The Green Tank on Just Transition at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF)

On September 14 and September 17, 2021, Green Tank with Nikos Mantzaris participated in two events that focused on the Just Transition held at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF).

The first event titled “On the road to a just development transition: Challenges and prospects” took place at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) on September 14, 2021. The event was organized by the Ministry of Development and Investments and the General Secretariat for Public Investments and the NSRF. The panel discussion was coordinated by Petros Evgenikos, Associate to the Secretary General of Public Investments & NSRF. Fellow panelists in addition to Nikos Mantzaris were Carsten Rasmussen, Head of the Unit for Cyprus and Greece, Directorate-General for Regional Policy and Urban Development, European Commission, Konstantinos Mousouroulis, Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Just Development Transition Plan, Theodoros Theodoulidis, Rector of the University of Western Macedonia, Paris Kokorotsikos, CEO EUROSYMBOULOI SA.

In the first segment of his presentation, Nikos Mantzaris responded to a question about the necessity of the energy transition in Greece and Europe and the role of climate change, which has turned into a climate crisis. Citing scientific data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the recent extreme weather events observed around the world, he confirmed that we are now experiencing a climate crisis and referred to the need for action both to mitigate and to adapt to climate change. He then gave emphasis on climate change mitigation and the emission reduction targets set by the EU27, through the European Green Deal, i.e., at least -55% by 2030 compared to 1990, with the ultimate goal of climate neutrality and net zero emissions by 2050. The same targets will be set for Greece, through its forthcoming national climate law.

Referring to the the climate performance of the EU and Greece, Nikos Mantzaris noted the challenge of the endeavor. Specifically, the EU-27, in 29 years (1990-2019), reduced net emissions by -28%; therefore, to achieve the reduction of -55%, a tantamount reduction is needed. However, this must be done in 11 years (2019-2030), i.e. in 1/3 of the time, which demands the tripling of efforts. For Greece, the challenge is even greater and more effort is required, since, showing climate indifference between 1990 and 2005, the country increased its emissions, while from 2005 to 2019 it has reduced its emissions by -18.8%, that is to say lower than the EU average. However, in the recent years, there a significant change is observed which allows for some optimism, as, in fact, in the sectors under the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) (electricity generation, energy-intensive industry, domestic aviation), Greece reduced its emissions by about -16% between 1990 and 2020, while only in the two years 2018-2020 by 16 million tones CO2. This achievement is to the biggest extent due to the delignitization (14 out of the 16 million tones) and to a very small extent due to the pandemic. Besides, the delignitization was a result of systemic (and therefore permanent) reasons, namely, the relevant EU legislation and the consequent spike in CO2 prices.

Still on the issue of delignitization, he stressed that the decision was a belated one  in Greece, which on the one hand led to PPC losses of at least € 1.4 billion linked to the construction of a new lignite plant, and on the other hand to the loss of valuable time for planning the transition locally and nationally. Of course, Greece is not the only country on the path to delignitization, said Nikos Mantzaris, listing the countries that have already been delignitized, those that have committed to do so by 2030, those that are about to set a concrete delignitization date, as well as those that are not yet discussing such a decision. He concluded that delignitization is not a panacea and is not enough on its own to achieve the target of -55% reduction in 2030, but it also requires a reduction in emissions from fossil gas plants, transport and industry.

In his second statement, Nikos Mantzaris answered a question about the main socio-economic or other challenges for the future of the transition to the post-lignite era in the lignite areas of the country.

Furthermore, he insisted on the need to recognize the progress and positive developments that have taken place, such as the course and positive results of the transition to the post-lignite era planning, despite the short time (1.5 years), the shift to new technologies, such as green hydrogen, and the increased transparency for the Greek standards of the transition processes (e.g. publication of minutes of the Steering Committee meetings & consultations that lead to improvement of the plans).

He then summarized the remaining challenges in both the planning and governance of the Just Transition in lignite areas, as follows:

  • Energy sector: avoiding overemphasis on the energy sector and emphasis on other sectors, such as the primary sector, industrial heritage, university research and services. In terms of energy investments, avoid a new monoculture of new fuel (e.g. green hydrogen instead of lignite) and diversify investments especially in terms of energy storage using different technologies (e.g. pump storage, batteries, conversion of lignite units to thermal storage units).
  • General lack of information, especially in local communities
  • Active involvement of local communities in the transition
  • Lack of inclusiveness (mayors, employees, environmental and other NGOs)
  • Land restorations in lignite fields
  • Adequacy and utilization of resources

Respectively, he mentioned the following as necessary moves:

  • Greater diversification in the planning part
  • Targeted communication actions
  • Involvement of local societies and civil society
  • Extensive consultation of special spatial plans
  • Extra funding from national resources

As a concluding remark, he noted that, as the transition will last longer than the 2021-2027 operation plan, the governance mechanism should not be limited to this period and should reflect the long-term nature of the transition.

Watch here Nikos Mantzaris’s 14th September full speech and the whole event here (in Greek).

The second event titled “Just transition to the carbon-free era: Developments and prospects” was organized by Enterprise Greece, the Steering Committee of the Just Transition Development Plan and TIF Helexpo on September 17, 2021. The event was organized in two panel discussions  coordinated by Theodoros Theodoulidis, Rector of the University of Western Macedonia. Anastasios Sidiropoulos, Director of Development Transition/ANKO Western Macedonia, George Pechlivanoglou, Vice President of Eunice Energy Group, Angelos Iatridis, Chairman of the Board and CEO of KTIMA ALFA, Spyros Protopsaltis, OAED Commander, George Pantelidis, Economist, Hotel Pantelidis, Ptolemaida, Stava Angelidis, MSc Chemist, MOD SA Executive Member, Member of SDAM Support Team and Annie Podimata, Greek Consulting Company Industries for Development were fellow panelists of Nikos Mantzaris.

Nikos Mantzaris began his speech by characterizing Just Transition as a multidimensional issue, with a national character, constituting the biggest sustainable development challenge that Greece faces. He emphasized the need to diversify the production model the day after the Transition. Noting that maintaining the energy character of lignite areas is right, but switching to a monoculture of photovoltaics, green hydrogen or any other form of energy would be wrong. Therefore, a mix of storage technologies is needed, in which thermal storage through the conversion of lignite plants must be included as it is characterized by several comparative advantages: the maintenance of jobs in the energy-lignite sector, the rapid construction times and the utilization of existing infrastructure and networks.

In addition to its comparative advantages, thermal storage is a good choice for two reasons. On the one hand, due to increased climate ambition, which requires more renewable energy sources, which, in turn, implies more electricity storage needs. On the other hand, for keeping up with the European reality, since giant companies, such as Siemens Gamesa and RWE, are oriented in this direction. In fact, RWE is already in Western Macedonia and is cooperating with PPC, therefore, this cooperation could be extended to thermal storage.

As a concluding comment, Nikos Mantzaris stated that, as the Western Balkans gradually enter a delignitization trajectory, they will also have increased energy storage needs, a fact that could give Western Macedonia a comparative advantage.

You can watch the intervention of Nikos Mantzaris (in Greek) here, from 1:04:05.