The countries of the Western Balkans are at a turning point in the development of their economies, societies and environment. Among the key issues facing Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia (as well as the territory of Kosovo under UN Security Council Resolution 1244/99) are the pace of their integration with the European Union and the prospect of future membership. European integration represents an important opportunity and also a challenge in terms of reforming national institutions, policies and laws. The region's economies face the task of shifting from their industrial past to advanced, post-industrial economies. National policies moreover need to
address changing consumption patterns and the growth of consumerism driven by societal reforms and shifts, which will have a growing impact on the region's environment.
The choices that governments in the region make concerning these and other pressing questions today will influence not only the region's environment in the coming decades, but also that of other European countries. For this reason, a future‑oriented perspective is important. This study seeks to encourage future-oriented discussions and actions in the Western Balkans by providing an analysis of the forces that are shaping the future of the region's environment. In particular, it highlights the importance of drivers and of changing consumption and production patterns on the region's environment.
Part I of the study reviews recent environmental trends in the region. The important issues today include the following:
- pollution and health remain important concerns, notably air pollution in urban and industrial areas and wastewater discharges from these areas;
- while countries in the Western Balkans have acted to protect the region's remarkable biodiversity, there is much need for ongoing work and additional research;
- resource use, in particular land use, and waste are undergoing a series of changes, including the abandonment of agricultural land, especially in mountain areas, and growing sprawl around many cities and towns and along coastlines, and these growing urban areas are generating higher levels of urban waste;
- many issues that need to be tackled are legacies from the past, related to war, old industrial sites, illegal waste dumping and shipment, the extraction of minerals and others. This puts additional burden on the countries in the region, which also need to deal with current transition challenges.
Part II of the study highlights drivers that will affect the region's environment in future decades. These include, for example, future climate change, which will affect water resources and biodiversity, as well as trends in a range of economic sectors, including agriculture and energy, which is heavily reliant on hydroelectricity.
The study links drivers to changing consumption and production patterns, which will be a key factor of environmental change in coming decades: these patterns are described in Part III. If current trends continue, such as the increasing demand for personal mobility and changing patterns of food consumption, they will have wide-ranging impacts on the environment. Many of the changes will influence resource use and waste. Moreover, land use changes such as the sprawl of urban areas, development of coastal areas, changes in forest management land use changes related to energy supply needs and the abandonment of agricultural land will in turn affect the natural resource use and rich biodiversity of the Western Balkans. This is an important concern, as other drivers, such as climate change, will also influence biodiversity. A forward‑looking perspective
should consider these existing trends and their interactions, as well as investigate the uncertainties concerning their future development and possible new challenges and opportunities that may arise.