10 February, 2008
How do you communicate the need to take urgent climate change actions when your citizens are enjoying the warmest winter in ages with temperatures which save them a lot of money in energy consumption?
This was one of the interesting questions I discussed with government communicators, EU information officers and aspiring journalists during my two-day visit to Vilnius, Lithuania, this week. What might be the hot debate in Brussels does not necessarily ring a bell in other member states. The largest of the three Baltic EU members cares more about its economic growth prospects and the energy security issues related to its nuclear past and future.
Nuclear power provides most of Lithuania’s current energy needs but as a result of its EU membership, the country will have to close down its only remaining Chernobyl-like Ignalina nuclear unit in 2009. This makes it more dependent on gas imports from its Russian neighbour, something most Lithuanians are not very happy about.
The country has therefore been working on a Baltic Energy Strategy with Latvia and Estonia which includes the construction of one new nuclear power plant and development of new transmission lines with Poland and Sweden. But conflicts over costs and ownership of the new nuclear plant could delay the operational start of the new plant until 2020 and the Lithuanian government is trying to negotiate with the European Commission for an extension of the life of the last Ignalina N-plant (see interview with Lithuania’s President Adamkus in January 2008).
Green groups in Lithuania have presented ideas for a sustainable energy future based on energy savings (a huge potential in this country) and renewables instead of nuclear (read “Lithuanian Sustainable Energy Vision 2050” by Inforse Europe). Renewables now accounts for about 8% of Lithuania’s energy consumption (see the Commission’s DG Energy’s fact sheet on Lithuania’s renewable energy situation of 2007). In its latest renewable energy proposal of 23 January 2008, the Commission has set a very ambitious target of 23% of renewables to be reached by Lithuania in 2020.
But the Lithuanians I talked to seemed to be rather sceptical about the acceptance of more renewable energy (especially about the use of wind power).
As Lithuania is trying to rebrand itself as the “brave” country, maybe it could try and become the first new EU member states to really make an innovative choice for a sustainable low-carbon future? In that way, the climate objectives of the country could probably even be reached without its citizens having to care much about global warming 🙂 .Author : Willy De Backer