Little Bulgaria in the big climate policy

Climate / Bulgaria
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Where are we on the climate map of Europe?

Photo: Prt. Screen / Ministry of Education and Culture

Raya Lecheva

You must think that Bulgaria does not participate in the formation of policies related to dealing with climate change. This is not so.

The European Union is a leader in policies to combat and adapt to climate change, and Bulgaria, as part of the Union, actively participates in these processes. All countries of the European Union have adopted a common commitment to reduce EU emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 and achieve climate neutrality by 2050. This does not mean that the world should stop emitting greenhouse gases and emissions.

The goal is to emit (pollute) as much as nature can absorb, the goal is to maintain the balance we have lost. We can't stop breathing, but we must try with everything we do to do less harm to the environment, and it's up to each of us. Until now we have lived in the world of CO2, of the carbon economy, but the new direction is decarbonization. It is true that there is cyclicality in the world, there have been periods of increase in harmful greenhouse gases, then there have been periods of decline, and so nature has managed to keep the balance. But something unusual happened after 1950, when another great industrial revolution began. Carbon emissions are starting to rise so much that to this day scientists don't see a decline, which is more than worrying. So, they warn that more than ever we need to change our carbon economy.

Today, the alternative to the carbon economy is the hydrogen economy, the scientists are emphatic. Whether this could be the beginning of a new and clean revolution, only time will tell.

Just as each of us can affect nature, so the politics of each country matter. Behind the goals there are many numbers that must be evaluated in detail so that we can manage and not fail.

How are decisions made and policies formed in the EU?

EU policies are initially set by the European Council, which is made up of the leaders of the member states. The European Commission prepares an in-depth analysis and prepares proposals for directives and regulations. The proposals are discussed in different formats by the Council of the EU, made up of ministers from the member states, and the council also has the function of a legislative body. He draws conclusions on the proposals, which are returned to the EC. The necessary legislative changes are identified and trilogues between the Council of the EU, the EC and the European Parliament are started to take into account all points of view and find consensus. Finally, after long debates that can take up to a year, final legislation is adopted on a certain topic, and this information is published in a state gazette.

How does Bulgaria participate in the meetings of the European Council and the Council of the EU?

Our country prepares a draft position, agrees on an amendment and approval by the Council on European Affairs (CEA), the position is adopted by the Council of Ministers, after which it is presented and defended. Climate policies are separated in the Ministry of Environment and Water, which conducts constant negotiations within the Council of the EU on various legislative proposals. After legislation on trade in goods and services, environmental and climate legislation is the most voluminous. On a daily basis, the experts in the "Climate Change Policy" Directorate have to participate in conversations and negotiations and have to present the national position. This is a long and sometimes round-the-clock correspondence with other ministries, branch organizations, non-governmental organizations.

It is not possible to form the national climate policy with the help of only one directorate in a ministry, because this is a horizontal policy, emphasized Boryana Kamenova, director of the "Climate Change Policy" directorate. Climate policy is part of every economic sector and every ministry, she added. However, more capacity is needed for this activity in all ministries. More specialists should be engaged who can participate in the formation and evaluation of the implementation of the climate goals.

The important role of climate policies in the work of every ministry

According to the new rules, each project under both the Recovery and Sustainability Plan and the new programs must be assessed for its impact on the environment.

It happens that we need a quick and timely position on certain topics that concern national policy, because the specific texts at the international level are often sent in a very short time before their discussion, said Silvia Rangelova, director of the Directorate "Coordination on EU Affairs and international cooperation" in the MoEW. We need to have a quick coordination mechanism, which is exceptionally important, she thinks.

Experts do not reflect their personal position, but the position of the state, and it must be consulted with all interested parties and presented as well-argued as possible.

