Thanks to pressure from civil society, several harmful investments in highways and gas infrastructure were taken out of the Czech recovery plan, pushing it towards more of a green recovery. Still, an almost complete lack of allocations for biodiversity and several questionable climate measures set the plan back.
Šimon Batík, Project coordinator | 19 April 2021
The drafting of the Czech recovery and resilience plan has largely been going on behind closed doors. Civil society organisations (CSOs) were not invited to participate in the planning process and there has not been any attempt to inform the public about the most current version of the plan and the latest changes up until the end of March. Despite this lack of respect for the partnership principle, the plan has undergone several major positive modifications due to pressure from CSOs and the European Commission since the first draft was published in October. Harmful projects erased from the plan included investment in highways, re-financialisation of the newly legislated tax reforms and investments in LNG/CNG vehicles. With these harmful measures gone, the plan is largely going in the right direction, but there are still some noticeable missteps present. In official documents, the Czech government claims that 37 per cent of all measures included in the recovery plan contribute to the green transition – exactly the minimum share required by the European Commission. It also states that there is no breach of the ‘do no significant harm’ principle by any measure listed in the plan. While this sounds good, even if a little unambitious, the question is whether that’s really true. With around EUR 7 billion at stake, it’s crucial to get the answers right.
Less than a third of measures support the green transition
A whopping EUR 3.1 billion, almost half of the funds, is planned for a component with ‘green transition’ in its name. This definitely creates the illusion that the required 37 per cent share of green and climate measures is easily achieved. In reality, only around 30 per cent of the total budget can be considered green. Measures supporting biodiversity are below seven per cent of the total allocation.
There are several great and truly green measures proposed, such as the construction and electrification of railroads on a massive scale. More sustainable transportation (including railroads, but also biking and walking paths) will receive EUR 844 million.
Another EUR 230 million will go towards energy efficiency measures, and almost EUR 200 million towards the development of photovoltaics. Another EUR 169 million will be used for revitalisation of the recycling infrastructure in order to bring us closer to the circular economy model. Although these investments contribute to environmental and climate goals, when taken together they still do not reach the 37 per cent mark. Furthermore, certain measures, such as investments in distribution networks for district heating (more efficient pipelines), highly efficient gas boilers and financial support for the Czech development bank (ČMZRB) are also problematically considered as fully contributing to the green agenda. Despite the fact that more efficient pipelines for district heating are needed they will still redistribute heat from fossil fuels. Although some environmental organisations consider gas boilers highly efficient and helpful in the short-term to alleviate air pollution, cleaner air, in this case, is the result of a false solution that relies on continued dependence on gas. And although support for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) is crucial for the development of more resilient local economies (which is the purpose of the ČMZRB), marking this measure as 100 per cent contributing to the climate objectives does not make sense. This measure is currently undergoing changes due to interdepartmental proceedings, and the Czech government has said that the necessary steps will be taken to ensure its full compliance with the climate objectives. Another problematic measure is the ‘digital transformation of enterprises’. This measure is supposed to contribute EUR 72 million to the green target (1 per cent of the total budget). The only rationale for this is that digitalisation may have secondary effects on the emission reduction target and will help to kickstart the circular economy. Although digitalisation can positively affect waste management and make work more efficient, counting it as a climate measure is highly opportunistic, because it may also negatively impact energy consumption.
Missing biodiversity and nature-based solutions
The allocation for biodiversity protection is nearly absent in the recovery plan and does not create any opportunity for reaching the goals set in the Biodiversity Strategy 2030 or the Farm to Fork Strategy. Although EUR 576 million is allocated to a component called ‘nature protection and adaptation to climate change’, most of the measures included there are problematic. Friends of the Earth Czechia (Hnutí Duha) previously raised concerns over this component. Measures for flood protection have to be allocated exclusively to dry polders, the restoration of wetlands, and the revitalisation and renaturation of riverbeds. Other important areas missing in the plan are the revitalisation of watercourses in the landscape and urban areas, meaningful improvement of the state of forest ecosystems (e.g. avoiding fast reforestation solely for carbon sequestration), implementation of land improvements aimed at stabilising the landscape, and the elimination of support for irrigation not supported by the European Commission. Up to now, none of these suggestions have been reconsidered and included in the plan, despite the fact that the Ministry of Industry and Trade constantly lists Hnutí Duha as their partners in drafting the plan.
A good example?
The Czech recovery plan has come a long way from supporting new highways and vehicles running on fossil gas. The overall feeling is that the plan is quite complex and takes into account different needs of the economy, society and climate. However, that does not mean that there are no problems with the plan. There are strong measures to support the country’s pathway to decarbonise and transition away from fossil fuel dependency. However, the plan’s neglect for measures in support of nature and biodiversity conservation and several questionable climate measures are serious cause for concern. If money from these and few other components was redirected towards more meaningful, environmentally friendly measures (e.g. more money for accelerating and preparation of the renovation of buildings), the plan would meet its 37 per cent climate objective and could be considered a good example for other countries.
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Institution: EU Funds
Theme: EU Funds | Recovery and Resilience Facility | National Recovery and Resilience Plan | EU Recovery Fund
Location: Czech Republic