Slashing smog in V4

‘Governments should learn from the Bundesrepublik, start viewing energy from a different perspective and get working.’

Vojtech Kotecky
19 January 2017

When Stocznia Gdańsk faced a crisis in shipbuilding, it discovered an entirely new market: the manufacturing of wind power plants. This peculiar story from one of the more storied and iconic industrial plants in Visegrad pointed to possibly the most reasonable course for developing a sound V4 climate policy.

Instead of engaging in bitter climate debates, perhaps we should start talking about something more productive.

Few people view Zelená úsporám as a climate policy. Nevertheless, the highly successful scheme which helps Czech families to insulate their homes and purchase clean heating, is, in fact, an ambitious effort to cut household reliance on fossil fuels.

And a recently adopted Polish law provides for at least 200,000 households to buy their own solar roofs, launching a new citizen-based energy sector in the country.

Smart homes and micro-electricity production, nuclear reactors and farmwaste biogas, electric vehicles and municipal windfarms may cut carbon emissions substantially. But they also slash smog, energy bills and fuel imports while recharging the economy – none of which would count as controversial policy objectives in the Visegrad countries.

More than 100 people a year die prematurely due to local air pollution from Hungary’s Matra coal power plant alone – and there are several dozen similar plants across the V4.

Heating homes in Visegrad countries is, as it stands, largely a massive transfer of wealth from Central European families to Gazprom.

The Slovak economy alone paid € 1.2 billion for the net import of natural gas in 2014. We need, and want, to deal with these problems.

Strangely enough, Energiewende might be an inspiration here. A Germany-style nuclear ZAGATA 2012 phase-out is not exactly something the Visegrad public strives for. But while we may disagree on objectives, key planks of the German energy reform – power decentralisation, robust investment in energy efficiency, deep innovation in energy system – are useful for V4 countries.

Instead of continued laments about our destiny, governments should learn from the Bundesrepublik, start viewing energy from a different perspective and get working.

This will help us to find approaches on climate – as well as energy – policy that unite us with our neighbours, instead of focusing on divisive issues.

Vojtech Kotecky is a former campaign director at Friends of the Earth Czech Republic (Hnut. DUHA), an environmental group, works as an analyst in Prague-based Glopolis think tank.