Boyan Rashev: Climate-neutrality by 2050 is not an achievable goal

There is no way to decrease CO2 emissions by additional 30% within 10 years only, the cost will be enormous

Currently, the EU is at 20% emission reduction - achieved within 30 years. However, this includes the collapse of industry in Eastern Europe. Most coal-fired power generation in Western Europe is closed, the low-hanging fruits of energy efficiency are already taken. But there is no way to decrease CO2 emissions by additional 30% within 10 years only, says Boyan Rashev, environmental management expert and a Managing Partner at Denkstatt.

In mid-December, the new College of the European Commission presented The European Green Deal - a roadmap for making the EU's economy sustainable by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities. President Ursula von der Leyen called it EU's new growth strategy. Are the goals that the Union sets for itself accomplishable?

No, the big goal for climate-neutrality by 2050 is NOT achievable. The interim goal for 50% reduction (compared to 1990) is absolutely unrealistic.

Currently, the EU is at 20% emission reduction - achieved within 30 years. However, this includes the collapse of industry in Eastern Europe (most EE countries have about 40-50% emission reductions due to this). It also includes the escape of heavy industry away from the EU - to countries like China, Turkey and India. Most coal-fired power generation in Western Europe is closed, the low-hanging fruits of energy efficiency are already taken. There is no way to decrease CO2 emissions by additional 30% within 10 years only. The cost will be enormous. And Eastern European countries and citizens are not ready to pay it because fighting climate change is not a priority here.

What is the essence of this “deal”, and what are the major tasks which the EU sets to accomplish before 2050?

The essence is to dedicate a huge part of EU resources to achieving climate-neutrality. We are talking about €1 trillion in the next 10 years. The major tasks include full decarbonisation of energy use - no coal, oil and gas in energy consumption. The other big task is to achieve a higher level of circular economy - to make sure materials are used longer in the economy before they are burned or dumped. Then, there is the idea of cleaning the environment and saving biodiversity. And all this should happen while maintaining economic growth and ensuring higher level of well-being for Europeans. However, I do not think this is feasible. For example decarbonisation and circular economy clash in many respects - circular economy expects you to maintain and drive your car as long as possible; decarbonisation expects you to sell your old diesel car now and get a new EV that costs a fortune.

Are Europe and mankind as a whole ready to curb carbon emissions, restore the health of our natural environment and protect our wildlife, and do we have available the technologies for it?

Europe has achieved a lot in cleaning the environment and protecting wildlife. In fact, the state of the environment here is much better than 30 years ago. Many other countries in the world are also advancing. However, curbing carbon emissions is a completely different story. It is extremely difficult as the whole energy system heavily depends on fossil fuels. Theoretically, we have the necessary tech, such as batteries and hydrogen, but they are still prohibitively inefficient and expensive.

Last month, at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid, the talk was of a climate and environmental emergency. Apocalyptic rhetoric prevailed. Do you think that the wealthy countries are capable of ditching their selfishness and will actually do something concrete for the planet?

Wealthy countries are doing a lot. For example, Germany paid a huge part of the development process of solar and wind energy, and China now is producing most of these installations. But wealthy countries cannot decrease their emissions as fast as they are expected to do. This magic is not available.

The “point of no return” is a typical activist and political speculation. There is no such moment. The climate will not break down tomorrow.

Actually, why do every state and company have this mindset of growth at all costs? Lots and lots of computers, all kinds of gadgets and clothes are produced, foods are wasted. Where to are we drifting, having in mind the drastic overuse of natural resources and the environmental pollution?

There is no “drastic” overuse of natural resources and environmental pollution. This is a myth. The world as a whole is actually getting better and greener. Growth is extremely important so that we are able to maintain this positive trend. Because we need energy for collection and recycling of materials, for waste water treatment, for heating and cooling, etc.

Only CO2 emissions are still rising. They will continue doing so in the near future.

The COP25 climate talks ended with no deal on carbon markets. The 16 days of negotiations proved to be too short a time for finding a common ground for adopting international rules regulating the carbon emissions trading. What is the collision of interests in this sphere about?

I am very sceptical about a global deal on carbon. Every country has a clear interest to grow economically, which practically means to increase energy use and carbon emissions. Poor countries are in this discussion for the $100 billion per year offered by developed countries for climate adaptation. However, the money is not there as the United States refused to participate. The European Union cannot pay the whole bill.

Let me ask, as a non-expert: why should carbon emissions be traded at all, why don't the developed countries make their production more environmentally friendly instead of buying carbon credits from the poorer states while increasing emissions and polluting more?

Carbon trading helps reduce global emissions at lower costs which is achievable in poor countries. However, it cannot help achieve global targets if there is no global ceiling of carbon emissions. And this cannot be established if the largest economy, the United States, does not want to have it. China, India, Southeast Asia, Africa - all of them would not accept restrictions on carbon emissions as they need huge growth of energy use to catch up with rich countries.

Many analysts called the COP25 in Madrid the biggest flop in terms of lack of political will on the part of the big countries. How far will we get if they go on shirking their responsibilities?

The United States, China, Japan, Australia and Russia did not send their heads of state to the COP25. This effectively means that they do not care about the process. The EU is the only large economy that is interested in it. The process has been going up and down ever since Rio 1992 when the Convention on Climate Change was signed.

It is interesting to note that the global economy had been slowly decarbonising during the whole 20th century. This means the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of produced energy has been gradually decreasing. The process stopped around the year 2000. There are two major reasons: a) the rise of China with its growing energy needs; and b) the fall of nuclear energy after Chernobyl and Fukushima.

There is absolutely no way to decrease CO2 emissions significantly without using a lot of nuclear power.

At a recent meeting in Sarajevo, experts warned that rivers in the Balkans are at risk from hydropower plants. Concerns have been raised that small plants are being built for profit without any regard for local communities and local eco-systems. Is this what's happening in Bulgaria now as well?

This has already happened in Bulgaria. Small hydropower plans (HPPs) have been subsidised due to EU climate policies. There were more than 1,000 projects in Bulgaria. About half of them were realised. Many of our wild rivers were cut in 10-kilometre stretches and have 5-6 small HPPs. Most of them belong to or can be connected to former members of the Bulgarian Parliament and other state-related businessmen. This is a typical example of perverse incentive triggered and fed by EU climate policies.

And it is not unique to Bulgaria. A study of a Swedish university demonstrated that 70% of the projects funded under the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto protocol did not cover the additionality criteria. Simply said, they were international fraud involving billions of dollars that went into carbon reduction projects.

Close-up

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 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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