Let’s talk about air

Published 30 October 2018 in:

Sarajevo smog. Photo: the Swedish Embassy in Sarajevo.

If you passed the Swedish Embassy in Sarajevo in early 2018, you might have noticed that it was illuminated in different colours. The colours indicated the level of air pollution according to an air-quality app that was displayed on a large screen through one of the windows. A sign saying, ‘Let’s talk about air’ was placed above it. Emil Johansson from the Embassy talks about the project that made the issue of air pollution a hot topic.

“Many places in Bosnia and Herzegovina – not least the capital city Sarajevo – suffer from high levels of air pollution. Particularly during the winter months, many cities are totally blanketed in smog, with particle levels several times higher than European limit values. The pollution has devastating consequences for individuals, causing ill health and death, but also for society at large.”

“We saw an opportunity to raise awareness of the fact that something can actually be done about the problem and that environmental organisations and individual citizens can demand positive change from those in power.”

The Embassy has initiated several projects to support Bosnian measures to handle environmental problems. One of the projects is being conducted by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency with support to the Federal Meteorological Institute of Bosnia and Herzegovina to tackle air pollution. The Embassy now wants to use its position to communicate with the general public about the problem.

With the help of an app that measures air quality, the front of the Embassy was illuminated for a week in various colours indicating the level of air pollution in the neighbourhood. At the same time, the Embassy’s social media followers were asked to post photos of the air quality in their own neighbourhoods. The response was greater than expected and went beyond the general public.

“We hadn’t really realised the extent of the pent-up need among the general public to talk about air pollution. At the same time, it is not very difficult to understand as it is a widespread problem that many people here suffer from and that you can’t avoid regardless of your background and social status. The interest from local traditional media has also been great. It featured in several radio and TV programmes and in around 30 articles published in print and online,” says Mr Johansson.

The project culminated in ‘Air Pollution Awareness Day’ on 24 January, when an open meeting was held in the Embassy’s garden. Environmental organisations from across the country gathered to inform the general public about their work and answer questions. An informal group of ambassadors and representatives of the international community also discussed measures and demonstrated the importance of leadership on the issue.

Mr Johansson believes that the problem of air pollution requires shared responsibility for reducing emissions.

“First and foremost, governments and agencies must act for the climate and environmental adaptation of industry and heating. But we also want to make people aware of the very simple measures that both individuals as well as governments and agencies can take that can lead to clear improvements.”

“We try to put out the message that it does not always have to be difficult to limit emissions.”

Since the initiative began at the start of the year, the US Embassy in Sarajevo has also put up an air-quality metre and the Swedish Embassy is seeing that interest in the question is continuing to grow.

“The general public expect the issue to be taken up by politicians to a greater extent than today, and we are seeing great interest in several cities with heavy and polluting industries. Winter is approaching again and with it increasing smog. We have started planning the next phase of the initiative and will continue to develop the concept. Part of the initiative is to minimise our own contribution to air pollution. Together with Norway, we are going to install charging points outside the Embassy for the Embassy’s electric cars.

The Swedish Embassy in Sarajevo lit up in colour