George Kremlis is a member of the Board of the European Public Law Organisation and chairs its climate and circular economy Institute. He is also a member of the environmental and social advisory council of the EBRD and also currently the Chair of the Bureau of the Espoo Convention; Chair of the MOPs in 2019, elected Chair for the MOPs in December 2020 and re-elected Chair for the period 2021-2023. George Kremlis is Honorary Director of the European Commission (EC) and has acted in this capacity as Active Senior responsible for circular economy in the islands. He is chairing the circular economy committee of AmCham and is advisor to the Environment Committee of the Hellenic Parliament. He was until recently special Advisor to the Greek Prime Minister on energy, climate, environment and circular economy issues.
Mr Kremlis, what are the biggest challenges the EU is facing in dealing with the climate crisis?
The cost of the energy transition and ultimately of the climate neutrality is extremely high and the funds available – even if they are generous – are not sufficient to ensure it. Moreover the continuation of the was in Ukraine aggravates the situation. Time is needed for the Fit for 55 to deploy fully it’s effects and this is also true for the REPower EU Plan.
Can you tell us more about Greece’s green transition model?
Is the country optimistic about achieving carbon neutrality targets by 2050? Greece has a very comprehensive climate law with targets and milestones even more ambitious than those of the EU climate Regulation. An additional target is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2040 and phase out lignite by 2028. Energy efficiency is supported by an ambitious programme entitled “I save” and electromobility is supported through incentives. Energy storage capacity is being developed together with an extension of the grid to serve green energy that will be brought from Egypt – produced by wind and solar – thanks to the GREGY project undersea cable, a project of European Common Interest which will also benefit to Bulgaria. https://elicagroup.gr/en/gregy/ We are therefore optimistic that the target will be met.
Greece achieved 45-50% of the energy produced to be the result from the renewable sources. How do you manage to achieved this good result and why do you think Bulgaria lags in this regard?
Greece is among the best performing countries in RES. Its aim is to reach the target of 80% RES by 2030. Wind and sun – inter alia – are largely available and wind offshore is currently being developed. The legal framework is favourable to RES projects and bankability is ensured. Bulgaria has a very extensive Natura 2000 network and although RES are not in principle incompatible with Natura 2000 areas their implementation becomes extremely difficult because of a very active green movement and social acceptance problems. A RES spatial plan(s) will certainly ease RES penetration, as well as the development of maritime spatial plans for offshore wind.
The closing of the coal plants is a big problem in Bulgaria at the moment, because so many people will lose their jobs in regions where it will be difficult to find a new profession. How is Greece dealing with this problem?
Phasing out lignite is foreseen in Greece by 2028. There is no fixed date in EU law for the closure of coal power plants. They can operate as long as they comply with the Industrial Emissions Directive which requires Best available techniques for a plant to operate. In other EU Member States the deadline fixed is 2038 and Poland has the longest possible deadline. The Just Transition Fund is available to ensure a smooth transition and provide support to those regions which will phase out lignite, by supporting new activities and new jobs. It is to be ensured that BG will successfully use it.
How can we strengthen cooperation in the region and what are the biggest challenges facing our countries?
There is already a very good cooperation between Greece and Bulgaria. Through the ICGB pipeline, gas is provided to BG and this pipeline is planned to increase its capacity from 3 to 5 bcm and operate in the future also as a dual pipeline (gas & hydrogen), thanks to the doubling of the TAP pipeline capacity. Bulgaria has reserved gas quantities in the LNG of Revythousa and Greece has stored gas in Chiren. An Energy Union is being progressively developed between our two countries. Solidarity has been fully applied in the past when BG was in need of gas.
Do you think the energy transition in the EU should be accelerated?
Ideally yes as the climate crisis is becoming more and more severe and the temperature rises faster than expected. In COP28 in Dubai important decisions will have to be taken by the international community to stop this alarming trend. Nevertheless as the energy transition cannot be ensured without the circular economy model being progressively implemented it is very difficult to shorten further the current road map. The solution will be hopefully brought through a faster penetration of the green hydrogen and ultimately through the fusion which will solve the energy problem of the planet.
What are the legislative changes that will help achieve the goals?
In the light of the monitoring of the existing legal framework and the progress achieved, as well as in the light of the international developments, the legal framework will most likely need to be reviewed. Most importantly, if the decision to review the Lisbon Treaty is finally taken by the European Council it will be important to establish a genuine Energy Union, using as a source of inspiration the European Coal and Steel Community, together with a strong chapter in the new Treaty on climate mitigation and adaptation/resilience and strong climate proofing instruments in the context also of the EU Taxonomy.