Climate Change

RES Foundation conference: Coal phaseout unavoidable in transition to net zero emissions, clean air

Coal phaseout unavoidable transition net zero emissions clean air

Photo: Aleksandar Macura and Maja Matija Ristić


December 1, 2021






December 1, 2021





The first day of the Ne to. 0! conference, organized in Serbia by the RES Foundation, was dedicated to transforming the electricity sector in the Balkans to reach zero carbon emissions and lower PM2.5 air pollution to levels recommended by the World Health Organization.

Bringing net emissions to zero and saying no to carbon is the simplest and, therefore, the most applicable sieve for effective decarbonization policies, according to the RES Foundation from Serbia. It organized its second annual conference on how to win the Balkan air pollution dodgeball with the intention to motivate decision-makers, professionals, and the public to launch initiatives, improve the existing ones and see that they are implemented fully.

RES Foundation’s Programme Director Aleksandar Macura pointed out global warming must be limited to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius and that the World Health Organization recently cut the recommended level for PM2.5 air pollution to under five micrograms per cubic meter from 10 micrograms.

“Today, we are holding this conference in a time of a big energy crisis, so long-term horizons are failing again, and we are returning to two other important aspects of energy: security of supply and affordability,” he said. Macura said that the developments don’t delay the need to act swiftly to achieve the two stated goals.

The conference was named Ne to. 0! which is a play on words referring to net-zero and saying no – to carbon dioxide emissions.

Investments are the most important part of decarbonization in energy sector

Maja Matija Ristić, Secretary of the Ministry of Mining and Energy of Serbia, noted the country got a set of laws this year that empower prosumers and enable support for energy efficiency measures, saying that it is an important element of the energy transition. However, in her words, the most important part is to spur investments as any retirement of lignite-powered capacities implies fast replacement.

The government is fostering cooperation with the non-governmental sector in producing strategic documents such as the integrated climate and energy plan and the energy development strategy, Ristić added.

Moran: Policymakers have to take energy poverty into account alongside energy security

The COP26 Regional Ambassador for Europe, Central Asia, Turkey, and Iran David Moran said going green is the best growth path and that countries can gain a competitive edge in the process. Turning to the tradeoff between runaway climate change and energy transition challenges, he urged a sensible approach.

“If we don’t tackle climate change immediately and rigorously, we face a real risk of catastrophic damage far worse than today’s extreme weather… Countries have to keep the lights on, homes have to be heated, and policymakers have to take energy poverty into account alongside energy security,” Moran stated.

Just transition solutions must be aimed at up to 30% of the population

The transition needs to be people-centered, so decision-makers should understand who will be impacted by climate change and how according to United Nations Resident Coordinator in Serbia Françoise Jacob. She said the solutions must be aimed at 20% to 30% of the most vulnerable population and grasp the opportunities in terms of job creation and vocational training.

As funding is not the issue, Jacob stressed, policies and strategies must be transformed into action and the development of capacities to implement the plans.

Global emissions may peak in mid-2020s, but there is a long way to go

Yasmine Arsalane, a Senior Analyst from the International Energy Agency, said that in line with the new pledges by countries in the runup to the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow or during the event, emissions should peak in the mid-2020s and then enter a steady decline.

However, near-term goals are lagging, she underscored. The IEA calculated that coal power plants other than those already under construction mustn’t be built anymore, Arsalane noted. She said retrofitting and retiring the existing fleet early would make a massive contribution to emission cuts, adding there is a long way to go to reach net zero by 2050.

Wrong forestry strategy has a high price

Member of the European Parliament Thomas Waitz, who is also the co-chair of the European Green Party, claimed COP26 brought “minor successes.” He criticized the commitment by a large group of countries to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030, saying it can be done today and every day.

A wrong forestry strategy has a high price, Waitz asserted and stressed that energy production from wood needs to be strictly limited as the material is needed for a range of other uses, like construction.

He agreed with Aleksandar Kovačević, Senior Visiting Research Fellow from the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies (OIES), that the lack of access to hydropower in the Western Balkans can disturb the transition timeline in the EU. The inclusion of the region in the pan-European energy market is crucial as interconnectivity is necessary for tackling volatility issues that come with the expansion of renewables, Waitz said.

Investor confidence and interconnectivity are crucial for the energy transition in the Western Balkans and the integration with the EU

The demand for renewable energy hinges on a supply gap that companies and financial markets perceive would need to be filled, so the commitments to a coal phaseout must be credible, Kovačević opined. In that sense, he pointed to the fact that coal plant Pljevlja in Montenegro has continued to operate and even earn profits one year after spending all the working hours that it was entitled to.

Other Western Balkan countries also failed to fulfill their obligations from national emission reduction plans, he underscored. Kovačević warned that the implementation of the current national emission reduction plans would lead to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions per unit of electricity and per unit of coal.

In his view, further technical failures in coal mines, transportation, and coal plants may cause them to break down completely, opening investment opportunities for renewables that way.

Transition in China is accelerating

Xiang Li, a researcher from the Institute of Energy at the Peking University in Beijing, said China is in the lead with solar and wind power technology and electric vehicles, but it would take more time to cut fossil fuel use. The world’s most populous nation accounts for one-third of the planet’s greenhouse emissions, and the electricity sector makes up half of its total emissions because of coal, he asserted.

However, the transition in China is accelerating, and climate change challenges can help strengthen mutual trust with other countries for a shared future, Li said.

Livingston: World is watching protests against air pollution in Serbia

David Livingston, Senior Advisor to the United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, said the COP26 brought the first-ever mention of coal and fossil fuel subsidy phaseouts and that his country is pushing hard for abolishing them as well as for the end of unabated polluting coal.

“This is an important signal, especially when I know that just in the past several days, thousands in the street in Belgrade were demanding clean air, demanding the end of pollution that is casting a shadow over families and their livelihoods and their health for the years to come. We have to note that local demands that citizens are sending to us, the local messages that citizens in the street are sending up to their leadership, are being heeded at the international level at gatherings like COP26,” Livingston stated.

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