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Those who go green will overcome crisis

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The December European Council adopted a plan to invest as much as EUR 200 billion to stimulate the European economy. At the same time, it approved the energy and climate change package. The way the media interpret both of these events sometimes gives the impression that there is a contradiction between the two decisions. But it is quite the opposite.

Investing in the recovery of the European economy is needed, but it has to give rise to jobs that would be sustainable in the long run. In this respect, therefore, the objective of the investment and of the climate package are the same. The key words are savings, modernisation, the diversification of sources and low-carbon technologies. A sort of a “Green New Deal” should be the Czech plan for economic recovery.

We have subsidised savings since April

Europe is facing three big crises at one moment – the financial crisis, the accompanying economic crisis and the long-term climate crisis. At the start of the year, this was joined by the difficulties with Russian gas supplies Europe gets through Ukraine. All this suggests a single solution.

The Czech economy is a good example of the energy savings potential. We can save up to 40% of our current consumption, in particular by modernising the outdated technologies in coal-fired power stations, by increasing significantly the efficiency of electricity distribution and by using more efficient technologies in the industry. However, major energy savings can be achieved much faster – through investment in energy savings in households.

This April the Environment Ministry will launch a subsidy programme, unique in its extent, aimed at supporting household investment in energy savings – thermal insulation for houses and flats, the replacement of windows etc. There will be roughly CZK 10 billion available for the programme already this year, and more billions will be added in the coming years. Apart from that, for more than a year, the Operational Programme Environment has been supporting investment in renewable resources and energy savings in the public sector. We have provided more than CZK 5.7 billion for such projects.

The massive investment of resources raised through the sale of carbon credits for saved greenhouse emissions and the investment of resources from European funds will help not only reduce CO2 further, but will brings savings to households. Our dependance on Russian gas will decrease – it will not be necessary to heat as much and a significant portion of households will use renewable (and domestic!) sources. Apart from that, higher demand for resource-saving technologies, insulation materials and renewable resources will help make their prices affordable for a broader group of customers and also create new jobs.

Uranium is worthless for us

Apart from the emphasis on savings, we also have to focus on the diversification of energy sources. We have to reduce our 75% dependance on Russian gas. At present, we can already take advantage of liquid natural gas (LNG) supplies from Africa, we must not delay the construction of the South Stream, North Stream and Nabucco gas pipelines. But still we cannot forget that the energy balance does not consist of huge centralised sources only. Each individual local project using biomass, geothermal energy, solar or wind energy, reduces our dependance on whether or not Moscow and Kiev reach agreement.

Nuclear energy really is not a solution – we have to buy all fuel for our nuclear power stations. We are not able to get fuel from our own uranium, so we can only sell it. We buy fuel cells for the Dukovany power station in Russia, and Temelín is being adapted to Russian fuel as well. We still do not know what to do with the highly radioactive waste. Moreover, with terrorism increasing, nuclear facilities pose a much bigger security risk than they did ever before. Coal is not a solution either. The gas and economic crises have not stopped climate change, coal reserves have not stopped shrinking, and one simple truth is still in force – with the market price of carbon, investment in coal does not pay off in the long run.

Lower taxes for being environmental-friendly

What we should invest in is new technologies – in all sectors. In product design, the energy sector, industry… The European climate package is the first step to a long-term solution of the economic crisis. But during the Czech EU presidency and in the Czech government, we will also deal with tax reliefs and job creation in the very promising sector of environmentally-friendly technologies.

The answer to the current crises does not lie in forgetting about one of them. But to take each one of them and all together as a challenge and a chance for the future. Next week Barack Obama will take office with his ambitious but well-though out plan for a green recovery of the US economy. It would be very unfortunate if Europe lost its lead ahead of the US it gained under the Bush administration.

The author is a deputy prime minister and the environment minister.

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