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Water protection and a just transition as the main pillars of the new Czech energy policy

At the end of 2021, a new government took office in the Czech Republic, led by Prime Minister Petr Fiala. The current situation is already hard enough to handle, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused a high number of deaths and infections throughout the country. The new government also faces the threats posed by climate change, a race against time if we want to reach our 2050 targets, while citizens are affected by record-high energy prices, four times higher than in October 2020.

A smart, modern, efficient State which defends the EU’s democratic principles. This is the vision for the Czech Republic in the next four years as presented by the Prime Minister who, last week, won a vote of confidence in the lower house of parliament. Now, the hard work can begin. As president Miloš Zeman said, it is time to do “something useful to leave behind.”

The pillars of the energy programme

The protection of the environment, measures in support of climate adaptation and mitigation, the preservation of natural resources, landscape and biodiversity are among the priorities of the new government.

“The Green Deal is an opportunity for us to significantly modernise the Czech economy and increase the quality of life by investing in a sustainable development, clean and renewable resources and switching to a circular economy,” reads the statement, adding that all the specific measures that will be taken into account will also consider the social impacts and the specific conditions of the Czech Republic within the EU.

One of the first announcements – and a long-awaited one – concerned the date of the coal phase-out, which is scheduled for 2033.

“The year 2033 is the result of internal political talks among political parties in the new government coalition and was anchored in a government declaration,” the new minister of Environment, Anna Hubáčková tells CEENERGYNEWS. “The date itself comes from one of the scenarios discussed by the Coal Commission, which modelled different years of coal phase-out.”

Despite different deadlines being on the table (an earlier coal exit in 2033 and a later one in 2043), the Czech Coal Commission suggested withdrawing from coal mining by 2038, a year that the former government considered as a “balanced compromise.” Not of the same idea was the International Energy Agency (IEA) which reminded the country of the need to prepare for an earlier phase-out of coal and develop low-carbon energy sources to replace it.

Thus, it is a strong and clear sign the one given by the new government. However, some are still concerned that even 2033 is too late, being three years after the date recommended in the Paris Agreement.

Oldřich Sklenář, Research Fellow at AMO Research Center reminds us that the original term was derived from the earlier date of the coal phase-out in Germany.

“The current shift towards 2033 has been influenced by several factors,” he tells CEENERGYNEWS. “These include, above all, the economic reality, especially the development of the price of emission allowances as an earlier coal phase-out could bring savings on the purchase of emission allowances. In addition to that, the availability of relevant EU funds from which energy transformation can be financed also plays a motivating role.”

For him, another factor could be the opportunity to support economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic through increased investment in energy infrastructure with possible positive macroeconomic impacts.

“On the other hand, many experts see phase-out to 2030 to be difficult to achieve,” he continues. “Especially given the speed of replacement of current coal resources. In 2020, coal still accounted for 38 per cent of electricity generation while renewables accounted for only 13 per cent.”

Indeed, to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, more concrete and ambitious measures must be set up, such as the predicted installations of photovoltaic on at least 100,000 roofs by 2025.

Minister Hubáčková reveals that in 2023, they will introduce a new keystone document of climate policy: the Climate Protection Policy of the Czech Republic.

“This document must react on the EU 2030 climate and energy goals and prepare a roadmap to achieve climate neutrality by the year 2050,” she explains. “The Policy will be submitted to the government by to end of 2023 together with another important policy paper: the new State energy policy.”

Water to be protected by Constitutional law

One of the pillars of the new Czech energy programme is the protection of water, a logical step, as perceived by Mr Sklenář, especially considering the expected impacts of climate change on the country.

“Existing models anticipate droughts, mainly due to the uneven distribution of precipitation throughout the year (the total annual precipitation should not change much) and increased evaporation caused by rising temperatures,” he underlines. “In some areas, drought problems can be already observed during summer seasons.”

Minister Anna Hubáčková.

A logical step also if we think that the new Minister, Anna Hubáčková is a graduate of the Department of Water Management at the Brno University of Technology and has devoted her life to protecting sources of drinking water.

“For me as a new minister of environment is water protection one of the most important topics,” she says. “The immediate goal is preparing and before the end of year submitting to the government a proposal for a constitutional law about water protection. In 2022, we will also be working on the revision of the legislation in the field of investigation and managing of ecological accidents and we will propose legislative changes while also strengthening fines for environmental damaging.”

Minister Hubáčková goes on to say that other goals are connected with the financial support for improving the retention ability of landscape and restoring natural water regimes like reviving small water ponds, marshlands or small streams and rivers.

“Also,” she adds, “a support for new sources of drinking water and connected infrastructure as well as a legislative support for green and blue infrastructure, including greening urban areas.”

The importance of RES in phasing out coal

Other goals include the extension of protected areas with the creation of the Křivoklátsko and the Soutok National Parks. Also, new legislative changes are expected to protect habitats and biodiversity, targeting the illegal killing and trading of animals. In 2022, the Ministry will present an amendment to the Act on the Protection of the Agricultural Land Fund with the aim of integrating landscape elements into the agricultural landscape, supporting the natural regeneration of the mining areas after the coal phase-out. 

Other than regenerating the area, Oldřich Sklenář hopes to see also a replacement of existing coal resources using RES.

“The current debate on energy revolves around a new nuclear plant in Dukovany, however, according to the current plan, the new block should be launched in 2036 at the earliest, which is too late from the point of view of the coal phase-out, notwithstanding the fact that its output can theoretically replace only a fraction of the installed coal capacity,” he states, adding that “we must therefore draw up a realistic plan to replace coal without introducing new nuclear resources, so there is no other way than renewables in combination with increased energy efficiency.”

Photo:Petr Fiala/Twitter.

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