Public dialogue towards sustainability and climate protection
The third International Conference ‘Energy. Development. Democracy.’ was held in Podgorica, Montenegro, under the title ‘How successful policy dialogue can ensure sustainable use of energy and climate protection in South-East Europe’. Members of parliaments from countries of Southeastern Europe (SEE), civil society leaders, experts in the field of energy, governmental institutions and representatives of the private sector participated at the two-day event.
Preparing for integration
The objective of the conference was the exchange of information and ideas aimed at improving the understanding of the dynamics and the direction of the European Union as regards sustainable energy and climate protection goals, yet also the understanding of specific challenges facing each of the SEE countries individually and as a region. Further focus was on sharing of examples of successful development and implementation of policies, conducted with the support generated through public dialogue processes, which should help the region prepare to fully integrate into the European energy space.
The conference was opened by Ranko Krivokapić, speaker of the Assembly of Montenegro, who stressed the central role of parliament in public dialogue on sustainable use of energy. The gathering led to a rather consensual conclusion that energy is not luxury, but the basis for development and prosperity of society, and needs to be discussed in larger circles, with special emphasis on SEE parliaments, civil society organizations and the broader public, as highlighted by Gudrun Steinacker, ambassador of Germany in Montenegro, and Janez Kopač, director of the Energy Community Secretariat.
Model for parliamentary hearings
The ƞ (eta) Award 2015 was given to Aleksandar Damjanović, chair of Montenegro’s parliamentary Committee on Economy, Finance and Budget. The award is granted by the Network of Schools for Political Studies in South-East Europe, in coordination with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationalle Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). The idea behind it is to foster improvement of the public dialogue on sustainable use of energy in SEE and pay tribute to individuals for their efforts as promotors of energy efficiency and environmental protection. Damjanović largely contributed to the organization of the first parliamentary hearing on energy efficiency and sustainable use of energy in Montenegro. It served as the model for parliamentary hearings in other countries. In his speech at the conference, he emphasized that true democracy cannot exist if the voices of the citizens are not heard in decision-making processes.
The Conference was organized as part of the regional initiative ‘Public Dialogue on the Sustainable Use of Energy in South-East Europe’, conducted by the Network of the Schools of Political Studies in South-East Europe (operating under the auspices of the Council of Europe) with the support of the GIZ – Open Regional Fund for South-East Europe – Energy Efficiency, which is supported by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and with the support of the German Federal Environmental Foundation (DBU). Additional support was provided by the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), Southeast Europe Association from Munich, the Energy Community Secretariat and the Chamber of Economy of Montenegro.
The Energy Community works to develop secure, sustainable and competitive energy markets, and this requires strong cooperation and coordination on different levels. The conference did just that – it brought together a wide range of stakeholders. This approach is necessary to transform the energy sector in the region. The successful implementation of energy reforms in practice requires a strong sense of ownership of the process by all the relevant stakeholders. I would like to especially welcome the participation of members of parliament as their support is absolutely essential in terms of adopting energy reforms.
Energy is an important if not crucial topic in Southeastern Europe, and linking it with development and democracy like in this conference seems to me of utmost importance in view of growing authoritarian tendencies in the region.
Dialogue on energy issues in a democracy must include in the first place a comprehensive dialogue with all stakeholders, parliament, government, business, civil society and academia. In times of economic stagnation and climate change sustainable solutions to energy issues are of vital significance. This dialogue is often cumbersome. The agenda of governments in the Western Balkans regarding energy policy is often rather driven by economic interest of particular groups than by an analysis of public need. Civil society is often regarded as a main impediment to the realization of questionable and mostly not sustainable energy projects. Non-governmental organizations, particularly those who fight for the protection of environment and nature, are treated as enemies and not as partners in finding adequate and, once again sustainable solutions. These conflicts can only be overcome by dialogue, by sincere dialogue. Parliaments as the most important political institution in a democracy are the best suited place for this dialogue.
Aleksandar Damjanović, member of the Assembly of Montenegro, chairman of the Committee for Economy, Finance and Budget
The award is an encouragement for me to add even more focus and stress dilemmas concerning key energy challenges Montenegro will face, namely the construction of facilities by the state and the private sector, and the adoption and full and non-selective implementation of regulation, first and foremost the new energy bill which the parliament still needs to decide on.
The engagement of the assembly and the responsible committee includes constant attention to the ongoing investments, such as in the case of the submarine power cable between Italy and Montenegro. Of course, constant cooperation and a kind of coordination of the Assembly of Montenegro with the civil society, namely relevant non-governmental organizations for this complex field, is necessary. In other words, it is the condition for the aforementioned decisions to be brought exclusively based on expert opinions and public interest, and not based on current political interest or preferences of individual interested parties, whether they are in Montenegro or outside of Montenegro.
