Similar challenges, shared solutions

REC involves China in unique side-event at COP 16 in Cancun

December 10, 2010 | By Maria Khovanskaya
STILL A LONG WAY TO GO: Cancun made some progress, but there's quite some distance left to cover. Photo: Zsolt Bauer

The Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) organised a side event at COP 16/CMP 6 in Cancun, Mexico titled 'Regional and Inter-Regional Cooperation on Mitigation and Adaptation' - 'regional' meaning Europe and 'inter-regional' meaning Europe and China.

The purpose of the event was twofold: first, to discuss common challenges to countries vis-à-vis climate change, and, second, to explore how the REC can assist countries in facing these challenges and to serve as a platform for exchanging information and good practices.

The event featured two panels. The first discussed mainly the problems of climate change in REC beneficiary countries - i.e. Hungary, Poland, most SEE countries and Turkey.

Regional perspectives

The first presenter was REC Executive Director Marta Szigeti Bonifert, who presented key details about the organisation and its 20-year history, while explaining main thematic areas, principles and work methodology. Szigeti Bonifert drew special attention to the fact that the REC is the Regional Focal Point of the UNFCCC's Article 6 and is very active in awareness-raising, climate education and regional-level training programmes.

The next speaker, Professor Hasan Sarikaya, Turkey's former deputy minister of agriculture and forestry, praised the REC for spotlighting regional issues and for establishing links with all stakeholders involved in the climate process, from governments and businesses to civil society. Sarikaya pointed out the equal importance of adaptation and mitigation for the whole REC beneficiary region, as well as for Turkey, adding that Turkey is committed to combating climate change and its consequences through technological betterment in the energy supply and energy demand sectors (especially the housing sector), public transportation, forestry and agriculture. He shared Turkey's plans to increase the share of renewable energy sources in national electricity production by up to 30%, and to enhance the carbon sinks through afforestation of 2.3 million hectares of land. All of these activities require cost-effective technology transfers providing maximum incremental benefits. Sarikaya believes that the REC can act as a vehicle to disseminate technologies and good practices.

Milan Dacic, director of the Hydrometeorological Service of Serbia, discussed another very important regional problem, namely the gap between providers of hydrological, meteorological and climatological information and the users of this information. In view of climate change, this gap can cause severe economic damage, and even lead to human loss of life. SEE countries share a complex terrain that includes numerous ecosystems ranging from coastal zones to the high-elevation mountain areas, and this is why cooperation between hydro-meteorological services in SEE countries is vital. Such cooperation started back in 2005 and resulted in the Belgrade Initiative, adopted in 2007 at the 6th Ministerial Conference 'Environment for Europe'. Under this initiative, the Virtual Climate Change Centre was established in Belgrade, as was SEE Framework Action Plan on Adaptation, adopted in 2008. The REC has actively supported the Belgrade initiative and all its activities.

Hungary's State Secretary Peter Olajos spoke next, explaining that European countries are making efforts to green their economies. Hungary is the first country to assume the EU presidency to have reduced emissions by more than 30 percent since 1990. According to the 'Roadmap', the EU hopes to achieve 95 percent CO2 reduction by 2050. Olajos said that Hungary will have difficulties to further reduce its emissions in the industrial sector, but that there are great opportunities for Hungary and South-Eastern Europe for CO2 reduction in other sectors. The state secretary added that adaptation is very important, both for the region and Hungary, the latter having experienced impacts in recent years from floods, desertification and drought. The REC, as the region's largest environmental think-tank, provides important advice on both adaptation and mitigation policies, Olajos concluded.

