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Are Albanians ready to choose more sustainable consumption? - Op-ed of Camille Nuamah, World Bank Country Manager in Albania to daily "Panorama"

Available in: Albanian

Camille photoThe dictatorship is nearly 20 years behind, but the tangible impacts of climate change are less than 20 years ahead.  Are Albanians ready to choose more sustainable consumption?

Albania is among the countries in the region that are most vulnerable to changing climate trends.  Changing weather patterns have already been observed over the last 15 years with increasing temperatures, decreasing precipitation, and more frequent extreme events like  floods and droughts.  Ask any small hydropower plant operator whether the snowfall has been less and less, and whether it melts earlier and faster, as the years go by. Projections indicate a decline in summer rainfalls of about 10 percent by 2020 and 20 percent by 2050.

These changes will have a direct impact on agriculture and energy production, and, as a result, everyone’s daily life.   The simple fact is that products we buy, use and then discard carelessly into the environment consume our natural resources faster than they can be replenished by ecological functions of our planet.  If we do not take measures to adapt current consumption patterns and manage future demand, resources will simply become more constrained.  The lifestyles that we want for our children, and their children, will simply not be achievable.    

Yet, Albania has a huge untapped advantage – the current inefficiencies in the supply and use of water, energy and other resources can be reversed at a relatively low financial cost. Such actions can help manage the impacts of climate change.  But this will require each and every Albanian, not only the government or the private sector, to take responsibility for changing behaviours.

Since the onset of transition, Albanians have been struggling to “catch up with the Jones”: to reverse the years and memories of deprivation by being able to buy and consume like their neighbours.  The country has already caught up with income levels of some of its former Yugoslav neighbours and now aspires to consumption levels of friends and neighbours in Italy, Greece and other parts of the EU.   But, at the onset of the 2nd decade of the new millennium, we find ourselves facing a different threat – not one of political tyranny, but of environmental reality.  Our planet’s resources are being depleted at an unsustainable pace and Albania stands to suffer alongside the rest of the world.  

So what can the average Albanian do?  There are many opportunities to make the critical difference in our personal lives. 

Take energy consumption.  Using CFLs light bulbs instead of  incandescent ones can reduce your consumption of electricity for lighting threefold.  Installing solar water heaters, doubled glazed windows or thermal insulation can do much more.  Electricity tariffs are going up because the cost of providing electricity is not only the cost of its production but the environmental cost of wasting electricity.  Conserving will be both environmentally responsible and financially rewarding.

Take water consumption.  Albania’s water resources are shared between municipal, energy, industrial and agricultural uses.  Because there is little demand management and a lot of waste, Albanian’s consume more than twice the European consumer in water each year.   Water and irrigation tariffs are so low that little effort is made to conserve. 

Perhaps the most dangerous pattern is that of the new types of water, land and air pollution.  Many people see open lots, river beds, country roads and beaches as unlimited sites for throwing trash and waste.  But what looks, today, like an open lot may be, tomorrow, an un-useable site for that new school or health center that the community really needs. 
For sure, local and central government have their roles to play, but people only raise the future costs of clean-up, the future taxes or debt to pay for that clean up, by careless and short-sighted behaviour today. 

The dictatorship is nearly 20 years behind, but the tangible impacts of climate change are less than 20 years ahead.  Are Albanians ready to choose -- today – more sustainable consumption for a better future?

Camille Nuamah is the Country Manager of the World Bank Office in Tirana.  The World Bank supports environmental management in Albania through a variety of projects and programs.  Most recently, the World Bank sponsored 8 months of dialogue and consultation with technicians, researchers and policy makers on ways to adapt the energy sector to the changing climate.    For more information, please see www.worldbank.org/al. 




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