Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Bulgaria has the potential to become European leader in renewables

Adelina Marini, August 3, 2009

This is the opinion of the British deputy Head of Mission in Bulgaria Nick Leake. In an interview for euinside he said that no matter how incredible it might sound, in fact, Bulgaria is quite advanced in using energy from renewable sources. I we have also talked by the efforts of Britain, its position on the future new climate change agreement which is expected to be agreed in Copenhagen in December, as well as about whether the transition toward green economy is expensive and does it actually lead to job losses.

The first thing I asked him was why Britain is so active in the discussion about climate change, because the UK recently introduced its new Renewables Strategy an its position on the new global climate change agreement is one of the most public documents. According to Nick Leake, now is the time for action firstly because of the recession from which we can go out only by investing in new technologies and, secondly, because climate change affects all of us. He is an optimist that this time it is possible a good deal to be reached, unlike all previous attempts like to Kyoto protocol, although it might be a little stupid to expect that there won't be tough negotiations because everyone would want to protect his interests.

For example the UK is quite determined that the new emerging markets should do more to decrease carbon emissions. Is this fair given the fact that it was the industrialized countries that started all the problem? Nick Leake agrees but: "It is easiest to make the savings at the time that you're building a power station or a factory. It's much easier to incorporate the new technologies into something new than it is on to something that has already existed. It is certainly true that climate change represents a fundamental injustice because the majority of carbon that is in the environment was put there by industrialized nations, and yet countries in places like Africa will suffer more as a result of climate change and they will also have to play their role in reducing it. We certainly want to see a deal in Copenhagen that addresses that inequality and provides transfers so the carbon trade scheme will be part of that but it is correct that the developed countries will need to pay, but it is also correct that the developing countries actually offer fertile ground for the new technologies because there's a lot of new build going on there and the new technologies can be incorporated there so much more easily, so much more cheaply, so much more economically. And, of course, it doesn't matter to the atmosphere where the one ton of carbon comes from - whether it comes from Detroit or whether it comes from Lusaka it's still 1 tonne of carbon in
the atmosphere

And when we talk about which country is doing what to decrease carbon emissions, I asked Mr. Leake since when does the UK have a designated minister, responsible not only for energy but also for climate (a position that already exists in Denmark). He said that the unification happened when Gordon Brown became prime minister (27.06.2007). I was curious whether the idea was to improve coordination. It turned out not only this. "The development of the position over time certainly is to improve coordination and it's also to make sure that the government brings both the economic experts and the energy experts, environmental experts together to work in the same direction. We in the foreign ministry play our role as well in terms of negotiations with European partners and also other countries. But I think the change of name is designed more to send clear messages about the importance that the government and Britain attach to the issue."

Given this activity toward environment, it is very interesting to know what % of the energy consumed in the UK comes from renewables. The British diplomat explained that, in fact, Britain is not doing that well as Bulgaria is. "We don't have the advantages that Bulgaria has in terms of potential for hydro energy, for growing of energy crops, for geothermal, for wind, for solar. I actually think Bulgaria has real potential to be one of the European leaders in renewable energies. We're not good as that. At the moment we have less than 3 % from our energy from renewable sources but that is up from only 1.8% in 2007, so we're doing as much as we can. We have renewables obligation by 2020 we want 15% of our energy mix to come from renewable energy. A lot of that will come from tidal energy and offshore wind power. We think that's where the UK have some advantages because we have a lot of coast line."

But we should not that the efforts of the government to stimulate the business to invest in renewables are quite remarkable. Through tax measures, low interest loans and the obligations, the industry receives some 1 bn pounds annually, which is huge. Therefore Bulgaria should be defined more like an emerging market, given its bad economic situation in comparison to the rest of the EU member states. So can the EU help countries like Bulgaria invest more in renewables? But Nick Leake disagrees with me: "Bulgaria certainly isn't an emerging market. I worked in the Commission for Africa before I came here and the difference in development in countries in Africa and countries like Bulgaria is huge. So, Bulgaria is not an emerging market. However within the EU that is exactly what the emissions trading scheme is designed to do - to make the cuts where it is
cheapest and economical to do so and if that is in Bulgaria, that's fantastic. We have many many funding schemes already available and these funding schemes can certainly benefit Bulgaria and should benefit Bulgaria

And as I couldn't not spare asking whether the UK is funding environmental projects in Bulgaria, I was surprised by the answer because it seems we, the Bulgarians, do not take note of the amount of money we get from other taxpayers: "In terms of bilateral funds we have less and less and this is because Britain makes huge contributions to the EU - funds that come to Bulgaria. Just as an example - in the current budgetary period (2007-2013) we think that the amount that Britain is paying - Britain alone is paying to Bulgaria alone, is over 1 bn euros, which equates to roughly the annual cost of the Foreign Office with all its embassies across the entire world. So, it's a big investment coming to Bulgaria and we hope that a lot of that will be used for environment projects."

I was also surprised that the British embassy in Sofia has its own environment policy. Beside the fact the the ambassador H.E. Steve Williams has a hybrid car, Nick Leake himself is cycling to work, the staff at the embassy is also doing a lot more things to save energy - little things that seem insignificant but have enormous effect. For example, soon is expected the publication of the second consecutive annual report about the negative impact of the work of the embassy upon the environment. There we could see that last year the embassy has bought 2,000 tonnes of paper but it has recycled 5,000 tonnes.

Of course, these are efforts that each one of us can apply at home and then it would matter.

The whole interview with H.E. Nick Leake you could read here.