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Greg Dorey


Part of UK in Hungary

13th March 2011

Mapping the Road to a Low Carbon Future

Clearly energy will be a prominent feature of our work in connection with Hungary’s EU Presidency throughout the spring. The Commission published its Low Carbon Roadmap on 8 March and UK diplomatic efforts are now focussed on raising Europe’s ambitions to build a low carbon economy.

This effort is especially relevant in Central and Eastern Europe, where attitudes toward low carbon are ambivalent. Energy security concerns and high energy prices preoccupy the minds of leaders,  policy makers, business and the public here.  But when it comes to decarbonisation we see a completely different story. Scepticism about the potential for green jobs or the benefits of a higher EU climate ambition are widespread. And building a low carbon economy is often seen solely as a net cost or an ‘unproved’ theory which, while it has merits, still needs to be treated with caution. This is in spite of evidence-based studies by renowned organisations such as UNEP, CIRED, the Potsdam Institute, the Institute of European Environmental Policy and Ecofys which clearly show that a low carbon economy is a win-win outcome. As yet, the region has not decided on which side of the fence it will come down.  Our partners here tend either to suggest that this is a responsibility of the older EU Member States or ask for EU financial assistance to enable them to make the transition to low carbon (or both).

So it was quite an achievement that participants from around the region, who attended a recent regional workshop organised by the Central European Network of UK Embassies on the role of the next EU budget in Europe’s low carbon transition, concluded with agreement that the region has to do its share to help itself. And that it is not enough to wait for EIB or EBRD or EU Structural and Cohesion Funds (SCF) to do the job. There was recognition too that many foreign investors will not come here unless regional governments pledge to share the initial risks of low carbon investment. The workshop also stressed the need for a whole new strand of development thinking to be applied to the use of SCF. Often these are the only significant financial sources supporting regional development. However, SCF recipients might create serious problems for the future if they fail to factoring low carbon requirements into their programmes and projects. NGOs have warned for some time that locking in high carbon infrastructure will cause higher operational costs and much higher decarbonisation costs later on. in the longer term these will be a far greater problem than the upfront capital requirements of low carbon development. The difference is that it is easier to ignore them now – they will only be apparent (and unavoidable) later on.

The recently published UK Low Carbon Plan shows that decarbonisation is possible now, despite the financial difficulties caused by the recession. It also demonstrates that we are walking the talk and  gives us credibility when dealing with stakeholders in the region.