Energy efficiency to reduce urban greenhouse gas emissions

How Skopje and other cities in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia help the country meet its targets under the Paris Agreement

As part of its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) and commitment to the Paris Agreement, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030. Since most electricity still comes from coal-fired power plants, one essential route to achieve this goal is to improve energy efficiency.

Skopje’s skyline clearly illustrates the level of emissions released, contributing to air pollution

The NDC is a national commitment, but local action is helping make progress. Skopje, the capital and home to around one-third of the population, has sought to make schools and other public buildings more energy-efficient, to fight climate change, but also to offer a cost-efficient and user-friendly alternative.

Skopje, the capital, is home to a third of the population and is the primary focus of the nations emission reduction strategies

Energy efficient schools and public buildings

Public-sector buildings in Skopje and across the country have little insulation, driven by outdated windows, roofs and fixtures that allow heat to escape in winter. A United Development Programme (UNDP) research suggests that even a few low-cost measures can reduce energy spending by one-third, so the savings potential for municipalities is huge.

‘Orce Nikolov’ kindergarten is one of the first to be fitted with energy efficient technology, energy costs were reduced by 60%

To demonstrate the modest costs and multiple benefits of energy efficiency, UNDP has partnered with local authorities, both in Skopje and elsewhere, to retrofit public buildings. One example is the ‘Orce Nikolov’ kindergarten in Karpos was one of the first in the country to be refurbished. Renovations co-funded by UNDP helped reduce energy costs by 60 percent.

Similar efforts were undertaken at kindergartens and schools in Kisela Voda, Centar and Suto Orizari. Like Karpos, all constituent municipalities are in Skopje, as well as further away in Delčevo. As a result, over 2,000 children now enjoy warmer classrooms in the winter.

As a result of the efforts, over 2,000 children in the Skopje area will enjoy warmer classrooms this winter

Investments that pay for themselves

A clear demonstration of the savings potential of energy efficiency was achieved in the municipality of Resen. Here UNDP fully refurbished the main municipal building as part of a broader project dedicated to the protection of the nearby Prespa Lake ecosystem. New insulation, windows, facades and roofing quickly generated sufficient annual savings on energy that the municipality was able to afford the running costs for a new monitoring station established to keep watch over water quality in the lake.

Before (left) and after (Right): the energy efficiency renovations of the main municipal building in Resen

“By rehabilitating these public buildings we do not only reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with extraneous energy use, contributing to our NDC, but we also save funding for the municipality,” said UNDP Climate Change Project Manager, Pavlina Zdraveva. “These funds can go back into municipal budgets and can in turn be used for other education purposes, such as supplies, or for other public services, such as healthcare.”

Tackling air pollution

Work to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions goes hand in hand with efforts to eliminate air pollution. Skopje has emerged as one of the most polluted cities in Europe, and household heating is one of the main culprits, accounting for around 32 percent of these harmful pollutants.

Air pollution and smog is a major issue in Skopje, one of the most polluted cities in Europe

Air pollution is blamed for some 1,300 deaths a year in Skopje, with a high risk for people with chronic diseases, children and the elderly. Fighting air pollution will not only bolster progress on climate change, it will help ensure healthy lives for all, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

What’s the best way to fight air pollution?

A recent UNDP survey of 5,044 households revealed that only 21 percent of residents are connected to central heating, whereas 45 percent heat their houses by burning wood. Wood-burning is one of the most polluting forms of heating, as well as significantly increasing the incidence of chronic respiratory disease for those living in wood-heated homes.

Some key findings:

85% of households in rural areas of Skopje heat their houses with wood-burning stoves

One-third of respondents admitted that they (or their neighbours) use harmful substances like wood scraps, plastic waste and even rubber, often scavenged from construction waste or nearby garbage bins, for heating

40% stated that their choice of heating system is based on the monthly bill, while only 1% based their decision on the pollution generated

92% of households lack proper insulation, especially for roofs and windows

317,000 tons of wood are burned for heating in Skopje each year — the equivalent of every tree on Mount Vodno, the majestic mountain that towers over the capital

Understanding the socio-economic roots of the air pollution problem in Skopje is key to devising solutions. Among the measures UNDP plans to support in partnership with national and local authorities are encouraging the public to use high-efficiency pellet-burning stoves; promoting insulation and other energy-efficient solutions; and providing incentives to make use of the central-heating network.

“Climate change and energy use in particular is a thread that runs throughout each and every one of the SDGs,” notes Anita Kodzoman, UNDP’s Head of Energy Efficiency Unit. “Inefficient energy systems lead to poor health conditions or impair access to education or livelihoods, while more efficient and renewable systems help to advance development gains and deliver on climate commitments. Understanding the root causes for pollution will allow us to tackle it more effectively and this will position us well to raise the ambitions of our climate commitments and our NDC, which we hope our fellow signatories to the Paris Agreement will be considering at the upcoming COP24 in Katowice.”


The period from now until 2020 is critical to the success of the Paris Agreement. For UNDP, UN partners and the wider international community, the mission is clear: to push for countries, communities and the private sector to scale up ambition. By 2020, we want to see accelerated action on the climate targets — the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) — of the Paris Agreement. Read more on: Climate 2020 — All In

Text and photos by UNDP in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia