Përshëndetje! (As you’ll recall, that means hello in Albanian!)
As I write this, I’m already back in Williamsburg thinking back fondly on my time in Kosovo with CLARD. With 2L “reorientation” and the start of classes coming up in a week, I’m wishing I was back in Prishtine ordering a coffee with my coworkers and chatting about current events. But however sad I feel about the experience being over, I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to Kosovo and to now use what I learned to inspire my next steps with law school and a legal career, possibly in human rights or international law.
In wrapping up the blog, I wanted to share some takeaways from my work over the past few weeks. In one of my previous posts, I mentioned an environmental coalition meeting I attended at one of Prishtine’s main conference hotels (Hotel Sirius in the city’s downtown). Environmental law and policy haven't been my specific focus in law school, or in my previous work experience, but the conference raised some fascinating issues at the intersection of economic development, sustainable growth, and Kosovo's legislative politics.
Hosted by the Kosovo Civil Society Consortium, the meeting brought together local and national leaders from Kosovo to discuss pressing challenges in the country’s sustainable development. The session was broken down into different panels that were focused on the following topics: (1) the European Green Deal, (2) Sustainable Development Goals, and (3) Status of Health Care, Environment, and Energy Policies in Kosovo’s Assembly.
The European Green Deal: Targets that Kosovo should meet to ensure energy efficiency and a healthier environment
Kosovo faces many significant hurdles in its path to ensuring energy efficiency and a healthier environment for citizens. Examples include a lack of drinking water in Kosovo’s small and mid-size cities, construction that redirects valuable environmental resources, continued political instability, and a general policy landscape that does not encourage sustainable energy usage. These challenges are particularly apparent at the municipality level (e.g., the drinking water issue noted above). Construction is another major issue prevent Kosovo from greater energy efficiency and a healthier environment. Currently, permit-authorizing bodies are allowing buildings to be constructed without meeting environmental standards. One audience member noted that, with the construction of non-environmentally compliant buildings, this pushes back the broader timeframe in which Kosovo can even start building greener infrastructure.
Another attendee raised some interesting questions on how Kosovo’s construction industry contributes to environmental issues. As a new nation, how should Kosovo pursue economic development while being pro-environment (even though it lacks the resources to do both)? This is similar to the issues I encountered while living in Xi'an, China, a city slated for rapid economic development by the Chinese government. There, the line of thinking when it came to the environment was that once economic development helped Xi'an reach a certain "threshold" of development, then the city could shift its focus to addressing issues like pollution and environmental degradation. Instead of this sequential "if-then" model, the attendee who asked this question seemed to envision an economic development framework that incorporated environmentally conscious practices, rather than considering those practices mutually exclusive from the goals of economic development. This discussion also called to mind for me the ongoing national discussion in the U.S. about a sweeping infrastructure package, and what should be considered "infrastructure" (simply physical buildings, or is it broader connectivity to services and resources? I would argue the latter!).
Sustainable Development Goals: Has Kosovo taken positive steps toward green energy, sustainable cities, and a healthier population?
In short, the situation is a mixed bag. Kosovo unfortunately has a legacy of environmental problems, stemming from a lack of follow-through on implementing environmental policies. Legislative efforts have not always been successful, meaning that there are continuing issues of urban landfills and waste, river pollution, radioactivity, and the use of agricultural lands for construction, among other serious environment issues. One panelist attributed the lack of legislative progress on sustainable development to institutional hesitancy within the Kosovo Assembly; here, the panelist argued, legislators have been unwilling to identify the root causes of Kosovo's current environmental problems, while another issue is institutional competency. To improve institutional willingness, the panelist suggested, Kosovo must be willing to acknowledge its current environmental issues and seek help from international partners in achieving environmental goals. Going forward, Kosovo will require state leadership on initiatives to improve sustainability, and also greater accountability and accurate reporting within environmental programs and research.
Status of Health Care, Environment, and Energy Policies in Kosovo’s Assembly
As you may be able to tell from the institutional issues discussed immediately above, Kosovo's Assembly has not prioritized environment, energy, and health care policies in its recent legislative sessions. Political instability makes it extra challenging for Kosovo to address environmental problems with long-term planning or thorough policy interventions. One panelist who was a Member of Kosovo's Assembly noted that what is most critical now is for Kosovo's government to articulate a clear path forward on how to achieve a healthier environment and citizenry. Toward this goal, steps such as strengthening Kosovo's civil society, allocating specific funds for environmental programs, and funding environmental research efforts are critical. Other steps could include government-led lab accreditation to identify the leading sources of pollution in each region, as well as strengthening Kosovo's general legal framework around sustainable development. The Assemblymember also noted that policies such as these would help Kosovo prevent brain drain with doctors, and attract new residents and tourism in Kosovo, as a result of its stronger environmental protections and healthy living.
Although the conference's subject matter wasn't in my usual wheelhouse, I was struck at the far-reaching implications of Kosovo's nascent (or even current lack of) environment and climate policies, and the many intersections of environment with other aspects of the country's social policy landscape (e.g., health care and how to sustainably raise the standard of living for citizens). The international cooperation dynamics are interesting to me, too--and made me consider whether Kosovo (and other developing countries) are truly being set up to succeed in achieving certain policy goals (such as robust environmental policies) to join groups like the European Union (EU), when those countries themselves may be forced to rely on other, wealthier countries for the resources to achieve those goals?
This semester, I'm looking forward to continuing along these different trains of thought in classes such as Post-Conflict Justice and as part of my work on the Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice. All in all--a highly informative conference experience that led me consider new lines of thinking!