Brought Together by the Bottom Line of a Green Future
Date: August 20th 2020
Author: Ana Vučina Vršnak
In 2007, when I first reported from Brussels on the now infamous 20-20-20 climate and energy targets set for what we then saw as “the far future” (the year 2020), we could not imagine in our wildest dreams what we would actually be dealing with this year. So, is there anything that can bring a population of 7.8 billion together more than a virus that presents a serious threat to public health? There is – climate change is also a threat to us all and the fight against global warming is going global. These circumstances dictate what the whole world, and with it Europe and Slovenia, is or should be doing. The frameworks are clear and as a society, we must learn to do our best within these frameworks.
When the whole world acts
One could say at this point that there is consensus on the urgency of the fight against climate change. The Paris Climate Agreement, which entered into force on 4 November 2016, has so far been ratified by 189 of a total of 197 signatories (it still need to be ratified by Angola, Eritrea, Iraq, Iran, Libya, South Sudan, Turkey, and Yemen, whereas the U. S. ratified it in September 2016, but plans to withdraw from it on 4 November 2020).
Due to its global nature, climate change definitely calls for the cooperation of countries from all over the world. The permafrost at the poles is melting, the sea level is rising, and if we think that the consequences are only visible in remote places, we are mistaken. The level of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere is increasing, resulting in an average global air temperature rise of nearly 1°C compared to pre-industrial levels, with Slovenia recording a 2°C increase between 1961 and today, as noted by Slovenian climatologists, summarising the data of the Slovenian Environment Agency. They add that the carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere have rapidly increased after the industrial revolution. Never before has such a notable change happened in such a short amount of time.
The aim of the Paris agreement is to limit the average global temperature increase to well below 2°C compared to the pre-industrial level, that is, to not allow it to exceed 1.5°C. We could brush this aside, saying that 2°C is really not that much, however, it is approximately equivalent to the temperature difference between Slovenia’s Central and Littoral region. As noted by the climatologists, in the summer, the temperature increase is clearly shown in the heat waves which differ from those that we are used to. We are seeing more frequent, longer, and more intense heat waves which now happen nearly every year.
Europeans in the starting position
We seem to be well aware of the fact that we do have an effect on the environment and consequently also on the climate. When asked if they are concerned about this (as part of last year’s Eurobarometer survey), Europeans gave an overwhelming “indeed”. In the survey, 93% of the EU citizens saw climate change as a serious problem and 79% saw it as a very serious problem. Nearly all (92%) of the respondents said that it is important that their national governments set targets to increase the share of renewable energy (RES) and to improve energy efficiency (89%). As much as 84% of the respondents said that more public financial support should be given to the transition to clean energies, even if it means reducing fossil fuels subsidies. Additionally, 92% of the respondents – and more than 80% in each member state – agreed that GHG emissions should be reduced to a minimum while offsetting the remaining emissions, in order to make the EU economy climate-neutral by 2050.
In line with this general opinion of its citizens, the EU wants to play a leading role in climate action.
As noted, the EU adopted the 20-20-20 climate/energy targets in 2007 and enacted the necessary legislation to achieve them (by 2020) in 2009. The goal was to reduce GHG emissions by 20% compared to 1990 levels, boost the share of renewables to 20%, and increase energy efficiency by 20%. In October 2014, new 2030 targets were set, followed by even more ambitious targets in 2018: 40-32-32.5. To achieve these goals, the EU adopted a strategy for a European Energy Union in February 2015, focusing on five dimensions: energy security, an internal energy market, energy efficiency, climate action and decarbonising the economy, and research, innovation, and competitiveness.
Additionally, in December 2019, EU leaders adopted the so-called European Green Deal, supporting the aim to make the EU the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, in line with the Paris agreement.
On this basis, the EU Council adopted the Long-term Low Greenhouse Gas Emission Development Strategy of the EU and its Member States which was submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The EU and its member states are fully committed to the Paris agreement and its long-term goals, and call for urgently enhanced global ambition in light of the latest available science including the recent reports released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), states the document.
Despite adopting several strategic documents, it sometimes seems that Slovenia is not quite sure about which path to take towards its energy future. Nevertheless, concrete decisions will have to be made in order to ensure secure energy supply also in 2030 or 2050.
The country set up a broad framework in December 2017 when it adopted the Slovenian Development Strategy 2030, an overarching national framework which prioritises the quality of life for all. With its 5 strategic orientations and 12 interconnected development goals, it established new long-term development fundamentals. It included the United Nations sustainable development goals, making Slovenia one of the countries that have recognised the significance of our common global responsibility towards the environment and towards society as a whole. In line with this strategy and taking into account the energy union dimensions, Slovenia aims to pursue two priority development orientations: the transition to a low-carbon circular economy and sustainable natural resource management.
