Nikos Mantzaris spoke on the ERT3 news show “Synora” with journalist Kalli Zarali about the need for a Just Transition away from lignite in the Western Balkans.
He first underlined that a lignite phase out in the Western Balkans is necessary not only to align the region with the European goals for climate neutrality by 2050, but also for the protection of public health. He pointed out that air pollution from the 30 lignite units in the Western Balkans are responsible for 19,000 deaths annually, of which 6,500 deaths are in the Western Balkans, but the rest in other countries of the continent.
He then referred to two challenges that accompany a decision to phase out lignite in the Western Balkan countries and recommended ways to address them.
The first challenge is related to energy policy and refers to the policy options in order to replace lignite-based electricity generation. At this point, Nikos Mantzaris emphasized the need for a direct shift from lignite to Renewable Energy Sources (RES) and energy storage without the intermediate transition to fossil gas. The recent energy crisis has proven that such a choice is particularly harmful economically, while it is also completely incompatible with the battle to deal with the climate crisis and the goal of achieving climate neutrality. In addition, it will increase the dependence of the Western Balkans on imported fuels.
The second challenge is of a socio-economic nature and concerns the new production model that local economies must develop for the lignite regions in the Western Balkans. To address it, a multi-level plan is first required to replace the local income and jobs (direct and indirect) that will be lost from the phase out of all lignite-related activities, through the shift to a combination of sustainable economic activities, as well as resources for its implementation. Nikos Mantzaris underlined the need for a distinct Just Transition Fund (JTF) for the Western Balkans, similar to that EU JTF established in 2021, as well as to the Greek national one created in 2018 from the public resources coming from the auctioning of EU ETS allowances.
He then referred to the way in which the resources of such a Just Transition Fund should be distributed among the countries of the Western Balkans. He presented the allocation criteria and the main results of the parametric analysis carried out by the Green Tank in collaboration with the environmental organization Bankwatch which is working in the Western Balkans. He closed by stressing that the most basic parameter affecting each country’s share is the speed of phasing out lignite: the faster a country becomes independent of lignite, the more resources it receives at the expense of other countries, who choose to stick to lignite longer.
The show aired on Friday November 17 and Saturday November 18 on ERTNEWS and is available (in Greek) on ertflix.gr.
You can listen to the discussion (in Greek) on our YouTube channel.