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A look into 2023

Happy 2024!

Although this article is intended to reflect on some of our achievements from 2023, we must take a moment to have a look into the future. We are very excited to announce that in the first half of the year, we will have the first dam removal in Croatia! A total of eight barriers will be removed from the White River in the UNESCO-s Plitvice Lakes National Park. Last year, with a dedicated team from the Park, we were taking all necessary steps and preparatory works so that this spring, we can cheer loud while  excavators remove dams from the White River. Similar preparatory works are also underway in Slovenia and Kosovo - all to ensure our rivers flow freely again!

But let's return to the "look into 2023"! The year behind us brought us some headaches, but ultimately delivered some good results for nature. Europe finally reached an agreement on the Nature Restoration Law. It's a significant achievement, considering the opposition the regulation was facing. With the efforts of numerous NGOs and the support of over a million citizens who sent a clear message to decision-makers that they want a robust regulation addressing nature restoration, we are on the verge of a success story. Despite compromises, including reducing the ambition from 30 to 20 percent of protected nature in EU countries, we eagerly await the adoption of this regulation at the Plenary Session of the European Parliament and its implementation in the Member States.

We were also delighted by the UN High Seas Treaty. Open seas are crucial for global fisheries, they provide habitats and migration routes for hundreds of thousands of species, and aide in climate change mitigation by absorbing human-caused carbon emissions. Until now, only about 1% of the ocean was protected, but with this agreement, that area will increase to 30%! Last September, we organized an important roundtable in Split, where all stakeholders agreed on the necessity of this protection in our sea.

The year 2023 set records as the warmest year since systematic meteorological measurements had begun. The fact that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise is extremely concerning. Global emissions increased by 1.2% in a year, reaching a new record of 57.4 GtCO2eq. Methane emissions increased by 1.8%, and nitrous oxide emissions by 0.9%.

Amid alarming environmental data, we find joy in every piece of good news. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported that overfishing in the Mediterranean and Black Seas has fallen to the lowest level in the last decade. A 15% decrease during the past year resulted from a reduction in continuous fishing pressure, which has dropped by 31% since 2012.This significant shift towards more sustainable fisheries is excellent news for preserving marine biodiversity in our region.

Good news for the protection of marine species was also heard at the 23rd COP of the Barcelona Convention. By adopting the Portorož Ministerial Declaration, Mediterranean countries committed to increasing protection of six endangered species of sharks and rays by prohibiting their capture and implementing management measures for three additional species. This is a crucial step forward for the protection of these species, especially in the region with the highest percentage of threatened sharks and rays facing global extinction. That's why this year, our 27-meter research sailing vessel, Blue Panda, will focus on monitoring and conserving the angel shark population in the Zadar archipelago.

Equally important, we need to mention the steps taken regarding the Plastics Treaty. In early June, at the UN Conference in Paris, 175 countries set the path for a binding global agreement to combat plastic pollution by 2025.

The alignment of all elements of the Treaty and its finalization are expected during this year. We thank you once again for helping us urge decision-makers to align on the Plastics Treaty. By signing the petition, which, among other things, calls for a ban on single-use plastics, you are joining over 220,000 like-minded individuals! If you haven't signed yet, now is the perfect opportunity to do so. 

In September, we launched the National Bioeconomy Hub. If you haven't heard this relatively new term, it refers to an innovative economy with low emissions that ensures the sustainability of agriculture, fisheries, and aquaculture, food supply security, and the sustainable use of biomass in industry while protecting biodiversity and the environment. Over the next two years, the Hub will monitor the implementation of the Bioeconomy Strategy, connecting all relevant institutions in Croatia to collaborate on quality projects in this field, using new technologies, and creating innovative solutions for climate and nature conservation.

We established some interesting partnerships: we signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Croatian Employers' Association and the Chamber of Commerce of Serbia. Our goal is to improve communication with the corporate sector, directing them towards sustainable business practices and nature-based solutions. We offer them the opportunity to use WWF biodiversity risk filter to see if they operate in harmony with nature. This is crucial, especially in times when the difference between false green advertising, known as greenwashing, and sustainable business practices is quite questionable.

The amount of drinking water available to us is also questionable. We conveyed this through the communication campaign "Not 1% of drinking water for 100% of life on the planet", conducted last summer. In Belgrade Silos, we staged several scenes of life without drinking water. The campaign has already been recognized as the best eco-campaign at the "Purposeful Campaign 2023" awards in Serbia. We hope this is not the end, and that you also remember other campaigns we had . Do you remember that the sea needs a vacation too? Or perhaps, do you recall the bear carcass in the center of Zagreb and informative monologues in which actress Jelena Miholjević, and musicians Darko Rundek and Baby Dooks portrayed the eagle, bear, and vulture?

We are doing a lot to protect wildlife, especially our big three: bears, lynxes, and wolves. And not just through awareness campaigns... After Lika in Croatia, we installed electric shepherds on agricultural estates in two protected areas in Serbia - the National Parks Tara and Uvac. We are also involved in developing guidelines for monitoring wildlife, namely the Guidelines for Harmonized Management and Monitoring of Large Carnivores Populations, and after the intervention team in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we initiated the establishment of an intervention team for large carnivores in North Macedonia. But let's not forget our campaigns... This year, we started the campaign with our large carnivores as the main characters. How would you feel if these huge furry creatures with powerful fangs became your roommates?

We also planted the first food forests! We marked Earth Hour by planting a food forest near the pool in Koprivnica, achieving great cooperation with the local waste management company, all with the help of students from a nearby elementary school. We did the same in two schools in Sombor, using the mulching method to make the fruit trees self-sustainable. We will continue with such activities throughout this year, too!

Finally, we cannot ignore the much-controversial COP28 climate conference, held in Dubai at the end of the year. After three decades of UN climate negotiations, countries finally shifted their focus to polluting fossil fuels that led us into a climate crisis and agreed on the gradual phasing out of their use. Although their consensus on the complete cessation of energy production from coal, oil and gas is still lacking, this outcome signals the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era.

However, Croatia still adheres to its plan to shut down the coal-fired power plant in 2033. Unfortunately, residents of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and other countries in the region continue to suffer from potentially the most polluted air in Europe.

Finally, we entered a super-election year in which we will play one of our main roles. We will strive to influence political parties to incorporate clear and secure steps toward a greener future into their programs.

A look in 2023

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