Czech environmental activist: EC’s 2030 framework for climate and energy policies is a big disappointment

Foto: František Tichý

The European Commission on Wednesday unveiled a proposed framework for climate and energy policies up until 2030, targeting a 40% carbon cut and a 27% share of renewables. Czech environmentalists say the goals outlined fall short of expectations and are bad news for the Czech Republic. I discussed the proposed action plan with Vojtěch Kotecký of the environment group Friends of the Earth.

Vojtěch Kotecký,  photo: Ondřej Vrtiška
“Well, I think that oil executives and Russian ambassadors across Europe will sleep very well tonight because the European Commission basically proposes to abandon any efforts to substantially decrease our reliance on oil, gas and coal in the coming decades. This is the time when we should roll up our sleeves and start working on a European Union which will be less dependent on oil and gas imports and on dirty coal energy but instead of that the commission proposed only very weak action which will not require substantial investment. This will kill jobs across Europe, it will keep our high dependency on Russian oil and gas and it means that we will continue to breathe dirty air from coal power plants.”

The proposed plan includes a 40% carbon cut target. Is that inadequate?

“The 40 percent target for greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 is extremely weak – it is a very small step to dealing with the climate change problem.”

So what do you think is behind this “concession” as you see it?

“I think that the European Commission is not prepared to propose a visionary, bold plan which would reduce our dependence on coal, oil and gas and it has reduced the proposed legislation to minor steps that will improve our climate change performance but will not deal properly either with that problem nor with our dependence on fossil fuels.”

In your reaction to this proposal you say it is particularly bad news for the Czech Republic –can you explain why?

“Well, the Czech Republic is one of the countries that are heavily dependent on gas and oil imports on the one hand and on the other it is one of those countries where people pay high energy bills because we rely on gas heating, oil imports and other fossil fuels. We need technologies and innovations that will reduce our bills and use the opportunities that we have across the economy for green solutions and the European Commission seems to have abandoned those opportunities.”

You have been critical of the outgoing Rusnok government for its energy policy and expect a change of policy from the new center-left government – what would you like to see?

Richard Brabec,  photo: Czech Television
“Well, Prime Minister Sobotka’s coalition says that it wants to come with a new legislation that would cut our reliance on fossil fuels and the coalition agreement includes several items that would kick-start green solutions across the economy – the question however is what will happen when the government starts debating individual pieces of legislation, but it seems that the overall approach of at least some of the Social Democrats and ANO politicians in the new government is promising. The question is what happens later. “

Let’s talk about the nominated environment minister Richard Brabec. Environment activists in this country have been up in arms over his nomination because he is seen as an industrialist rather than someone who would defend green issues, but now they have given him a period of grace. How do you feel about him?

“We have mixed feelings about the new minister. On the one hand he is the former boss of a big chemicals factory and a member of the Union of Chemical Industry, in other words there is an obvious conflict of interests, on the other hand, he seems to be a politician who is willing to talk, who is open to debate and we think we will be able to discuss issues with him and we are ready to talk in the coming months. “

But you will clearly be watching him very closely?

“Well, I think that the general public and environmental groups will be watching the new minister very closely and in particular any decisions relating to the chemical industry will be under very close scrutiny from all corners in the Czech Republic.”

What are the main challenges ahead for the new minister, as you see it?

“The new minister will have to come with new legislation which will increase recycling which has been struggling in the Czech Republic in recent years, he needs to deal with the situation in nature conservation in our national parks that have been under attack from developers and perhaps more importantly, the new government promised to come with new legislation that would start dealing with our reliance on oil, gas and coal, the Czech economy’s reliance on fossil fuels. This will be one of the major issues for the new minister of the environment.”

Do you feel that the economic crisis has marginalized green issues in this country?

Ostrava,  photo: František Tichý,  Czech Radio
”The economic crisis did divert at least some of our attention to other issues than the environment, that’s clear. On the other hand, it opened new perspectives that enabled all of us to view environmental solutions as something that can be helpful for the economy and a typical example of this is energy efficiency. There has been a very strong demand both from politicians and the public for bold new projects that would support families and municipalities that want to invest in energy efficiency in buildings and in small-scale renewable energy and I think that to some extent this is caused by the economic crisis, the recession and high fuel bills.”

How effective is pressure from environmental activists and why are green parties relatively weak in this country?

“I think the green parties’ weakness has nothing to do with the environment in this country. There are political reasons and a history of political decisions behind this trend and I do not think that this in any way reflects public interest in environmental issues. It seems to me that the public understands more and more that environmental issues are not just about green principles. They are about everyday solutions that will be visible in our life whether it is about decisions regarding the landscape and cities we live in, or air-pollution, recycling and supporting solutions that will decrease our energy bills.”

But surely some of these policies would be easier to defend and push through with a green party in parliament?

“Yes, well obviously in the past the Green party was much more open to environmental issues than some other parties are but on the other hand a certain advantage from the Green party’s disappearance from national politics is that politicians in other parties – and you will always need politicians from other parties to vote for green legislation – no longer view environmental issues as green party issues and they understand this is something that they, also, need to deal with.”

Are they ready to act on them though, or do they just pay lip service to these issues?

"There are politicians in mainstream parties who are definitely interested in environmental issues and want to deal with them and the incoming prime minister seems to be one of them, on the other hand Czech politics is very close to big companies, especially big coal and energy companies, and over the last four to six years there has been a clear trend of the big parties very close relationship with those vested interests."

So that is one of the big issues that needs to be addressed…

Photo: European Commission
"Yes, obviously and I think that the very close relationship between political parties and the big companies, which is visible in the environmental agenda is one of the major reasons for a big national debate about anti-corruption measures and the current discussion about a package of anti-corruption bills that are being debated in parliament right now. This is something that will definitely improve political decision making on environmental issues."