As stated in the Slovenian Development Strategy: A reliable, sustainable and competitive supply of energy is crucial for development, whereby giving priority to energy efficiency (EE) and renewable energy sources (RES) is one of the basic principles of the development of the energy sector. One of the key factors for increasing the use of RES is the development of technologies for storing energy and digitalisation of the electricity system (the introduction of a “smart network”). The priority increase in EE and the increased proportion of RES will allow us to reduce GHG emissions, which is also part of Slovenia’s commitment within the EU’s climate and energy package and the Paris Climate Agreement.
In December 2017, the country also adopted the Slovenian Smart Specialisation Strategy (S4) whose priority areas include smart cities and communities (conversion, distribution, and energy management), smart buildings and homes (including the wood chain), and networks for the transition to a circular economy (biomass conversion technologies, energy production using alternative sources)
After lengthy discussions which featured varied opinions, the government managed to adopt the integrated National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP).
Slovenia’s key NECP targets for 2030 include: reducing GHG emissions by 36% compared to 2005, achieving at least a 27% share of RES in final energy consumption, and improving energy efficiency by at least 35% (so that, with the systematic implementation of the adopted policies, energy consumption will not exceed 54.9 TWh or 4,717 ktoe in 2030. On the primary energy level, consumption should not exceed 73.9 TWh (6,356 ktoe). Slovenia also aims to alleviate and reduce energy poverty.
Slovenia’s long-term climate strategy for 2050 and the Slovenian climate policy law are now being drafted (the strategy is in the final stages of preparation and is expected to be submitted for public discussion before the end of summer, with government adoption expected in September), both aiming at carbon neutrality – net zero GHG emissions by 2050.
The bottom line
One could say that Slovenia has set up a robust framework for future development in the energy sector (and wider), which allows it to make effective steps towards a more sustainable future. The path will most likely not be completely linear and we will undoubtedly also make some steps backwards from time to time, either on a societal or on an individual level. The important thing to realise is that we should always be prepared for a discussion and to hear one another. It should never be acceptable for someone (an institution) to oppose RES and energy efficiency measures. However, this is exactly what is happening – we have reached a point in Slovenia where one cannot openly discuss setting up hydropower plants, wind power plants etc. The discussion about the second unit of the country’s nuclear power plant is especially problematic. On the other hand, we are more than happy to show everyone our “wheels” or some of our other devices that consume, in one way or another, all this energy which has to come from somewhere.
The ideal thing would if we already had the solutions to all our problems, if we did not have to think about our energy needs, if we had inexhaustible source of clean energy at our disposal. However – it is also ideal (in terms of sustainability) to realise that whenever we are faced with great challenges, we need to come together and look for the best possible solutions. We need to find compromises, which means taking into account different situations, different stakeholders and their specifics.
As a society, we need to find a common ground in terms of Slovenia’s energy future – if we are serious about pursuing the 2050 climate neutrality goals. We need to make a timely decision about what kind of electricity production the country will have and what the supply will consist of. The key frameworks are set, so it should not be so difficult, especially if we look “beyond” and learn from good decision-makers, for example Germany and China. Germany was the main player behind the 20-20-20 targets, although many would say that its decision to phase-out nuclear power was not particularly prudent. Today, the country is one of the leaders in the field of (green) mobility development. Incidentally, many successful Slovenian companies are securing deals specifically in this segment. On the other side of the world, there is China – once known as a great polluter, now a leader in renewable generation and investments. While Germany opted to move away from nuclear, China is still building: there are currently 12 reactors under construction in the country. One way or another, both countries will meet their energy needs, while also introducing some innovative approaches in the field of climate and energy.
He who can take care of himself is successful. During a crisis, this becomes even clearer, as it is difficult to lean on others in these situations – and as we know, being dependent on others, especially for energy, means less security, greater vulnerability, and unpredictable prices. Slovenia’s energy companies (members of the Energy Industry Chamber of Slovenia) therefore emphasize that the country needs to strive towards maximum energy self-sufficiency.
While it took all of human history up to about 1800 to reach a population of 1 billion, it reached 2 billion in just 130 years (in 1930), 3 billion in 30 years (1960), 4 billion in 15 years (1974), and 5 billion in no more than 13 years (1987). In 2050, the global population is expected to reach nearly 10 billion (9.7 billion, according to UN projections).
The Slovenian people know how to come together when necessary, they know how to take care of themselves. The virus which hit humanity in this year has revealed quite quickly how dependant we are on one another. At the same time, we only have one planet. It makes sense to mimic the behaviour of those who have succeeded, those who have the strategies and who know how to make decisions. We will have to find a sustainable path on this planet, despite our growing numbers – and no matter how ironic that may sound. Just 30 years from now, this future, which now seems so far away, will be our reality.
The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Energetika.NET.
This article is available also in Slovene.
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