In its EU funds spending plans, Slovakia has shown commendable dedication to making bioenergy more sustainable. Taking over the EU presidency in June, it will have a unique chance to apply its expertise to improve European regulations on biomass.
After pressure from Slovak non-governmental organisations, including Bankwatch’s member CEPA, the Ministry of Environment agreed in 2014 to include biomass sustainability as a principle for project selection for EU funding into the new Operational Programme Quality Environment. The ministry also made a commitment to define what a sustainable use of biomass is.
In 2015 the ministry established an expert working group (including NGOs and independent experts) and postponed all calls for biomass projects until the sustainability criteria are defined. The process is one of the biggest successes of our campaign for the sustainable use of EU funds.
Slovakia, in this case, went beyond existing legal requirements as the European Union itself did not create any binding conditions to ensure the sustainability of energy generation from solid biomass.
That biomass can be sustainable has been shown by a local initiative in Slovakia that transformed the local energy system from imported coal to locally sourced biomass.
During a meeting with environmental organisations on April 1, the new Minister of Environment László Solymos acknowledged the importance of biomass sustainability. On EU level, however, Slovakia still stands in opposition to EU-wide sustainability regulations on solid and liquid biomass as these sources are key to achieving Slovakia’s 2020 renewables targets. (The only area where Slovakia accepts regulation is forest management, which, however, does not solve issues with other forested areas such as river bank growths, unused agricultural land, roadside growths, etc.)
Taking on the EU presidency in June, with energy and climate as one of the key topics, Slovakia will host the process of creating new policy on bioenergy.
Its brave and promising step to guide EU funds supported bioenergy projects along sustainability criteria could and should be an inspiration for improving general biomass management regulations at a national and eventually European level.
Taking the debate over sustainable bioenergy out of its small EU funds niche and into the bigger context of energy policy will require more bravery.
The next months will show if Slovakia’s new Minister for Environment will have this courage or if he will bow to the pressure of the bioenergy industry.
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