INTERVIEW – Bulgaria should tap EU funds to realize its green potential, World Bank country head says



SOFIA (Bulgaria), July 1 (SeeNews) - Bulgaria’s green potential is substantial but the country should tap EU funds to realize it, acting strategically, systematically and at a large scale, the bank's country manager for Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia said.

"Bulgaria needs to take advantage of EU funding opportunities and focus on redirecting this money through a predictable and integrated framework to shift towards climate-smart agriculture like organic agriculture, improving energy efficiency of residential buildings and developing green manufacturing," Markus Repnik told SeeNews in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of a business forum held last week in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia.

Bulgaria has access to roughly 10 billion euro [$13 billion] in EU funds for the 2014-2020 programming period.

Government leadership is crucial for effectively absorbing the money and directing it to green agriculture and small farmers, Repnik noted. The goal is to shift towards more competitive agriculture, including by building up organic agriculture that would also develop a more climate resilient agricultural sector. It’s good for the environment, and at the end of the day, is good for the economy, he added.

Today, only 0.3% of Bulgaria’s agriculture is certified as organic, compared to about 20% in Austria. Globally and in the EU, organic agriculture is a growing market, as sales in Germany for example increased by 30% over the past five years.

The second area to work on identified by the World Bank official is energy efficiency of residential buildings.

As much as 40% of all energy in the EU is consumed in buildings. A total of 2.7 million Bulgarians live in poorly insulated residential buildings. Taking large scale steps to upgrade these apartment buildings with proper insulation would reduce energy consumption in them by up to 50%. The step for home improvement would benefit home owners, especially those 60% of the country’s population who are energy poor and spend 10% of the household income on energy as well as local construction businesses, Repnik said.

“The 2014-2020 programming period gives a huge opportunity to provide substantial financial energy efficiency support to home owners in the country.”

One euro investment in energy efficiency saves two euro investments in new power generation, Repnik said and referring to a recent World Bank report analyzing lessons learned of residential buildings improvement works in seven EU member states.

Bulgaria is the most energy intense economy in the EU. In order to produce one unit of gross domestic product, Bulgaria uses four times more energy than the EU average, he noted.

Today only 3.0% of Bulgaria’s exports are high-tech innovative goods and services, significantly below the EU average of 16%, he said, adding that the international lender sees substantial growth potential in eco-friendly and green manufacturing.

Bulgaria can position itself as a European investment destination for green manufacturing leading to a diversification of its export basket with a higher share in innovative products, leading to job creation in sustainable sectors, Repnik said, emphasizing the importance of a better framework to stimulate and support innovative green enterprises.

The global market for renewable energy has been growing rapidly in the last decade. In 2011 it resulted in 200 billion euro, which was six times the amount invested just seven years earlier, Repnik noted, adding that prices of renewable energy production are going down substantially.

There is no way to think about sustainable development, without being very mindful with each and every decision a government is taking to provide the right framework to incentivize green investments and avoid environmentally harmful subsidies, Repnik said.

“So, my advice for Bulgaria is all about redirecting resources and strategically tap into EU money to realize your green potential, it’s about technology, behaviors, government and business leadership," Repnik concluded.

$=0.7672 euro

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