A conference entitled Energy Security in Central and Eastern Europe: Achieving our Climate and Security Goals Together was held in Warsaw on Tuesday 28 November, organised by the Jagiellonian Club’s Centre for Analysis and the Poland by Nature Foundation. The aim of the event was to examine key aspects of energy provision in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) region, with a focus on balancing energy security with other demands such as moderating climate impact and eradicating fuel poverty.
Among the participants in the conference’s panel discussions were many eminent politicians and energy experts. The subjects debated and the information shared will ring many bells for us here in the UK.
Decreasing dependence on Russia
The subject of the first panel, moderated by Paweł Musiałek, President of the Jagiellonian Club and co-organiser of the event, was the dependence of the CEE region on Russian energy resources.
Juris Poikāns, Latvian Ambassador in Poland, commended the substantial progress made by the EU in understanding the energy threat from Russia, but noted it was a process “that had to take time”. Michal Kurtyka, previously Polish minister of climate and environment, pointed out that – despite many efforts – the gap left in European markets by Russian energy carriers in 2022 had still not been filled. Europe had survived the previous winter, including coping with gas sabotage by Russia, but at the expense of government subsidies of around €770bn to support energy consumers.
Energy security through decarbonisation
This panel discussed nuclear energy as a means of decarbonisation.
Gabriel Gorbačevski, energy attaché at the Lithuanian embassy in Warsaw, announced his country’s new approach, whereby by 2028 Lithuanians will decide whether to include SMRs [small modular nuclear reactors] in their energy system. But a minister from the Polish Government, Adam Guibourgé-Czetwertyński, expressed some scepticism about the readiness of individual SMR technologies. He also questioned whether there is an adequate supply chain for components and whether the price of the energy obtained by SMRs will be truly competitive.
Marcin Korolec, a previous Polish minister of environment, then spoke about the link between decarbonisation and the strength of the economy. Poland, he said, “needs a decarbonised energy system to protect its competitiveness in the EU single market”. In his country’s case, this means getting out of coal as soon as possible. There is a need, said Korolec, for parallel development of energy security at two levels: at the level of the whole system and at the local level.
Monika Morawiecka, representing the Regulatory Assistance Project, agreed with this, arguing for building vertical energy security from the bottom up, from local to central. Ensuring adequate numbers of well-trained staff to carry out such energy projects would be an issue, she said.
Energy market liberalisation
Jakub Wiech, editor-in-chief of Energetyka24, a leading industry portal in Poland, moderated a panel on liberalism in energy, in other words the pros and cons of taking regulation off the energy market.
Reinis Āboltiņš, a Latvian energy analyst, pointed out that a liberal approach to energy and energy transition is only possible if the political cost of dependence on a potentially dangerous supplier is taken into account. Jerzy Dudek, an expert at the Jagiellonian Club’s Centre for Analyses, said that despite the anxieties of 2022, the liberalising trend in the energy sector has not died. But, while energy companies have made record profits, customers have experienced extremely high bills. (We can certainly relate to that in the UK!)
Sam Richards, former advisor to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, expressed the view that liberalism is the only way to build new capacity quickly, primarily through renewables. And Piotr Palutkiewicz, vice-president of the Warsaw Enterprise Institute, said that problems that arise are often not due to liberalism but to the influence of the state, which politically shapes the energy market, hindering its transformation. He gave as examples the fact that the use of coal in Poland had, as he put it, “been concreted over by a political decision” and the development of windmills had been blocked – wrong decisions, he said. (Again – a parallel with the UK with regard to the Government’s decision to continue offering North Sea oil and gas licences.)
Dominika Taranko of the ZPP Energy and Climate Forum described the issue of achieving a balance of state participation and liberalism in energy policy in metaphorical terms: “… it is like with a garden. If we leave it entirely to itself, without any interference, it will become overgrown with weeds or infested with pests and parasites. But if we start looking after it without interfering with the growth of the plants, we will have a beautiful garden”.
The fourth panel dealt with the phenomenon of energy poverty, now widespread in Europe.
In the Czech Republic, for example, as Jana Šandlová Vlčková, representing the Institute for Christian Democratic Politics, told the conference, 78% of people have been forced to reduce their energy needs or save on energy over the past year.
However, Joanna Mazurkiewicz from the Warsaw-based Institute of Structural Research, pointed out that the scale of the phenomenon varies between social groups: “The lower the household income, the more we spend on energy and the more we are affected by energy poverty”.
A means of addressing this was described by Paweł Mirowski from the Polish National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management. Their ‘Clean Air’ programme is aimed not only at reducing air pollution but also at creating cleaner and – importantly for people’s finances – more efficient domestic heating.
The discussion was summarised by Aleksandra Krugły from the Habitat for Humanity Poland foundation, who pointed out the shortcomings of the current approach to fuel poverty in her country. Although, in her view, access to energy is a human right, a Polish energy policy document which could be expected to address energy poverty contains only three sentences on the subject, which, she said, shows a complete lack of political recognition of the problem.
Infrastructure and investment
The next discussion was devoted to infrastructure and energy investments in Central and Eastern Europe, in a panel chaired by Frances Burwell distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council Europe Center.
Gediminas Varvuolis, from the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, emphasised that the Tri-Central and Eastern Europe region had prepared much better than the rest of Europe for the loss of Russian energy resources and their supply being used for political purposes. Anežka Konvalinova, a researcher from Masaryk University, agreed that this was the case, emphasising that such preparedness requires vertical and horizontal cooperation between the individual countries of the region. Marcin Chruściel from the Office of the Government Plenipotentiary for Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation gave an example of such co-operation – the Trilateral Initiative, an alliance between Poland, Ukraine and the UK.
The impact of ‘Fit for 55’
The final panel of the conference dealt with the impact on the Central and Eastern European region of Fit for 55 – the EU’s target for countries to reduce carbon emissions by at least 55% by 2030. The discussion was moderated by Martin Ehl, head of analysis at Hospodářské noviny, a leading Czech business daily.
During the discussion, Juhan Parts, former prime minister of Estonia, emphasised the role of climate policy in stimulating new growth in the economies of European countries. Sam Williams of the Energy and Climate Policy and Innovation Council drew attention to the different levels of development of individual EU countries in terms of energy transition, conditioned, among other things, by a country’s natural resources or historical specificities.
Finally, Wojciech Jakóbik analyst and journalist, spoke about the need for a fair transition that must not leave anyone behind.
Based on a press release from the Polish Press Agency with thanks to Helen Johnson.