A Green Advantage for the CEE Region Middle-income economies can get ahead of the bigger players by taking the green shortcut. Photo: Pixabay

A Green Advantage for the CEE Region

Middle-income countries, including those in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), are better positioned to develop a green economy, a regional forum concluded in Sofia, Bulgaria. Despite some challenges, these countries should stop thinking that nothing is up to them and take advantage of the opportunities available to improve both nature and their economies, experts say.

Ahead of the big players

Middle-income countries are of key importance because they represent such a large group globally that they are in fact an economic power larger than more developed, wealthier economies. And, in many cases, they are also located in places where nature and ecosystems are still relatively well preserved. Thus was the opinion stated by Veselina Kavrakova, WWF’s Country Manager for Bulgaria, at the The Economics for a Living Planet forum organised by WWF Bulgaria on June 8, 2017. Kavrakova pointed out that countries in this group have the opportunity to take a leading role in addressing the need for a new way of implementing a green economy on a global scale. And at the same time, these countries can also increase and guarantee their economic development.

“In rich economies, development has happened at the expense of the environment and now huge investments are needed. Part of those billions needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals are in fact required to repair the large amount of damage already sustained”, commented the expert.

“Middle-income countries should see it as an opportunity to leapfrog into the future and not only from an environmental point of view but from an economical point of view”, stated Deon Nel. Photo: Yanne Golev / WWF Bulgaria

Deon Nel, WWF Global Conservation Director, also sees advantages for the middle-income countries to be ahead of rich economies where the transition to renewable energies requires shutting down existing coal stations and building renewable energy plants.

“Middle-income countries need to embrace the distinct advantage that they have over other countries that have far more resources locked into older technologies. They should see it as an opportunity to leapfrog into the future and not only from an environmental point of view but from an economical point of view. Renewable energies are currently competing very favourably with fossil fuels. In five to 10 years time this will be even better.”

Kalin Klasanov, co-founder and COO of Roo’bar, agrees that business benefits from a green economy. His company is engaged in the production of organic food made with raw materials that were grown in a way that doesn’t pollute the environment and without harmful chemicals and pesticides. Klasanov adds that some cars used by its employees are hybrid as well and that in the future the company plans to invest in renewable energy sources for the facility’s buildings.

“With everything we do we try to minimise our footprint”, Klasanov explained. According to him, there are many things that a company can do to help the environment while also minimising expenses. He believes that Roo’bar’s financial revenue to some extent lies in the trust people have in their product and their mission.

Common challenges

Contrary to the opportunities found in middle-income countries, Apostol Dyankov, regional coordinator at WWF’s Danube Carpathian Programme, highlights some challenges too.

“First challenge is political – to realise our role on the world stage and to stop thinking that we are small and nothing depends on us”, Dyankov said. According to him, one issue facing Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) countries is their need to realise the importance of new regional partnerships and their role as a leader both within and outside the European Union as they deal with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Through a video message at the Economics for a Living Planet forum, the European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, pointed out the EU financial opportunities for the development of green economies. “Horizon 2020, the EU fund for research and innovation, is setting aside 650 million euros for circular economy projects. Several billions of regional funding are available for EU member states to move away from landfills to recycling”, Vella commented. He also added that the “Commission recently proposed to extend the European Fund for Strategic Investments and to link these funds the the COP 21 Climate Deal”.

There is no conflict between socio-economic development and conservation of the natural and cultural heritage

Another big challenge for CEE countries is directing such funding to where it is needed most and to where financial returns would be biggest, believes Dyankov. According to WWF it is required to address the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in such a way that would lead to socio-economic opportunities as well. “We say it is time to stop thinking about a conflict between socio-economic development and conservation of the natural and cultural heritage.”

Particularly in regions with low socio-economic development where big amounts of funding are driven, key partnerships could lead to the successful development of a green economy, Dyankov believes. “We can’t accept as a maxim that only the dirty kind of development, such as coal mining, can give job opportunities to those regions. We should rather strive for a new type of economy that is emission-free, based on new mobile technologies and new renewable energy sources that could economically revitalise these areas.”

EU Commissioner Vella stressed that “the transition to a more circular economy needs to be embraced by everyone involved – that means policy makers, businesses, NGOs and the general public”. However, some of the old industries have already been heavily developed in the region and are deeply entrenched. The established position of these sectors, such as coal, could thus very well slow the transition to greener economies and affect the successful development of newer resources and technologies.

According to Apostol Dyankov, endless support of a disappearing industry is neither expedient nor possible, and renewable energy sources are competitive and more cost-effective than traditional sources of energy such as coal and nuclear energy in any event. “Therefore, the lobbies associated with these old fossil-based industries are increasingly resorting to this type of protectionism that is observed with Trump and also in Poland.”

For all countries to move in one direction, the expert says, it must be clearly demonstrated that the older types of industry are harmful. And, more importantly, an alternative form of development must be considered and adopted as the areas that housed these outdated sectors would otherwise be left abandoned and locals would have no means of supporting themselves.

“Not everything is money”, says Kalin Klasanov, co-founder and COO of the environment friendly Roo’bar. Photo: Yanne Golev / WWF Bulgaria

Dyankov sees one more challenge to the development of a green economy in the region: the benefits of ecosystem services should be recognised by state institutions and businesses. The expert points out the need of projects like Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services (MAES), which is engaged in mapping and optimising all ecosystem services in order to to see how ecosystem support can deliver exceptional socio-economic benefits and development of ongoing work.

Kalin Klasanov is convinced of the benefits of nature and that there is no contradiction between the goals of environmental protection and business development. He believes all green initiatives, including organic production and farming, result in greater trust from a company’s customers as well as benefits to its bottom line.

However, the businessman also commented on an additional incentive to take action. “After all, not everything is money. We can’t buy air or spring water, but we can give an example to stand up as leaders and engage other companies like us.”

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