Renewable energy can help achieving a variety of sustainable development objectives and various synergies could facilitate their deployment. Due to this reason, but also because of potential trade-offs related to the environment and human health both at country and transboundary level, accounting for different interests and issues early in planning and identifying strategic directions is crucial.
On 21 and 22 March 2019 in Belgrade, UNECE (Sustainable Energy and Environment Divisions) in cooperation with the Ministry of Mining and Energy of Serbia and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) organized a multi-stakeholder dialogue entitled “Hard Talk: New Possibilities for Developing Renewable Energy Sustainably in Serbia”. The event - supported by the Ministry for Environment, Land and Sea Protection of Italy - aimed to uncover the most pressing barriers to the deployment of renewables in the country and featured a session on intersectoral synergies and trade-offs. The Renewable Energy Hard Talks in UNECE countries in general explore new possibilities for developing sustainable energy and promoting renewable energy investments, and lead to development of related recommendations. The intersectoral or ‘nexus” perspective in the Hard Talks in the Drina riparian countries is a feature developed with the Water Convention and the Hard Talks are part of the work of the Group of Experts on Renewable Energy (GERE). The Hard Talk was organized back-to-back with the final conference of a UNDP/Global Environment Facility project “Reducing Barriers to Accelerate the Development of Biomass Markets in Serbia”.
Some 130 participants took part in the events, including policy and decision-makers, project developers, investors, technology providers and NGOs as well as international donors and financial institutions. Notably, representatives from other natural resource management areas and environment protection were also among the participants.
The discussion touched key obstacles to substantially increasing the uptake of renewable energy, namely lack of support mechanisms, complex permitting procedures, political resistance, lack of awareness among consumers about renewable energy sources, grid access, as well as financial risks.
The exchanges, which will lead to a series of practical recommendations for policy makers, pointed to the need for the establishment of a dedicated Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Agency, the application of the existing legal framework and commitments on renewable energy, and continued support for multi-stakeholder dialogue. The participants recognized the need to increase renewable energy sources and develop sustainable projects that also include environmental considerations. The importance and value of reinforcing cross-sectoral planning and policies with an inter-sectoral or ‘nexus’ approach was highlighted, taking into account risks to investors, society and the environment.
An important aspect of the discussion was the need to view the sustainable deployment of renewable energy from an inter-sectoral point of view that takes into account its impact on the water, agriculture, forestry and environmental sectors. Such a nexus approach can help reducing some of the major risks identified, notably social risk and political risk, including through attention to participation and empowerment of different actors, and achievement of clearer long term targets and greater coherence among sectoral plans. By planning future renewables deployment holistically and across borders, through this ‘nexus’ approach, many positive synergies and benefits can be realized. Examples of such concrete opportunities for synergies are e.g. those between hydropower operation and flood protection, and using renewable energy to power rural development and sustainable tourism, illustrated in a nexus assessment of the Drina River Basin (carried out under the Water Convention in 2016-2017).
As a side event to the Hard Talk, the UNECE held a consultation on a follow up project to the nexus assessment of the Drina River Basin, which will feature a modelling exercise to explore potential scenarios of renewable energy development in the three riparian countries, and the role that the basin’s resources play in achieving national goals. This activity is funded by the Austrian Development Agency in the framework of the project “Promoting the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources in Southeastern Europe, through the use of the Nexus approach” and implemented by UNECE in partnership with the Global Water Partnership Mediterranean. The project uses the Water Convention’s methodological experience on the transboundary nexus and the modelling expertise of the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm.