Boyan Rashev: A 55% emissions cut is unattainable under a growth scenario

If there is no individual country commitment the goal is absolutely unachievable

Unless we discover and implement very quickly a revolutionary energy technology - like nuclear fusion, much cheaper batteries or much cheaper “green” hydrogen - there will be no chance to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Moreover, CO2 emissions will not even decrease significantly by then. However, it could be expected that most of the money will flow towards renewable energy, energy efficiency, battery production, electrification and hydrogen initiatives as these are seen as “sustainable” investments. Some businesses will benefit a lot but the overall economic impact is questionable. But I tend to be an optimist and I do not believe we will commit a suicide, says Boyan Rashev, environmental management expert and a Managing Partner at Denkstatt.

European Union leaders agreed on 11 December on a goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by the end of this decade, compared with 1990 levels. Once again, the question is: “Is this goal achievable?”

No, the goal is not achievable under any scenario based on significant economic growth in Europe. It could be achieved only in case the EU gets smaller - in terms of population, economy and energy use. But I tend to be an optimist and I do not believe we will commit a suicide.

Some 30% of the record €1.82 trillion package, which includes the new seven-year budget and a coronavirus recovery fund, is to be invested in efforts that help Member States, regions and sectors carry out this deep social and economic transformation. Is it clear where specifically the money will be allocated?

The national mechanisms are under development so there are no final decisions yet. However, it could be expected that most of the money will flow towards renewable energy, energy efficiency, battery production, electrification and hydrogen initiatives as these are seen as “sustainable” investments. Some businesses will benefit a lot but the overall economic impact is questionable as the final energy costs for consumers will continue increasing, and most metals, machinery and equipment will actually be produced abroad.

Are there mechanisms in place to guarantee that the coronavirus recovery is green and the money is not invested in old, polluting industries?

In most of the 'old' Member States maybe yes. In Eastern Europe lots of money will flow into polluting industries as they are usually in a very close relation to the government. Just an example - the oldest and dirtiest lignite power plants in Bulgaria have been receiving a price premium for cogeneration of electricity and heat for a decade. There is no reason to believe that anything will suddenly change tomorrow.

To secure support from Eastern European countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, which rely heavily on coal as a source of energy, EU leaders agreed that the new goal will be met collectively. Does that mean that emissions reduction will be based on individual countries' potential as Warsaw insists - on gross domestic product?

I am not aware of the exact situation with the negotiations. If there is no individual country commitment, then the goal is absolutely unachievable. In some years politicians in charge will be substituted and the promises will be forgotten.

Poland also managed to extract a commitment from the EU that the emissions trading system will be revamped. What direction might that process take?

I do not know. The Commission is using the EU ETS as a political instrument to decrease GHG emissions in a “market-like” manner. However, the plans to include transport and heating might backfire as they will most probably lead to public outrage. Increasing energy prices during an economic downturn is a recipe for a political disaster.

Last year, EU leaders agreed that nuclear energy will be part of the solution. Is this a new lease of life for nuclear power plants? Prior to that, Germany's plan was to complete its nuclear phase-out by 2025.

EU leaders finally start to comprehend that achieving ambitious decarbonisation goals requires the use of every possible source of low carbon energy. Nuclear is the most reliable such source. Currently, Germany plans to close all nuclear power by the end of 2022. This will not happen. When the date comes, German politicians will have to say something like: “We really wanted to close them but we believe the climate goals are more important so we need to keep nuclear power.”

If President-elect Joe Biden keeps his promise for the US - the world's second largest producer of greenhouse gases after China - to rejoin the Paris Agreement, what will that move change?

There will be again a huge move to subsidise renewable energy, electric cars and electricity storage. But no matter what the US and the EU do, the reality is very clear - the developing world, including China, India, South-East Asia, Africa, need so much more energy that the rise of CO2 emissions is unstoppable.

Five years after the Paris Agreement was signed, we see progress, but it is insufficient. Considering how uneven and unstable economic development is across the world, is it even reasonable to expect that carbon neutrality can be achieved by 2050?

Unless we discover and implement very quickly a revolutionary energy technology - like nuclear fusion, much cheaper batteries or much cheaper “green” hydrogen - there will be no chance to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Moreover, CO2 emissions will not even decrease significantly by then.

  

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Boyan Rashev is one of the leading sustainability experts in Bulgaria. Since 2007, he has been a Managing Partner at Denkstatt - the premier advisory on natural and social capital management in Bulgaria. Rashev has 15 years of work experience in the fields of environmental management, valuation of ecosystem services and impact assessments, climate change mitigation and adaptation, water management and corporate sustainability. His experience also includes workshop moderation, training courses, presentations and dissemination on sustainability and environmental policy topics as well as managing the diverse stakeholders for major projects and institutions in Bulgaria. Boyan has worked with many different businesses in the mining, energy, retail, telecoms, food & beverage and financial industries as well as institutions such as Sofia Municipality, Ministry of Environment and Water, and the European Commission. He holds a Master of Science degree in Environmental and Resource Management from Brandenburg University of Technology in Cottbus, Germany.

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