EU hopefuls up climate game in Western Balkans

Montenegro is putting its faith in a cap-and-trade system to clean up its heavy industries. [Photo: Shutterstock]

Montenegro and North Macedonia have both pledged to cut emissions and put a price on pollution, as new initiatives in the two Western Balkan countries aim to align climate policies more and more with EU norms and standards.

EU candidate country Montenegro was praised on Monday (24 February) by the bloc’s energy watchdog for introducing new rules to limit greenhouse gases and a carbon market aimed at cleaning up heavy industry.

The legislation lists which operators will be included in the cap and trade scheme, how many pollution permits should be allocated and a minimum price per tonne of carbon dioxide, initially set at €24.

As of this week, the carbon price of the bloc’s emissions trading system (ETS) was around €25.

“Montenegro continues to lead the way in the establishment of a complete system required to reduce GHG, protect the ozone layer and adapt to climate change,” the Energy Community said in a statement.

The new rules also set up a stabilisation reserve, similar to the EU’s own mechanism, which will dictate how emission permits are allocated, transferred and used.

EU membership is dependent on a country securing candidate status from the bloc’s existing members and the successful completion of numerous ‘accession chapters’, which are designed to align legislation and institutions with how the EU does business.

Enlargement criteria are set to be tweaked by the European Commission but under the current system, Montenegro opened up chapter 27 on environment and climate change at the end of 2018.

Ukraine’s own Green Deal aims to slash energy imports

Ukraine’s long-term climate plan could significantly cut reliance on energy imports, its energy ministry suggested last week. But a 2050 phase-out date for coal power has provoked disappointment.

Its government hopes that the new direction for climate policy will prompt industrial facilities to clean up their act, as most do not meet benchmarks set by the EU’s industrial emissions directive (IED).

Countries in the EU’s backyard and even further afield could find their hands forced on emissions-cutting measures. as Brussels has plans to deploy an anti-climate-dumping tool against imports that undercut the bloc’s green ambitions.

The so-called carbon border adjustment mechanism is being designed to prevent carbon leakage, where companies move manufacturing and production capacity outside of the EU’s regulatory reach to regions where environmental standards are less stringent.

EU’s anti-climate-dumping tool worries Russia 

In a sign that Moscow has taken note of the EU’s plan to deploy a carbon border tax, a top Kremlin adviser has urged Russia’s business giants to start adapting now if they want to continue selling their wares in the single market.

Skopje’s green push

Montenegro gets about half of its power from burning lignite coal and it is a similar story in North Macedonia, another EU-aspiring nation. But its government this month adopted a new strategy that could see coal get the heave-ho by 2025.

The draft roadmap sets out three scenarios, one business-as-usual trajectory which would see coal remain in the mix until 2040, and two more ambitious plans that target a phase-out within five years.

“The North Macedonian government clearly understands that the end of coal is looming and has taken the initiative to protect the health of its people, its economy, and our climate,” said climate campaigner Kathrin Gutmann from NGO Beyond Coal.

North Macedonia wins EU praise for pioneering coal-to-solar shift

The European Union energy watchdog praised North Macedonia on Wednesday (19 February) for a pioneering project among EU aspirants to transform an ageing coal mine into two solar power plants, in line with goals to cut pollution and tackle climate change.

Skopje’s energy plan also puts its faith in a cap and trade system, with the three scenarios outlining different dates for their full alignment with the ETS carbon price, ranging from 2023 to 2027.

“The introduction of a carbon price should be seen as an important strategic measure to tackle CO2 reduction in electricity and heat production,” the document states. It also adds that revenues could be funnelled into improving efficiency and clean energy capacity.

North Macedonia holds a parliamentary election on 12 April and a final decision on which energy scenario should be followed will be made later this year. The country’s enlargement timetable will also become more clear, as member states might yet give their unanimous approval to start membership talks.

EU in 'frank' talks with Western Balkan nations seeking membership

European Council president Charles Michel on Sunday (16 February) met with leaders of the six Western Balkan nations seeking to join the EU, for ‘frank’ talks ahead of a key summit in Zagreb in May.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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