can affect health to various extents, although PM is generally the most prevalent in regards to human health within Kosovo. Different air pollutants can be categorised either as primary or secondary pollutants; primary pollutants are emitted directly from various sources into the atmosphere, while secondary pollutants are formed in the atmosphere from chemical reactions between other pollutants, known as ‘precursors’. Other significant pollutants within Europe include carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx), ammonia (NH3), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), methane (CH4) and ground-level ozone (O3). Several of these act as pollutants in their own right, while also serving as precursors to form further secondary PM, in addition to primary PM pollution; these precursors to further PM include sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and ammonia. Ground-level ozone is also a secondary pollutant, formed by a reaction between VOCs and NOx in the presence of sunlight.2 While understanding the significant health hazards posed by PM pollution in Kosovo, in light of these interactions between various pollutants, it is therefore important to take a holistic view of several air pollutants and their sources, to most effectively target air pollution management policies and actions.
The major contributors to air pollution exposure in Kosovo include emissions from burning solid fuels (such as wood and coal) in homes, as well as the energy industry, including emissions from coal-fired power plants. Other emissions arise from the road transport, particularly within cities; the industrial sector; agricultural emissions; and waste. Smoke from residential burning of wood and coal among other solid fuels is estimated to constitute approximately half of all PM2.5 emissions in Kosovo, according to the World Bank, indicating the significance of this emission source.3
It is worth noting that, since ambient air pollution can travel long distances while airborne, not all pollution experienced within Kosovo will have been generated domestically. An estimated 20% of Kosovo’s domestic air pollution is contributed by transboundary sources.3 While on the one hand, this indicates a harder-to-manage source of air pollution, since it relies upon co-ordination with neighbouring countries, this also indicates that the majority of Kosovo’s air pollution comes from sources that the country can directly influence.
One major source of air pollution in Kosovo is the country’s coal power plants. Coal power plants can emit a range of air pollutants, including nitrogen oxides (NOx) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). The European NGO ‘Health and Environment Alliance’ (HEAL) asserts that Kosovo’s two existing power plants, named Kosovo A and Kosovo B, rank as Europe’s first and 3rd most polluting power plants for PM2.5 emissions. The Kosovo A plant is estimated to emit 4,851 tonnes of PM2.5 annually, while Kosovo B emits 3,687 tonnes of PM2.5 per year. To put these numbers into wider context, these plants therefore emit 4 times more PM2.5 than the majority of other coal power plants in the Balkan region. Meanwhile, the Kosova B plant is also one of the largest emitters of NOx pollution in Europe, emitting 14,520 tonnes per year, representing triple the amount emitted by an average Balkan power plant.4 Both Kosova A and Kosova B power plants are located in the town of Obiliq, only 10 kilometres from Pristina, and subsequently is often responsible for spreading coal-plant pollution over the capital city.5
While providing important energy infrastructure to a country that suffers from inconsistent energy supply, the negative impacts of Kosovo’s two coal power plants have been well recognised by a range of environmental critics.6 While the World Bank had previously backed plans for a new coal-fired power plant, Kosova C, to be constructed and replace the older plants (A and B), this support was withdrawn in 2018, and these plans were eventually abandoned in March 2020 as a result of resistance from a range of Kosovo-based NGOs and campaigners.6 The replacement Kosova C plant had been planned to satisfy around half of the country’s power demand with a 500-megawatt capacity driven by coal, but at a potential cost of further air pollution emissions.
Meanwhile, alternative sources of increasing energy supply with lower air pollution impacts are also under development, including a large-scale wind farm. With a 58 million euro contribution from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development Bank (EBRD) confirmed in December 2019, the planned ‘Sowi Kosovo’ wind farm project in Bajgora, northern Kosovo, is designed to extend Kosovo’s renewable energy capacity beyond 200 megawatts.7 The wind farm will become Kosovo’s largest, and will more than double Kosovo’s existing renewable energy capabilities.