Exchanging information and ideas to improve better understanding of dynamics and direction of the EU and global sustainable energy and climate protection targets are major challenges for our region.
The Regional Cooperation Council has been active in this area, mainly through implementation of the SEE 2020 Strategy, recognizing that the greatest incentive for regional cooperation in SEE is the prospect of EU accession, regionalization and creation of larger markets for attractive investing opportunities and, at the same time, the lowest possible prices. The recent milestone achievement in the field of energy – the adoption of the Energy Union Strategy from February 2015 – calls for greater cooperation between the EU and its closest neighbors, thus opening more opportunities for cooperation with Southeastern Europe. In spite of somewhat troubled circumstances, Energy Union per se and its extension to SEE, is a feasible project as long as there is sufficient political will on all sides. Security, competitiveness and sustainability remain the three pillars on which Southeast European security and economic perspectives rest.
Jasna Sekulović, project manager of Open Regional Fund for South East Europe – Energy Efficiency
Each ‘Energy. Development. Democracy.’ conference, and this one in Podgorica is third in the row, brings new energy into the dialogue process on sustainable use of energy and energy efficiency. Strongly supported by the GIZ Open Regional Fund for SEE – Energy Efficiency, the conferences represent a unique opportunity for an array of SEE stakeholders (members of parliaments, governmental officials, non-governmental organizations, businesses, local level representatives and experts) to gather, share experience and best practices thus bringing new perspectives and views.
The topic of sustainable use of energy reached the next level of perception by not being considered as purely technical, but rather as the topic that needs contribution of each stakeholder group with the aim of reaching the joint welfare, both on national and regional level.
One of neglected issues is the damage that producing energy from fossil fuels causes to the health of the citizens and to the environment – the polution of land, water and air. It is quantified and is measured in billions of euros. The damage and losses aren’t calculated in the price of energy coming from the utilization of fossil fuels, so this way it still appears that energy from fossil fuels is cheaper from the energy from renewable sources. Another issue is that no one will ever be held responsible for the damage, but the expenses are borne by citizens. They pay with their money, their health, their ill offspring, their destroyed and worthless property, polluted soil, water and air.
The scope and risks of energy poverty are also a crucial subject in energy policy. Spreading out the knowledge on the economic and technical availability of alternative ways of heating and cooling for residential, public and business facilities is the key step in the engagement of citizens.
The conference showed the importance of a quality and long-term dialogue on energy efficiency, renewable sources, and sustainable energy use. It is exactly what we, as a political school, of course with other schools in the region, have been stressing intensively for several years exactly through the project we are implementing, including the conference that was held.
All SEE countries need expert help in this area as, even with strong will, which is questionable, executive authorities aren’t capable to meet all requirements necessary for sustainable energy use and climate change. Exactly in this context, active participation of the civil society is necessary in the process of creation, as well as in the field of implementation of energy policy and environmental policy. The conference that we organized gathered over 130 participants from more than 10 European countries: parliamentarians, non-governmental organizations, representatives of ministries and local authorities as well as experts, so this was an ideal opportunity for an exchange of opinion and ideas on the topic, but also for getting to know examples of good practice.
Lidija Živčić, senior expert, Reach project from Slovenia
Even though the European Union is one of the most developed areas in the world, it is estimated that about 20% to 25% of its citizens suffer from energy poverty. The situation is even more serious in the region of SEE, where more than 30% of households have this problem. Energy poverty is a situation where a household struggles to, or even has no possibility to meet basic energy needs. Most of them are of pensioneers, the unemployed, or those who depend on welfare. Their bad economic situation is most oftenly paired with their homes’ weak energy efficiency.
The conference set this important subject in a visible position and enabled the exchange of opinion through panel discussions, to see how the problem can be solved through cooperation of different parties.
Strong promotion of energy efficiency and renewable energy policies is a key component of sustainable energy future of Southeastern Europe and the Energy Community. The third regional conference organized in Podgorica was a good opportunity to present the progress that’s been achieved, but also to tackle challenging issues through the open policy dialogue. This will support our efforts to create adequate policy and legal framework, and further promote harmonized approach in implementation of existing and design of new support initiatives in this field.
When we talk about energy, development and democracy in the Western Balkan region, we must talk about change and alternatives to the business-as-usual. Non-governmental organizations have the ability and mission to have this structured dialogue and, if necessary, to put up strong opposition to the business-as-usual. We point at the mistakes; we show and warn about the associated risks. We amplify the voices of reason and translate and repeat this message for people, politicians and everybody beyond. If talking doesn’t help, we choose to make it public and are ready to take legal action in court. While we might disagree with businesses on content, the rule of law is something where the interest of non-governmental organizations and businesses matches. If there is no rule of law, both will fail to do their job for the society.