Bulgaria calls for EU help to phase out coal

File photo/ Borissov at the EU summit on 2 October 2020. [Council Newsroom]

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has asked European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for a “plan” to support the country coal phase-out, saying Bulgaria’s own capacity was insufficient to achieve the bloc’s 2030 climate goals.

The European Commission has proposed an EU-wide emissions reduction target of at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, while the European Parliament has recently called for a 60% cut.

A group of eleven western EU countries, including France and the Netherlands, have issued a joint statement before the summit in support of the 55% target.

But Borissov said that “the limit” of Bulgaria’s own capacity was 40% and made it clear that the country needed the Commission’s support to meet the common EU target. He did not elaborate on what form this assistance could take.

Coal power plants in Bulgaria accounted for 45.9% of total electricity generation in 2017. The country considers that its own coal reserves could fuel power generation for the next sixty years.

“We strongly support the fight against climate change, environmental protection, low-carbon emissions,” Borissov said at the Council doorstep.

“But at the same time we want the European Commission to come up with a plan for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, where the vast majority of their energy is coal. Such is the case in Bulgaria – almost 60% of our energy is produced from coal,” Borissov said.

The Bulgarian prime minister said he had agreed with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen that Bulgarian experts working on the topic will send a letter as soon as possible identifying all the problems the country would face if it decides to accelerate the coal phase-out.

Attacking the opposition

The Bulgarian Prime Minister, who is under pressure to resign in his country for alleged corruption, didn’t miss the opportunity to attack the opposition for backing ambitious climate policies in the European Parliament while supporting the coal sector at home.

MEPs from the socialist and liberal groups, as well as one dissident MEP from Borrisov’s own party, Radan Kanev, have voted for the 60% target in the European Parliament.

As part of the 2020 State of the Energy Union, the European Commission published a report on Bulgaria on Wednesday, which calls on the country to commit to a clear deadline to phase out coal.

“Bulgaria does not plan to phase out coal yet,” the Commission notes in the report, saying that Bulgaria’s national energy and climate plan (NECP) is “not complemented with details or quantitative analysis” for the transition to a carbon-neutral economy.

“The lack of information on how and when the coal phase-out required to achieve the proposed reductions set out in the NECP will take place makes it difficult to assess whether the impact presented is due to decarbonisation or to existing structural issues,” the Commission writes.

The EU executive invites Bulgaria to consider “measures supporting a coal phase-out strategy with a clear timeframe commitment and ensuring a just transition of coal and lignite-reliant areas, accompanied by a clear strategy for promoting renewable energy”.

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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