Thomas Chruszczow, director of Poland's Department of Climate Change and Atmospheric Protection at the Ministry of Environment, holds the REC in high esteem, calling it "a gem in our collection of think tanks." The presenter described what he feels to be the most critical environmental problems, especially in the new EU member states where the Soviet legacy remains both an environmental and economic burden. Climate change is another burdening factor, Chruszczow explained, and because of climate change, CEE countries, previously rich with water resources, have are experiencing water scarcity. This problem is exacerbated by water pollution and lack of adequate water-retention facilities and technologies. Therefore, one of the primarily goals, in view of the upcoming Polish EU presidency, should be water protection; and the EU Water Framework Directive is an efficient instrument, Chruszczow argues. Also, the prevention of devastating impacts from extreme weather events is a necessary component of climate change adaptation. Events such as floods and hurricanes hit Poland with an increasing frequency. Chruszczow's opinion is that climate change is happening already, and that we must learn to live in a constantly changing environment, save existing resources and preserve existing ecosystems to the greatest extent possible. Poland, he alleges, has done its fare share of work in this respect. The country, despite being historically dependent on coal, through market liberalisation, privatisation of heavy industry and energy-pricing policies, Poland has introduced a thorough energy-efficiency policy, and is currently excavating three-times less coal than in the past.

Partnering with China

The second panel, in partnership with Italy on behalf of the EU and China, presented the Clean Energy Center in China. The REC also participates in this partnership by sharing its considerable capacity building and awareness-raising experience.

Li Junfeng is Deputy Director General of the Energy Research Institute (ERI) of the National Development and Reform Commission and is General Secretary of the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association (CREIA). Li explained that China's involvement with renewable energies dates back to the 1950s, when biofuels were used to cover energy deficits in rural areas. Biofuel production is now a commercial activity. The first international conference on renewable energy was held in Bonn, Germany in 2004, and China has learned a great deal from Europe in this area, Li said.

Li went on to make a number of points in his panel presentation. Concerning targets, China, like Europe aims to achieve 30 percent use of renewable energy by 2020, with extra costs involved shared by final user. Turning to policy, incentives must be provided to use clean, renewable energy, such as tax-free sale of wind or solar power. China's wind energy sector is expanding rapidly, growing from just 100 megawatts in 2000, to 500 megawatts in 2005, and doubling every year since then to 4,500 megawatts in 2009.

Government clearly plays in important role in planning adequate policy for the adoption of cleaner energy, and China has taken Germany's example, with the latter's extensive policy framework, Li said, adding that internal political constraints are causing the US to fall behind.

An estimated 4 percent of energy produced worldwide derives from renewable resources, Li concluded, thus we need to work together to achieve a greater share of clean technologies in the energy sector.

Dr. Alessandro Costa then presented the main objectives of the Clean Energy Center, of which he is the director. Costa pointed out that the technology transfer should be the Center's primary goal, but that its efficiency and workability requires that the proper policies and measures providing the right incentives be in place. This is why the Center's two other main focuses are policy advisory and institutional capacity building. EU countries have accumulated valuable experience regarding which policies and measures are effective under different market and technological conditions. A fourth focus is dissemination of information among the stakeholders, Costa concluded.

Finally, Zsuzsanna Ivanyi, head of the REC's Climate Change Thematic Area, presented her analyses of China's energy sector, in which GHG-saving measures could be introduced as a win-win opportunity, bringing both environmental and economic benefits. Ivanyi's presentation, prepared within the framework of the EC2 project, highlighted the main barriers hampering implementation of existing policies, and summarised the challenges that China must face if it is to comply with its Copenhagen pledge.

Important questions

This special REC side-event demonstrated that, despite geographical, economic and political differences, countries in Central and Eastern Europe, South-Eastern Europe and China, share similar problems and challenges. Key questions raised and discussed at the event are the following: How are we to ensure a good quality of life without compromising the environment? Is it possible to decouple economic growth and increased GHG emissions? How can we save energy? What renewable energy sources are feasible for energy and electricity production? What policies and measures can introduce advanced technologies most effectively? How must we adapt to consequences of global warming in order to prevent economic decline and loss of life? All of the participating countries shared their success stories, plans and concerns. The REC strongly believes that such dialogue, through sharing information and good practices, countries can enrich each other's experience in a worldwide effort to combat climate change.