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Promoting transboundary cooperation on water and energy in Drina River Basin to achieve the green energy transition and climate commitments

Drina river transboundary cooperation water climate energy nexus UNECE Finland BIH

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Published

October 2, 2023

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Published:

October 2, 2023

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Authors: Sara Todorovic, Researcher and Coordinator at Finnish Environment Institute SYKE and Annukka Lipponen, Chief Water Resources Specialist at Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry

At the Sarajevo Energy and Climate Week on 26 September 2023, the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and Finland co-convened a session on renewable energy development in the Drina River Basin.

The session’s primary objective was to foster cross-sectoral and cross-border cooperation within the basin, specifically focusing on climate adaptation and the water-energy nexus. This cooperative approach aimed to accelerate sustainable renewable energy and hence contribute to decarbonization efforts in the region and built upon prior work in the area while exploring future possibilities for action and possible next steps.

Building on the progress for unlocking the potential for cross-sectoral collaboration in the Drina River Basin

The Drina River Basin, shared by Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia, holds abundant water resources and valuable natural landscapes, along with significant hydropower potential and untapped renewable energy resources. However, developing these resources involves trade-offs and requires balancing different objectives. Therefore, a collaborative effort of nexus assessments involving sector authorities and key stakeholders from these countries identified intersectoral challenges and a range of potential technical and policy solutions. A pivotal Nexus Assessment carried out under the Water Convention (implemented by UNECE and GWP-Mediterranean, funded by ADA) also highlighted the benefits of cross-border collaboration in renewable energy and hydropower, as well as sustainable water flow management.

As a result of close cooperation with the countries, a Drina Nexus Roadmap was published in 2021 to support coordinated planning across various sectors at national and cross-border levels and aligns with the Green Agenda and its Action Plan for the Western Balkans. Collaboration between sector authorities and stakeholders remains fundamental for translating the outcome into actionable policies and investments that promote sustainability, including in harnessing the region’s renewable energy uptake.

High-level openings laid out challenges but also directions ahead

The session in Sarajevo featured opening remarks from high-level officials who emphasized the importance of cross-sectoral cooperation. 

In his opening, Dr. Admir Softić, the Assistant Minister for Energy, Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, invited authorities’ attention to the Drina Nexus Roadmap, aligned with the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans (GAWB), and assessed it having “vast potential” to promote action and for carrying out strategic plans. After pointing to various energy and environmental challenges, including decarbonization and other climate commitments which the draft National Energy and Climate Plan seeks to address, he underlined regional cooperation in the Drina Basin being very much needed.

Dr. Dmitry Maryasin, the Deputy Executive Secretary of UNECE, stressed that “water is the most critical resource for green transition” and noted that despite the recognized value of the energy-water nexus approach, there is currently not enough conversation between water, energy and investment actors. UNECE has been very active in the Drina river basin in the last years with a Nexus assessment under the Water Convention, multi-stakeholder dialogues in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia for sustainable planning of renewable energy, and the Nexus Roadmap to coordinate multi-sectoral planning in the basin.

The urgency for cross-sectoral cooperation was echoed also by H.E. Kalle Kankaanpää, Ambassador of Finland to Bosnia and Herzegovina. “Finland is among the first countries in the world to have drawn up an action plan for its foreign policy on climate change. The overall success of mainstreaming climate change to all levels of society depends on networking, international cooperation and cross-sectoral action.” Kankaanpää stated.

Photo 1: H.E. Kalle Kankaanpää, Ambassador of Finland to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Gianluca Sambucini and Nedim Suljić

Dr. Ingrid Macdonald, the UN Resident Coordinator for Bosnia and Herzegovina, appreciated the cross-sectoral work done on the Drina as a case of collective action to progress to sustainability, underlining the importance of such transboundary initiatives and the United Nation’s commitment to support. She further noted financing to be a key challenge, pondering how accessing public and private financing, also green financing, could best be supported and the importance of focusing on women as agents of change in this process.

International experiences about renewable energy and links to climate action

Following the opening remarks, presentations by regional and international experts delved into how the nexus approach and sustainable renewable energy support cleaner energy transitions, aligning with climate goals such as the Sofia declaration

An energy system analysis by KTH, recapped by Global Water Partnership Mediterranean, underlined that carbon pricing would significantly affect the least-cost electricity supply mix and pointed to system challenges in relation to high shares of intermittent RES calling for joint planning and integration of transmission infrastructure, but also cautioned about a risk of technological lock-in to thermal plants and HPPs under climate scenarios. Elektroprivreda Crne Gore (EPCG) presented plans for significant solar power and other renewables, but also renovation projects, to increase generation.  In context, hydropower makes up most of the total renewables, 94% in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 91% in Montenegro and 82% in Serbia  (IEA, 2020). Currently, according to IEA, the share of modern renewables of total final energy consumption is 37.7% in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 39.6% in Montenegro and 26.0% in Serbia, and wind and solar having appeared in the statistics essentially after 2015 or 2020.

SECW 2023_Drina River Basin_transboundary cooperation event_Sarajevo_Photo by Sara Todorovic 3

Photo 2 (from left to right): Annukka Lipponen (panel facilitator), Gianluca Sambucini (moderator); and speakers Tassos Krommydas, Samo Grošelj, Minna Hanski and Nedim Suljić

The International Sava River Basin Commission presented relevant past initiatives and plans from a water management perspective for taking forward a climate change adaptation strategy for the Sava Basin. Overall, the importance of transboundary institutions and agreements was well recognized in the session. 

However, while renewable energy plans are essential for reducing carbon emissions in the Drina region, there are challenges when it comes to expanding hydroelectric power.  An expert from the University of Tuzla highlighted from a Bosnian perspective issues still to be solved related to existing HPPs, underlined a need to respect the Helsinki Water Convention and to manage sediment, and to share fairly the basin’s water and hydropower potential.  Elektroprivreda Srbije (EPS) pointed to a lack of information and agreements about operating HPPs, welcoming international experience. The Nexus Assessment also points to uncertainties about future climate conditions in the basin, posing risks for hydropower development and emphasizing the need for coordinated efforts across borders. To address these challenges, more detailed modelling and analysis would provide a firmer basis for any future plans. This calls for collaborative climate initiatives, including support for coordinated measures, and climate financing provides some opportunities. 

Finland’s experience shared by Fortum and the Finnish Meteorological Institute demonstrated that sharing information and using meteorological and hydrological data can help optimize hydroelectric power generation, adapt to changing conditions, and reduce risks. 

Potential for collaboration for mutual benefits and synergies across sectors and borders

After commenting on the value of the nexus approach, international organizations Austrian Development Agency highlighted their new regional strategy for the Western Balkans, Regional Coordination Council the GAWB’s implementation and possible synergy, and Gestore Servizi Energetici their general cooperation possibilities.

Cross-sectoral collaboration in the Drina River Basin offers economic, social, and environmental benefits. From the session, it is evident that close cooperation between the energy sector and water management stakeholders is crucial to synergize clean energy transitions with water-related needs. Existing hydropower infrastructure could better support the integration of intermittent renewable energy, flood management, environmental needs and adaptation, highlighting the need for cross-sector solutions and transboundary cooperation in hydropower and flow regulation between Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia.

Climate action provides a promising framework for advancing collaboration. There is a need for further exploration of related opportunities and identifying the riparians’ common interests. Regional cooperation schemes, green financing and climate financing, in particular, could offer opportunities for countries to plan and implement measures for mutual benefit while strengthening cooperation. International support, including sharing best practices and facilitating discussions, can further assist any collaborative effort, and Finland indicated preparedness to support consultation. 

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