Bosnia’s Future and Sustainable Development: An Interview
From the editor: During my trip to The Balkans and Bosnia, the highlight was meeting the impressive people who are working hard to build a strong future within their countries. One of them is Edin Mujacic, Executive Director for Center of Sustainable Development, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Mr. Mujacic is organizing the Business and Sustainable Development Conference in Sarajevo on November 16-17, 2011. More information on the conference is here. Months after our meeting on a rainy December afternoon in Sarajevo (pictured above left), we were finally able to catch up with each other. I asked Mr. Mujacic for his thoughts on sustainable development in Bosnia. Tell me about the Center of Sustainable Development’s background and goals. The Center for Sustainable Development emerged as an initiative of Bosnian experts with a large base of collective knowledge drawn from years of international work in this field. It is a not-for-profit knowledge-based professional organization. The organization is an advocate, educator, catalyst and facilitator, promoting the concept of sustainable development in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our core activities and services include: designing, managing and/or participating in collaborative projects with focus on sustainable development issues; capacity building, i.e. developing and delivering tailored training programs to various stakeholders; movement building, i.e. advocating for the integration of sustainable development into the economic, social and private sector. We see sustainable development as a very promising opportunity for Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially when it comes to coping with present and future challenges this country is facing, such as economic recovery, EU accession process, democratization process etc. We believe that the best way for Bosnia and Herzegovina to achieve its economic and development goals is through the transition to a more inclusive, low-carbon and resource efficient economy. You mentioned in an earlier conversation that Bosnia's transition to a more inclusive, low-carbon and resource efficient economy is necessary for a transition to a more stable, sustainable economy. What exactly are some opportunities in Bosnia to achieve such goal? The economic system in BiH has been destroyed to such extent in the past, due to downfall of socialism and the '92-'95 war, that traditional ways of economic development can hardly help the country to overcome its current difficulties. Even under the assumption that developed countries are still using traditional development strategies, catching up with those countries for an economy such as Bosnia's is highly unlikely. Therefore, BiH needs to predict and understand what will dominate in the field of development in the 21st century and introduce a completely new way of development in accordance with that.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has a rich and extensive pool of natural resources, and the environmentally sustainable and cost-effective use of those might assure its socio- economic development. For example, the major strength of our clean energy sectors is the availability of natural resources, along with a good electro-distributional network. Efficiency improvements in this sector might lead to the creation of a significant exporter in the region, and so bringing BiH one step closer to the desired stable economy.
It is amazing fact that almost 20% of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s GDP is being spent on energy, compared to about 6.1% of GDP in the USA and about 4.75% of GDP in EU countries. The energy costs in BH are still increasing due to the increase of tariffs in this sector. One way of cutting these costs is by promoting the use of energy efficiency technologies, in order to cut down the energy usage. By using this more resource efficient economy, the country's energy usage will be decreased, as well as the huge energy costs which might be used more wisely in building up a more stable and sustainable economy.
What are some challenges in Bosnia in transforming to this new economy?
The major weakness is the low awareness about full renewable (clean) energy system's potential and insufficient locally available know-how, and equipment to utilize renewable energy systems.
Besides, an underdeveloped legislative and institutional framework in this area contributes even more to the difficulties BiH is facing. Slow, insufficient and missing implementation of laws due to lack of inspections or legislations not properly adjusted to BiH system, are another major challenges BiH is facing in this transition phase.
Thus, BiH is a developing country and its lack of funds for developing a more environmentally sustainable and cost-effective use of the country's resources is an always present issue.
When you mentioned that you work in the sustainable development field, how do your peers and locals react? How do they respond?
The lack of awareness about sustainable development is one of the greatest challenges to overcome. I often face misunderstandings and skepticism from those who are uninformed about this issue. However, great support is offered to me from those who are aware of the importance of such issue and are properly informed about it.
What are some society challenges you face?
We can hardly expect people, let alone younger generations (i.e. students), to want to be a part of the sustainable development initiative if they don't even know what the whole concept is, or don't have enough information about the issue. The first thing that we need to do in order to change the status quo is to raise awareness and educate young people, since it is critical that the public become more involved in the sustainable development process. It is our hope that every citizen, household, civic organization, business and public entity adopt several sustainable practices. Without citizen support, nothing will happen, regardless of the amount of time, effort and public money spent on finding a solution. Therefore, the Center for Sustainable Development aims at changing the people's perception and way of thinking and basically starting a movement that will also result in developing new businesses and opening of new workplaces, leading to a desired more stable economy.
What is the government doing to nudge society towards sustainability? NGOs? Businesses?
Corporate social responsibility engagement and understanding in Bosnia and Herzegovina is shaped by a number of country-specific factors, including the political and economic transition process, the war that had damaged the country’s economy and infrastructure, and political instability. This relatively new concept in BiH has only recently been supported by some companies, international organizations and civil society organizations. However, even though there is some legislation dealing with the issue of sustainable development, the existing rules and regulations, and the entire institutional framework, covering this area are still rather undeveloped. As I already mentioned, slow, insufficient and missing implementation of laws is something that represents a major issue, and also shows a lack of government involvement. Also, while the government is involved in environmental protection, it seems to be completely unaware of the environment's interconnection with the economy and society. When it comes to NGOs and their take on this issue, we noticed that each such organization just acts within their own framework and scope of operations, often ignoring the interactions in this field. However, the Business and Sustainable Development Conference (www.bsdbosnia.com), the Center for Sustainable Development is organizing, is one example of how NGOs realized the importance of the interconnection of society, economy and ecology, and also how we are working towards greater society involvement. We strongly believe in sustainability as a business opportunity of the 21st century, which might not just improve the image and reputation of our country, and not jeopardize the needs of generations to come, but also help our country to overcome all arising difficulties.
More information on the Center and its November conference is here and within its LinkedIn group.