Since the 2017 Eastern Partnership (EaP) Summit, where the European Union and the EaP countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) endorsed the 20 deliverables for 2020, much was achieved and many benefits are still visible throughout all countries.
Since then, more than 1.5 million jobs were created and the region has become the EU’s 10th trading partner. When it comes to the energy sector, in particular, almost 50 per cent of local authorities in the Eastern Partnership committed to cut CO2 emissions through the Covenant of Mayors, the EU’s trademark initiative for local energy and climate action. Furthermore, better transport links and infrastructure are under development, through the rehabilitation of 4,800 kilometres of roads and railways under the TENT-T Investment Action Plan.
However, much more can be done and the European Commission and its partners, the Council of European Energy Regulators (CEER), the Energy Community Secretariat (EnCS) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) are moving exactly in this direction, launching the second phase of the EU4Energy programme, Promoting the Clean Energy Transition in the Eastern Partnership Countries, which will run until December 2024.
“The Eastern Partnership countries have achieved good progress in the transposition of EU legislation and rapprochement of their energy markets with the EU, taking steps to empower consumers and create an enabling environment for attracting foreign investments,” said Michael Rupp, Team Leader for the European Green Deal and Connectivity in the Eastern Neighbourhood, DG NEAR. “The achievements of EU4Energy thus far underline the Eastern Partnership countries and citizens’ commitment towards European values.”
The second phase of the Programme will contribute to the development of sound legislative and regulatory frameworks for energy, to support the region’s transition to clean energy and the liberalisation of the energy market. It will also address new challenges and opportunities, such as the gradual embedding of digitalisation in all energy-relevant market segments while promoting cost efficiency. The citizens of Eastern partner countries will benefit from a more stable and resilient energy market, empowering consumers and increasing energy security and promoting the development of clean energy.
Important commitments of EaP Energy Ministers
On a governmental level, during the 3rd EaP ministerial meeting on environment and climate change, held on 22 June 2021, Ministers embraced the increased prominence of environmental and climate resilience, which was identified as one of the five long-term objectives for the Eastern Partnership policy beyond 2020.
”The green transition towards sustainable and low-carbon economies will require the very best we have to give,” said Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission during the Ministerial Meeting. “Science tells us that the costs of non-action are too high to bear and the better we invest our money into a green economy of the future the better, stronger, and fast we will recover. I ask Eastern Partners to join this transition in order to position ourselves for global competition and ensure the health and well-being for all.”
And Ministers from the EaP countries responded very well. They said to be willing to work together to develop ambitious strategies for a just transition towards green, climate-neutral economies which, among others, include the reduction of risks associated with waste and chemicals, an increase of the energy efficiency, circularity and resource-efficiency of economies, the uptake of renewable energy sources and the transition to more sustainable and low carbon mobility. They also committed to promoting sustainable farming and a more resilient forestry sector, contributing to the enhancement of carbon sinks. Also, they pledged to strengthen efforts to achieve the zero pollution target for soil, air and water and especially to promote awareness-raising, inclusiveness and responsibility of the population.
To reach all these goals, a new element was included in the post-2020 Recovery, Resilience and Reform agenda: an Economic and Investment plan which will mobilise 2.3 billion euros from the EU budget, in grants, blending and guarantees. Overall, the new plan aims to invest reduce energy consumption in 250,000 housed by 20 per cent at least and to get access to safe water and clean air to 3 million people in 300 different cities. Of course, each country has a specific starting point and unique flagship initiatives are being promoted. For example, Armenia aims to make Yerevan a green and smart city improving energy efficiency and increasing the number of green buses. In Azerbaijan, one of the priorities is to support the green port Baku. In Belarus, there are programmes to improve energy efficiency, waste management and infrastructure. On the other hand, Ukraine is betting on supporting the uptake of renewable hydrogen.
The importance of a legislative framework that benefits consumers
However, a sound legislative and regulatory framework is essential, now more than ever. For Annegret Groebel, president of the CEER, independent regulators have an important role in placing the energy sector under a legal framework that benefits consumers.
“Green transition policies should help consumers to reduce their carbon footprint, improve energy efficiency, especially in buildings and speed up the transformation of energy markets by enabling the take-up of new technologies, sustainable energy carriers and new business models,” she tells CEENERGYNEWS. “Irrespective of the roles that consumers may assume, CEER believes that everyone must have access to trustworthy and clear information, allowing them to make informed choices in a complex environment. With such knowledge, active consumers can seize the opportunities available, to participate in the energy transition by, for example, making use of flexibility options which also reduces their bills.”
According to her, tools must be in place to provide advice and support to help consumers understand their energy use.
“At the same time,” she adds, “rules for protecting consumer data and for data management (including non-discriminatory access and authorised use) must be rigorously respected. Furthermore, it is important to incentivise efficient use of energy by all consumers.”
Energy efficiency: still the main challenge
Still, challenges remain and Mrs Groebel mentions the importance of improving energy efficiency across all sectors.
“In all EaP countries further improvement of the functioning of energy markets for the benefit of producers and consumers, strengthening national energy legislative and regulatory frameworks in line with the Energy Community treaty, where applicable and relevant bilateral commitments and EU standards are necessary,” she highlights.
“Further, the EaP region needs to realise the full potential of renewable energy and promote innovation. The protection of the rights of all consumer groups, in particular, vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, such as the energy-poor or those with a lower level of digital literacy is essential in all development phases.”
Additionally, most of these countries are corridors and carriers of natural gas, something that must be taken into account when talking about reaching carbon neutrality.
“Currently, the most important steps towards carbon neutrality in the Eastern Partnership countries are the improvement of energy efficiency in all sectors and the deployment of renewable energy,” Mrs Groebel says. “The European Union will also support the countries to investigate options for renewable hydrogen generation and use. Until the full potential of energy efficiency, RES and hydrogen is realised, natural gas will certainly play a considerable role in the economies of the Eastern Neighbourhood countries, whilst looking to reduce methane emissions the EaP countries, just as reducing methane emissions from gas infrastructure within the EU as part of the Green Deal is an important priority in moving toward carbon neutrality.”
Now, two upcoming events will be crucial for the Eastern Partners to prove their support in reaching the ambitious EU goals on climate and biodiversity: first the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow and the Eastern Partnership summit planned for December 2021, key events to enhance regional and country-specific policy dialogue on transition towards carbon neutrality, resilient and green economies.