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A crisis like the corona pandemic calls for decisive measures. The EU has freed up €723.8 billion in an effort to use the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) to pull the European economy out of the recession caused by corona. In order to qualify for a share of this large bag of money, member states must submit a plan to the European Commission. In the series Decarbonizing Europe, we put those plans under a magnifying glass.

The Czech Republic is not exactly the cleanest kid in the class. In order to meet the EU’s climate targets, the heavy reliance on coal must be scaled back and the proportion of renewable energy needs to be increased. However, with green energy making up fifteen percent of the country’s energy consumption, this figure is still very low. Yet, environmental expert Vojtech Kotecky from the Czech Charles University is optimistic about the future.

This is partly due to the new government in Prague that is projecting more ambition than the previous one led by billionaire Andrej Babis, says Kotecky. “The government of Prime Minister Petr Fiala just needs time to concretize its plans.”

New government

To cite an example, a few years ago, the Babis government committed to a 22 percent proportion of green electricity. “But that is obviously not enough by far. You can count on this percentage being substantially adjusted upwards. Especially in the field of solar energy, the Czech Republic has a lot of potential.”

Another example is coal mines and coal-fired power plants. Under Babis, the plan was to close those in 2038. This has now been brought forward by five years and, according to the Czech Environment Minister Anna Hubackova, it could even happen in 2030, although the war in Ukraine is now casting doubt on this. In any case, it would require a tremendous effort, because currently 46 percent of electricity still comes from coal-fired power plants and 25 percent of homes are heated with it. The coal industry plays a particularly large role in the northwest (brown coal) and in the northeast (coal).

Pause for thought

According to the European Affairs minister Mikulas Bek, the reason that politicians need time to come up with more concrete targets also has to do with the fact that Czech politicians have failed in the past to think carefully about where they would like to go with their energy and climate policy. It had more or less been put on the back burner.

“There was a lot of criticism in Czech politics about the European proposals. People were saying that it was all going too fast for a poor country like ours. But it was criticism that lacked substantive arguments and alternatives as to how things could be done better. The current government wants to make up for that by first making a thorough analysis of where the most substantial climate gains can be made at the lowest cost,” he said in a recent radio interview.

Bek also hopes that the European Union will accept nuclear energy as a source of green energy. Otherwise, it will be difficult to attain the CO₂ targets in any event. He is also asking Brussels for a little respite for the car industry. He thinks that a ban on the sale of cars with combustion engines in 2035 is too early for the Czech Republic. The Czechs do not have the purchasing power that the Germans or the Dutch have. Moreover, there are a lot of jobs at stake in companies like Skoda. A longer transition period would help.

Fit for 55

Kotecky, in spite of all the ifs and buts, is confident that things are moving in the right direction. He thinks the Czech Republic has a good chance of meeting the so-called ‘Fit for 55’ target set by the EU, although that target actually does not mean much to him, “because how can you lump countries like the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania in with the Netherlands or France?”

The aim of the Fit for 55 initiative is to emit 55 percent fewer greenhouse gases by 2030 than they did back in 1990. The Czech Republic is not that far from that target, at around 40 percent. Kotecky: “This is mainly down to the modernization of industry in the 1990s after the end of communism. The next wave must come from energy efficiency, greener public transport, closing coal-fired power plants and more wind turbines and solar panels.”

Energy efficiency

The European corona recovery fund will definitely contribute to this. The main outlines are in place. In total, the Czech Republic will receive 7.3 billion euros from the fund based on the plans handed in by the Babis government last year. Of that, 42 percent is going towards climate measures.

That amounts to 3.2 billion euros, most of which – about 1.4 billion – will be spent on energy efficiency. This will include, for example, better insulation of homes and government buildings and energy-efficient heating systems. A portion will also be spent on energy advice centers across the country and additional training for installers so they are up to speed on green technology (especially solar panels).

Sustainable mobility

A second tranche of 1.1 billion euros will be allocated to sustainable mobility. Some examples are the replacement of diesel trains and more electric buses.

A further 480 million euros will be invested in renewable energy. Under which allocation scheme (wind, water, solar, biomass) is still unknown.

And last but not least, 141 million euros are dedicated to the circular economy. This includes additional investments in recycling systems, more economical use of fresh water resources and better wildlife management of Czech forests.

Economy

Exactly what it will yield in economic terms is still difficult to say. The Babis government was assuming 0.8 percent to 1.2 percent additional growth in 2026 thanks to the corona fund earmarked for the Czech Republic and another 0.3 percent due to the corona fund also creating more demand for Czech products and services in other EU countries. The boost from the corona fund could generate approximately 18,000 additional jobs.

However, many economists are taking these figures with a grain of salt, because it is difficult to estimate in advance what the exact effects will be. That the 7 billion euros are beneficial in the short term is obvious. But what the long-term consequences will be is less clear.

On the one hand, the economy will be modernized and made more efficient. On the other hand, energy will become more expensive, at least temporarily. Some industries may suffer permanently, while others will flourish.

Photo of the Czech brown coal mines. (Photo Pixabay)

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