A Farewell Interview with Ms Ida Reuterswärd, First Secretary and Programme Manager for Environment and Climate Reform Support at the Embassy of Sweden in Belgrade

Ms Ida Reuterswärd, First Secretary at the Swedish Embassy in Belgrade, is responsible for the Swedish development cooperation environment and climate support portfolio. Sweden is the lead donor on environment and climate in Serbia, supporting Serbia´s EU integration. The support includes cooperation projects with the Government of Serbia, municipalities, NGOs, businesses, and academia. Ms Reuterswärd has a background with the Swedish Ministry for Environment, she is a Master in Law, and a Master in Science/industrial environmental economics from Lund University, Sweden.

IED Serbia: Ms Reuterswärd, you represent the country that has the highest environmental, sustainability, carbon neutrality, and gender equality standards in Europe. How much of your work in the Embassy of Sweden in Belgrade was educational and influential in that sense, sharing Swedish experiences in Serbia?

Let us remember that Sweden´s green journey started over 70 years ago and has steadily grown stronger. It takes time to transition society to green. Our transition kicked off in the 1960s, when science showed how nature and humans were seriously affected by the spreading of hazardous chemicals. Since then, environmental awareness has grown stronger by the year. Today environmental management is an integrated part of societal and economic thinking. The EU is a fantastic force to boost environmental reform and investments; working across borders to solve challenges together is the most important we can do. That is why our support for EU reform in Serbia has environmental reform as a high priority!

We at the Swedish Embassy in Belgrade have worked under the motto: Environmental action – Leading by example! Last year we established our first internal Embassy environmental policy. We wanted to show that the Embassy – and Sweden in Serbia – tries to live up to high environmental standards. Sweden is the assigned lead donor in Serbia in the field of environment and climate. Sweden supports Serbia´s reforms to reduce air pollution, strengthen biodiversity and scale up household waste separation. In our environmental policy, we identified how to improve our environmental performance in the best way. The Embassy drivers got training in eco-driving, we have electric cars, and we are monitoring local air pollution. The Embassy supports honey production and sustainable gardening, which is good for local biodiversity. On recycling, we have stepped up our ambitions and we are now also making use of the food waste – it is sent to biogas production and turned into green electricity! The Embassy has also contracted a provider of green electricity and works as much as possible on energy efficiency measures.

IED Serbia: After looking at your impressive background and your role as the Head of the Environmental Protection Program at the Embassy of Sweden, can you share with us what are the achievements you would single out that have been accomplished during your mission in Belgrade?

Ms Ida Reuterswärd: In the last few years Serbia’s environmental engagement has kicked off, and important reforms and investments have started. For me, it has been a privilege to follow and support this green journey. Protecting and investing in the environment is about investing in quality of life. Citizens want a modern society with clean water, air, and waste, and they want to know the state of the environment and be a part of decision-making, which is very positive! 

Sweden supports a broad range of projects, and in recent years we have harvested many results together with our Serbian partners from what we started together many years ago. Let me give you some concrete examples:

The EU negotiations for environment and climate have now been opened! This is important because it opens for more systematic work on reforms on climate change, waste, and air protection, as well as investment planning. The Swedish ENVAP project is instrumental in supporting this process and the Serbian Ministry of Environmental Protection has advanced policy reform. In the field of waste, we have been able through the EISP project to support not only the waste policy, but also together with the EU and Serbia large-scale reform for household waste separation. It has been great to see that citizens of 17 municipalities are separating waste and showing readiness to start recycling and reduce waste to landfills! I hope this will open for other municipalities to follow. 

Our work on the EU for Green Agenda in Serbia has kicked off! Serbia is now at the forefront of implementing the EU Green Agenda for Western Balkans. I am very happy to see that so many municipalities and businesses all over Serbia are now leading by example and initiating plans and investments for cleaner air, circular economy, and decarbonisation. Together with the Government of Serbia, EU Delegation, the Swiss Government, UNDP, and EIB, we have built a strong platform for cooperation to trigger policy, pilot actions, and investments supported with more than 17 MEUR. I am also very happy to see that Sweden will strengthen Serbia’s work on biodiversity protection, and wetland management, with climate change Serbia needs to plan and manage well its wetlands to secure sustainable water management. 

Finally, let me mention the great work we have supported through the Industrial Emissions Directive project. In the last years, Serbian industry undergo a green awakening, starting to prioritize and invest in higher environmental performance. They understand it is important to keep competitiveness and access to the EU market. Serbia is now preparing for new green industry legislation with higher standards and permitting procedures, which is important. It has been a great pleasure to meet with young students and to work with our implementing partner the Cleaner Production Centre at the Faculty of Technology and Metallurgy to strengthen engagement for the green transition!

IED Serbia: Can you share with us some of the lessons learned while working on Swedish-Serbian environmental reform cooperation and what would be your advice for the future?

Ms Ida Reuterswärd: The biggest driver for change is citizens’ engagement for a better life. Serbia has such a beautiful and rich nature to protect, and it is great to see citizens, students, and businesses who want to get engaged in environmental reforms. In the coming years, it will be very important to continue strengthening this positive engagement, societal dialogue and inclusive decision-making. Education is the key: when children and students have the knowledge and see that environmental investments in Serbia are happening, they will also want to be a part of and contribute to that positive change.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection has made important decisions to move Serbia closer to EU environmental reform, for example on air pollution and waste management. Policy frameworks are largely in place and investments are growing by the day. Building capacities and providing strong support to municipalities in the implementation of policies and investments will be very important in the years to come. So many municipalities are already doing a great job, and I hope more will be empowered in the near future.