Exposure to ambient air pollution in Kosovo can cause a range of both short-and long-term health effects. Particulate matter pollution is known to be particularly hazardous to human health, because these particles’ microscopic size enables them to travel deep into the human system once inhaled, entering the lungs and, in the case of PM2.5, even travelling further into the bloodstream. Short-term effects of exposure to particle pollution can include shortness of breath, the irritation of nose, throat and eyes, aggravation of existing conditions like asthma, and other respiratory symptoms such as coughing. The long-term consequences of exposure to PM pollution can be more severe, typically most affecting the heart and lungs. These include increased risk of developing ischemic heart disease (IHD) and stroke; lower respiratory infections; trachea, bronchial and lung cancer; and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, a group of diseases which can cause difficulty breathing and can include chronic bronchitis and emphysema.3
It is estimated that approximately 760 premature deaths are caused by air pollution in Kosovo every year, with 11% of these occurring in the country’s capital, Pristina. According to calculations by the World Bank, of these premature deaths, around 90% are caused by ischemic heart disease (IHD) and stroke combined, while 53% of IHD and 63% of strokes affect people who are younger than 70 years old. The overall health burden of premature deaths from air pollution in Kosovo is predominantly absorbed by people aged between 50 to 59 years of age (~45%), while the next age group at highest risk is those aged 70 and above.3
The negative economic impacts from air pollution can be extensive. These range from health system costs, to the loss of productive workforce as a consequence of poor health and mortality, in addition to environmental damage caused by air pollution which can affect economic sectors such as food and crop production and tourism. The World Bank calculate that the economic costs of mortality from air pollution exposure alone, to range between $160 to 310 million (USD) annually, with an average cost of $240 million (USD) associated with the health impacts from air pollution in Kosovo. This equates to approximately 3.6% of Kosovo’s overall gross domestic product (GDP) during 2016.3
As well as posing significant health hazards to the human population, Kosovo air pollution can also pose notable risks to the natural environment, with knock-on effects on the local economy. For example, air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and ammonia can cause acidic and nitrogen chemical compounds to be released into land and water environments, disrupting the natural chemical balances of these spaces and causing a process known as eutrophication. This is when these pollutants introduce an excessive amount of nutrients to the environment, which can lead to algae blooms in water, and have damaging effects on ecosystems and biodiversity. Other impacts of air pollution on the environment can include the acidification of soils by nitrogen and sulfur oxides, acid rain leading to the erosion of buildings and architecture, and ozone contributing to the damage of crops, forests and plants.1
Meanwhile, many key sources of air pollution are also significant emitters of greenhouse gases, which contribute to global heating and climate change. For example, combustion of fossil fuels such as coal and oil for power generation, in vehicle engines and industry all contribute significantly to both greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution that affects human health at ground-level. Therefore, in many but not all cases, tackling sources of air pollution such as fossil fuel combustion will also have positive outcomes in mitigating contributions to global heating.
As part of Kosovo’s efforts to join the European Union, Kosovo has established its own legislation which aims to bring Kosovo’s air quality standards gradually into compliance with EU regulation.1
Additionally, while the government has established a network of some governmental air quality monitoring stations around Kosovo, the real-time data for these had not always been easily accessible to the public. Since November 2020, however, the data coming from these twelve stations has become accessible through the European Environment Agency (EEA)’s “European Air Quality Index” platform.8 The twelve stations monitor PM2.5, PM10, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and sulfur dioxide. Publishing real-time access to this data serves to fulfil another of the European Environment Agency’s obligations, in order to support Kosovo’s potential accession to the European Union.
Through the EEA’s platform, Kosovo’s air quality data is expressed using the European air quality index. The Kosovo air quality index therefore uses the continent’s broader air quality categorisations, which follow the World Health Organisation’s guidance for air quality limits within Europe. Accordingly, the real-time PM categories closely correspond to the WHO’s annual targets for each type of PM, with the index’s “Good” category for PM2.5 including hourly concentrations between 0-10 μg/m3, while the “Good” category for PM10 refers to hourly measurements between 0-20 μg/m3.
To calculate the Kosovo AQI, the European index translates each air pollutant measurement to a colour-coded category of corresponding health hazard, from “Good” (light blue) up to “Extremely poor” (purple). At sites where multiple air pollutants are measured, the pollutant with the highest corresponding index category will determine the location’s overall categorisation. In this way, the index strives to quickly communicate sometimes complex air quality measurements, in a single, easy-to-understand indicator.
In addition to Kosovo’s governmental air quality monitoring stations which recently started publishing real-time data towards the end of 2020, other contributors have also set up a network of air monitoring sensors across the country. These contributors notably include the United States’ State Department establishing a PM2.5 monitor to measure Pristina’s air quality since 2016 at their US Embassy in the city, which helped to raise awareness of the real-time air quality conditions in the capital. Since the establishment of the US Embassy monitor, citizen scientists and a number of organisations around the country have also become involved in raising awareness of Kosovo’s air quality, by deploying a network of community air quality sensors. Data from this large network of community air sensors is displayed within the dynamic Kosovo air quality map at the top of this page. These readings can be followed at any time on-the-go using the IQAir AirVisual air pollution app, along with a 7-day Kosovo air quality forecast, to stay updated on changing conditions around the country.
+ Article resources
 IQAir. “2019 World Air Quality Report”. IQAir website, March 18, 2020.
 INDEP. “Air Quality in Kosovo: Towards European Standards”. Institute for Development Policy website, August, 2019.
 The World Bank. “Air Pollution Management in Kosovo”. World Bank website, October, 2019.
 HEAL. “The Unpaid Health Bill: How coal power plants in Kosovo make us sick”. The Health and Environment Alliance website. March, 2016.
 Florent Bajrami, LLazar Semini. “EU funds help Kosovo fight unhealthy air pollution”. ABC News, December 20, 2019.
 Xhorxhina Bami, Eve-anne Travers. “Construction of Coal-Fired Power Plant in Kosovo Halted”. Balkan Insight, March 17, 2020.
 Reuters. “EBRD to lend 58 million euros to build Kosovo’s biggest wind farm”. Reuters, December 16, 2019.
 Kosovo Environmental Protection Agency (KEPA). “Kosovo in the European Network of the Air Quality Index”. KEPA website, November 19, 2020.
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