It’s not the biggest or most powerful nation, but has led by example in preserving a precious natural asset in March 2023.
The climate and nature crises have thrown European countries into a new kind of healthy rivalry with each other.
In the race to reach net zero emissions and restore depleted ecosystems, any nation’s win is a victory for all of us. But looking to the most positive examples on the continent can help inspire and pressure our own politicians to follow suit.
Of course it’s not an even playing field. From the sunny plains of Spain to the subterranean heat of Iceland, each country has its unique natural resources. As well as its particular political and economic context that could be helping or hindering climate action.
This month, we’re celebrating a European country that has done the right thing for one of its most precious natural features: Albania.
Albania protected one of Europe’s last truly wild rivers
On 15 March, the Albanian government declared the Vjosa River a national park, conserving it for generations to come.
The Vjosa is one of Europe’s last free-flowing wild rivers. Stretching from the slopes of Greece’s Pindus mountains to Albania’s Adriatic coast, this is the first ‘wild river national park’ on the continent.
“Maybe Albania does not have the power to change the world, but it can create successful models of protecting biodiversity and natural assets,” said Mirela Kumbaro Furxhi, Minister of Tourism and Environment.
“The Albanian government has taken the bold decision to create a National Park of 12,727 hectares, including the 190 kilometres long Vjosa, where over 60,000 people have lived for centuries.”
The protected park status is a shield for over a 1,000 species that live in the river and its surrounding areas, from rare vultures and European eels, to otters and critically endangered Balkan lynx.
Navigating the competing human interests on the river was no easy task. At one point 45 dams were proposed on the Vjosa and its tributaries. Developers sought to make the most of its hydropower potential as the country depends on this renewable source.
After years of campaigning from the ‘Save the Blue Heart of Europe’ coalition, no dams, gravel extraction or other damaging activities are now allowed on its banks.
People power has been a big part of this story too, and led to more positive tales. In the tiny southern village of Kutë, residents channelled their resistance to a proposed hydropower plant into an ambitious solar energy project, rolling out panels on public buildings.
Now the village is on the cusp of self-sufficiency as Albania’s first citizen energy community.
What other positive environmental projects does Albania have in the pipeline?
Albania’s energy production is already 100 per cent renewable, but the country is working to diversify its sources as relying on water is too climate dependent.
“We [have] a long-term strategy and an action plan to increase the generation capacity of renewable energy sources by installing new solar PV and wind power plants,” explains Mirela Kumbaro Furxhi, Albania's Minister of Tourism and Environment.
Albania also revised its National Determined Contribution (NDC) commitment with an ambition to reduce its already-low greenhouse gas emissions by 20.9 per cent by 2030.
The country is looking to develop its tourism industry, but in an effort to do so sustainably, the Ministry of Tourism and Environment are under the same roof, led by one Minister.
“Albania is a small country that cannot change the world, but we can create models,” says the Minister.
“Last year when the law prohibiting the production, import and trade of single-use plastic bags came into effect, we were the first in the Balkans to do this.
“For the big world, these may be small changes, but for us these are real revolutions.”
Sadly, no European country is yet an environmental idyll. The Albanian government has also come under fire for its resolve to build a new airport - the nation’s biggest yet - near the Vjosa-Narta lagoon, a sanctuary for birds including flamingos and pelicans.
Honourable mentions go to…
There have been plenty of other positive environmental stories from Europe this month.
On 1 March, Luxembourg celebrated three years of free public transport. Residents have praised a scheme that is “very positive for the environment,” helping to get people out of their cars in an equitable way.
In Norway, an inspiring clean transport story comes in the form of Europe’s longest cycle tunnel, due to open on 15 April. The Nordic country also gets a green tick for its role in helping to secure the new UN treaty protecting biodiversity in the high seas earlier this month; and for being one of the European countries selling the most heat pumps last year.
On a local level, German mayors have been striking deals with climate activists, applying pressure on senior lawmakers.
What is Euronews Green's country of the month?
Euronews Green is highlighting European countries that are advocating for climate, nature and the environment. Each month, we select a country that stands out for anything from eco-innovations to policy change.
If you’re feeling encouraged by a European government-led initiative in April - please do reach out to us on social media, either on Instagram or Twitter.