Just a few days ago, the Minister of Environment and Water, Julian Popov, announced that he plans to increase the composition of the Climate Change Policy Directorate in the ministry. The aim is for the experts to be focused on the different sectors of the economy and to assist the ministries in the formation and evaluation of their policies. The eco-minister believes that a large number of state institutions need additional capacity to deal with climate policies. In other countries, climate change policy is led by a separate climate ministry or is part of a ministry, for example the Ministry of Climate and Energy, the Ministry of Climate and Innovation. In Bulgaria, the policy is different, and such an important horizontal role is entrusted to the Advisory Council to the European Green Deal. To what extent this is the most correct platform remains to be seen, but experts are of the opinion that only one directorate in the Ministry of Education and Culture cannot prepare and defend the national climate policy.

The European Green Deal Advisory Board - the platform for the preparation of national policy

Therefore, the role of the Advisory Council on the European Green Deal to the Council of Ministers is extremely important. It was established in 2020, but initially two meetings were held. During the first Petkov cabinet, it was re-formed and its chairman became the Minister of Environment and Water and Deputy Prime Minister for Climate Policy Borislav Sandov. It was planned to create 7 thematic commissions to discuss the problems of individual directions and sectors, including an Energy Transition Commission, but some never formed, such as the Communication Commission to prepare solutions for communication on the road to decarbonization. Today, the role of Chairman of the Advisory Council will be taken by the current Minister of Environment and Water, Julian Popov. During his official offices, his activity sometimes subsided, then became active, but there was no constant rhythm. The Council has established a working mechanism for dialogue with stakeholders. Its main role is to shape the green transition policies, model the different options and find a solution for the country's energy mix in the coming decades. On the basis of his decisions, other national policies are formed, which our country presents to Brussels.

The EU budget foresees over BGN 15 billion for Bulgaria, against which our country must carry out reforms and invest in solutions contributing to the energy independence and climate neutrality of our economy. The process will be complex and to be successful it needs to be managed transparently, with the participation of all interested parties.

Where are we today on the climate map of Europe?

Currently, Bulgaria has approved a voluntary reduction of 40% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2026 compared to 2019. This is the discussion topic under the Recovery and Sustainability Plan. According to the experts of the eco-ministry, this happened without an impact assessment, which is mandatory.

We are the first country to make a voluntary implementation commitment - towards the already clear goal of a 55% reduction in emissions for the entire EU by 2030. In reality, the EU's new goal of climate neutrality by 2050 also lacks an assessment of the impact on all sectors, the economy and people's lives, the experts from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Science pointed out at a climate seminar several days ago. The EU's arguments are that since countries are already achieving a 40% reduction by 2030 compared to 1990, then achieving a 55% reduction by 2030 also seems possible. And will Bulgaria be able to achieve the expected reduction by 2026 compared to 2019? According to other experts, this has already been done.

The new European strategy was adopted on 24 February 2021. It sets out how the European Union can adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change and become climate resilient by 2050. The strategy has four main objectives, namely to make adaptation smarter, faster, more systematically and to strengthen international action to adapt to climate change.

In 2021, the Ready for 55 plan was introduced. It includes a package of 15 initiatives reflecting: the EC's vision for achieving the EU's emission targets for 2030 and 2050.

The strictest rules apply to industries that pollute the most, and for them the European Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading System has been created, in which all countries participate.

Every installation falling within the scope of ESTE must have permits for greenhouse gas emissions. Permitted installations monitor their carbon dioxide emissions and report them annually.

The new agenda

The EC proposes new stricter requirements. The total amount of quotas will be limited. It will stop the free allocation of quotas to sectors covered by the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) – steel/iron, iron, cement, electricity, fertilizers and aluminium, etc. derivatives thereof.

A separate Emissions Trading Scheme will be created, which will include the building stock and road transport. It will regulate fuel suppliers who will have obligations to monitor and report the quantities of fuel they place on the market. They will have obligations to return a corresponding amount of allowances at the end of the year, depending on the carbon intensity of the fuels. There will also be strict energy efficiency requirements for each building. This will increase costs and create practically a new type of tax. Therefore, the EC proposes the creation of a "Social Climate Fund".

