Monday

8th Mar 2021

Opinion

Why Visegrad 4 need to get real about climate change

  • If the EU as a block shifts its paradigm to more sustainable energy, the Visegrad region's energy infrastructure will look out of date (Photo: Peter Teffer)

As Europe is experiencing hottest weather in decades, climate change is back in headlines.

More accurately, it never leaves the headlines. It has become a constant feature of our news cycle. Yet only recently, some of the Visegrad Four group countries blocked the EU's climate target, showing great unwillingness to face the elephant in the room: that as the climate changes, the European countries relying on coal are on a path that is neither environmentally nor economically sustainable.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

If counted as a single country, the Visegrad Group or V-4, comprised of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic, would be the fifth largest economy in Europe and the twelfth largest in the world.

Poland has been experiencing "a golden age of growth", according to the World Bank.

Its economy is growing faster than most of its European neighbours', driven also by strong domestic consumption.

The V-4 as a whole expects its GDP growth to reach 4.5 percent this year. In addition, despite remaining risks and issues, the EU as a wider region is experiencing economically benign conditions with low unemployment.

The current situation offers a real window of opportunity for the Visegrad countries to start strategically working on how to transition to more renewable energy sources.

Canadian example

The movement driving divestment from fossil fuels was not a glitch, it was one of the signs of things to come.

If Canada is starting to worry about getting left behind because of its reliance on coal and other fossil fuels, the Visegrad countries should take note.

The region is very well placed to attract private and institutional investor money for investments in sustainable energy sector, provided their governments create appropriate policy frameworks and initiatives.

The V-4 has some of the lowest price levels for investment in comparison to the rest of the EU, and it ranks relatively high in Human Development Index which means great potential.

As investors increasingly seek out a range of environment, social and governance (ESG) products, countries offering well-structured green infrastructure investment opportunities can reap benefits from the trends. The Visegrad region with its spending power and EU membership is a very attractive place to invest.

Besides, as other European countries, including the Nordics, focus on circular economy initiatives and cutting carbon emissions, the V-4 risks being left behind.

If the EU as a block shifts its paradigm to more sustainable energy, the Visegrad region's energy infrastructure will look out of date.

Notably, Europe is already a leader in climate change preparedness, mainly led by Western European countries. So, if the trends continue, which they will, industry in the V-4 countries may struggle to attract investment if it relies on unsustainable energy.

Add to that the dangers that arise from its ageing demographics, which will require increasing pension expenditures. If the pension funds are invested in coal production or other unsustainable businesses, lower returns and greater pension pay-outs can create a perfect storm.

Unfortunately, the political elite in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic especially have opted for an approach that is best described as kicking the can down the road and hoping for the best.

Currently, coal provides 80 percent of Poland's energy. The country expects it to still be 60 percent by 2030 and possibly 50 percent by 2050.

Under the circumstances, it is true that the transition to renewable energy sources will cost money, have social implications and take time. Challenges such as regional over-reliance on coal for jobs and energy are very real and should be addressed not to leave people behind.

The pro-Brexit vote and under-development in former mining regions in the United Kingdom shows what negative and unexpected long-term consequences that can create.

It will require political will and courage to initiate change. The opposition by political leaders to the EU's 2050 carbon-neutral target amongst other instances has shown how beholden to the status quo and vested interests political forces can be.

Yet this can change and can also be actively changed by good leadership. Globalisation and digitalisation are social and economic drivers that keep creating pressures to shift to a more sustainable growth path. Growing urbanisation and the rising millennial generation will demand change.

Sustainability is something that can be actively promoted and can pay off handsomely. It can create cheaper energy for customers, upgrade the energy grid for coming decades, create healthcare savings by addressing health issues arising from pollution, generate new employment and improve energy and thus national security.

Energy security does matter. A country can be brought to standstill if its energy supplies are disrupted, which was aptly demonstrated by Russia when it cut off Ukrainian gas.

Poland spends approximately a whopping €2bn a year on coal subsidies – something that can be gradually diverted for supporting renewable energy projects and also creating initiatives to retrain and re-employ those in danger of losing their employment. It would also create savings from cleaner environment and better health.

Climate change as an issue is forcing us all to change our mindset, as it challenges the prevalent short-termism built into our financial and political cycles. The ones who will position themselves best will reap the greatest rewards economically and socially.

The V-4 political leaders should take note and finally do the best thing for their countries and their own children, who will otherwise be part of the next generation inheriting the climate and economic problems.

Author bio

Linda Zeilina is director of the RE-DEFINE think tank, and Think Visegrad Fellow at the Europeum Institute for European Policy.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Four states block EU 2050 carbon neutral target

Poland, with the support from the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Estonia, blocked a commitment to climate neutrality by 2050. It is now just a footnote in the summit conclusions.

The Visegrád dream deteriorates

Czech president Václav Havel hoped that the region, with its 40-year experience of communism, could play a major and audacious role in the future of a never-changing Europe. That isn't happening.

Covid-19 recovery: How to miss the target even with a bazooka

Nicknamed the "European bazooka", the €672.5bn coronavirus recovery fund gives EU states €312.5bn in grants and €350bn in loans - but some countries have already said they won't use these long-term loans, at very low-interest rates. Why not?

Orbán leaves EPP group - the beginning of a long endgame

Aside from the EPP, Hungary was also protected - at a member states' level - by key bilateral partners; and not only illiberal countries like Poland, Bulgaria or recently Slovenia - but most importantly also by Germany.

Belarusian spring: finding hope in dark times

These are dark times in Belarus, with the government tightening the screws like never before. They are preparing for spring just as much as the opponents of the regime are.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  3. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!

Latest News

  1. Frontex's 'serious incident reports' - revealed
  2. Women hit 'disproportionately' hard by Covid-19, report finds
  3. EU 'Future' Conference plus Covid recovery talks This WEEK
  4. Covid-19 recovery: How to miss the target even with a bazooka
  5. Who cares? Precarious situation facing 21st century heroines
  6. China and Russia abusing corona for geopolitics, Lithuania says
  7. Worries on Europe's infection surge, after six-week drop
  8. EU wants large firms to report on gender pay-gap or face fines

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us