Rocky Road to Climate Action
CEE countries facing significant challenges in the allocation of EU funds to environmental action.
Climate action faces many obstacles across Central and Eastern Europe, as different nations across the region tread unique paths towards a climate neutral EU. In Latvia, the draft of the national energy and climate plan (NECP) has been delayed. In contrast, the Czech government highlights the approval of the updated version of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP). Other nations, including Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, are also under review. When it comes to the EU as a whole, environmental action is subject to many significant challenges — for instance, the Nature Restoration Law vote being postponed, in addition to disagreements in energy market reform.
The “Towards a Climate-Neutral EU” project, funded by the European Climate Initiative (EUKI), aims to support the efficient use of EU money for the environment and climate. This is achieved by highlighting best practices and disseminating this information on both a national and international level. Thus, on June 23, 2023, representatives of the eight partner countries — namely, from Latvia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria — met to exchange updates on various climate action issues across Central and Eastern Europe.
The meeting made clear that many partner countries are facing delays when it comes to the development and implementation of climate action plans. For instance, in Latvia, despite public consultations for the RePowerEU scheme (proposal to end EU reliance on Russian fossil fuels), there are significant delays to the draft version of the NECP, as reported by Green Liberty. Slovenia has experienced similar delays to both projects, according to their representative Umanotera. Poland also faces challenges, which were highlighted by the Institute for Sustainable Development Foundation, particularly concerning the speedy implementation of EU funding and mounting pressure on the Do No Significant Harm principle.
Other nations remain focused on the possibility of future problems. Hungary’s representative from CEEweb emphasised the recent corruption scandals around EU-funded projects and how this could affect the implementation of RePowerEU and the National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP). They urged that vigilance over the allocation and usage of these funds remain a top priority, alongside strengthening their social media presence, in order to increase engagement and awareness of environmental causes. Meanwhile, partner Slatinka provided updates on the political situation in Slovakia: with a caretaker government in place until the September elections, the climate landscape seems complicated.
Faster progress is on display in the Czech Republic, with the government approving an updated version of the NRRP, as disclosed by the Centre for Transport and Energy. In Romania, Focus Eco Centre reports that the recent government change saw the beginning of discussions based around the modification of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, with plans to introduce the RePowerEU chapter and decrease allocation due to economic growth.
The European Environmental Bureau provided crucial updates on the wider European landscape, with information centring around activities in Brussels. Positive progress has been made in the form of an agreement between the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) and the Energy Council as part of the Renewable Energy Directive. However, a loophole remains for low-carbon (i.e., nuclear-based) energy sources in Article 22. Disagreements over subsidies for backup coal generation and lifetime extensions for existing nuclear power plants have prevented the Energy Design Reform from reaching a common position. Additionally, progress has been slowed concerning the Nature Restoration Law approval due to significant opposition from the European People’s Party (EEP). This resulted in a postponed vote due to the 2500 amendments presented.
While representatives of the ‘Towards a Carbon Neutral EU’ project did share success stories concerning climate policy, the various updates served to highlight many of the difficulties and obstacles facing climate action across Central and Eastern Europe. Overall, the meeting was a reminder of the diverse and complex climate landscape across the region, and the necessity of a pluralistic approach as we work towards the goal of a climate neutral EU.