After the Kyoto Protocol, the 2015 Paris Agreement is the new global memorandum to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, it provides for voluntary commitments to reduce emissions. Although the European Union is a leader in policy making, it is not among the leading emitters, emitting only 8% of harmful greenhouse gases, unlike the US, China, India, Brazil, Russia.

The goal of the European Union, however, is that all countries at the global level are involved in climate change policies, just as the member states are involved. If for the rest of the countries in the world the commitments are voluntary, then for the EU countries, they are binding and mandatory. International conventions do not have a sanctioning nature, nor do they have a control mechanism. In contrast, European commitments are mandatory and linked to permanent work.

Why is the participation of Bulgarian science in the IPCC important to shape the global climate agenda?

Every year, world leaders gather at the largest international climate forum at the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations, or COP as it is known, which this year will be held in Dubai. World science has an outstanding role for new climate change policies.

In 2023, the IPCC finalized the Sixth Assessment Report on Climate Change. The new report is distinguished by greater certainty and new scientific conclusions. The average surface temperature of the Earth in the last 50 years has been changing at a rate not seen in the last 2000 years. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise in the future, by the end of the century the average temperature of the Earth's surface will rise by up to 4-5°C. Climate change is already impacting numerous extreme weather events in every region of the planet.

Therefore, the participation of Bulgarian science in the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is necessary, where global policies and climate performance goals are formed, as well as their measurement, which takes place according to the international methodology of the IPCC. Until now, among the participants from the scientific community, there are still no representatives from Bulgaria, despite the communication we have with the BAS, Sofia University and other universities despite the invitations, Kamenova said. But the scientific community expresses the position that participation in international organizations is an extremely important task and responsibility that is not paid.

Bulgaria wants to welcome world leaders and actively participate in the new agenda

On the other hand, Bulgaria insists on hosting the largest international climate forum at the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations next year. This was announced by the former Minister of Environment and Water Borislav Sandov, our candidacy was officially announced at COP27 last year in Egypt by President Rumen Radev.

Each year, over 30,000 political leaders, companies and non-governmental organizations from around the world discuss the main challenges facing countries in tackling climate change. It seems that Bulgaria can be a factor in making the most important decisions to combat climate change on its territory. Yes, but it's not exactly like that. Our country was blocked first by Russia, and a few days ago by Belarus. Russia will block any EU country that applies to host the world climate meeting. It is more than clear that Russia will not be chosen either.

The election of the country chairman is carried out on a rotating basis and next year it must be taken by the group of countries from Eastern Europe, in which Bulgaria also falls. Other candidates are Armenia and Azerbaijan, but because of the conflict between them, they are blocking each other, which also makes it unlikely that one of these countries will take the presidency of the next climate meeting. The presidency is then taken over by the group of Latin American countries, with Brazil as the most likely candidate.

If no consensus is reached and the choice of a country from the Eastern European group is not reached, the presidency of the COP will be led by the UAE for the second year in a row. The experts from the Ministry of Education and Culture added that on October 16 the EU Council will take final decisions on the positions the EU will defend at the upcoming Dubai Climate Summit, which will take place from November 30 to December 12 in Dubai.

That is why Bulgaria will propose the countries of South-Eastern Europe to organize COP29 next year, announced the Minister of Environment and Water, Julian Popov.

The idea is that the COP29 talks and negotiations between the negotiating teams and the officials' meetings will take place in Bonn, where the UN Secretariat is located, and that the countries of South East Europe will organize thematic sessions by sector. According to the minister, the countries of Southeast Europe would be interested in participating in a similar format. A final decision on which country will be the next president of the COP is expected to be taken at the latest during the COP28 meeting in Dubai by December 12, explained Silvia Rangelova, Director of the Directorate "Coordination of EU Affairs and International Cooperation" at the MoEW.



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