Challenges and issues hindering green transition and economy transformation in Slovakia

Currently, climate change is one of the leading factors that shape, influence and is present in the policies of individual states and other actors. The leading global actor in the fight against climate change is the European Union (EU) and its Member states. In addition to the inclusion of climate change and its impacts in the documents of the European Common Security and Defence Strategy – where, over the years and the development of the strategy, the topic of climate change is more and more extensive and mentioned – in 2019, the EU through its institutions (especially the European Commission and the European Council) has started a significant policy and project known as the European Green Deal. The European Green Deal represents a set of initiative policies, commitments and laws that have the task of leading the EU through the green transition and ensuring the statutory goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. The European Green Deal is ultimately intended to ensure for the EU and its Member states the transformation to a prosperous, fair and healthy society with a modern and competitive economy (Consilium Europa, 2023) – and at the same time to fulfil the goals in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement from 2015.

As a Member state of the EU, Slovakia supports, acknowledges, and undertakes to fulfil the set goals and conditions of the European Green Deal and its ambition to become climate neutral by 2050 and to transform its economy and other sectors into a modern, green, and sustainable one. The Visegrád countries (as Slovakia is the member of this alliance) have historically shown some hesitation towards the European Green Deal. They share the same or similar challenges and problems with adopting measures and policies for the transition to a greener economy and an emission-free state by 2050. For a better understanding of the current situation and subsequent possible recommendations, it is also appropriate to mention some of the specific challenges for the given region and Slovakia itself.

Societal recognition and political priority

Starting with the societal issue area, the societal recognition and political priority of the climate crisis remains low on average in Slovakia. “With fossil fuel-powered industrialisation traditionally pursued on the convergence path, mitigation policies have often been framed as ill-suited for less developed economies.” (Riepl and Zavarská, 2023). The topic and issue of climate change has not spread and does not resonate in Slovak society as in other, especially Western European EU Member states. The reasons can also be socio-economic aspects and topics that are more important for society for basic survival – work, family security, living or social security and others. Due to the lower interest of the population in these topics, political representatives choose other, more effective, and interesting or catchy topics, which will more easily help them in the political arena fighting for electoral‘ votes.

Lower starting point

In economic and political issues area, lower starting point for Slovakia, as well as for other Visegrád countries, may be another crucial aspect or challenge which hinders the green transition and decarbonization of the industry. Slovakia, with other V4 countries, shares a common history in connection with the communist period and the former Iron Curtain. The later approach to democracy, democratization processes and accession to the EU significantly improved the condition of these countries, but differences in several areas between post-communist countries and Western states are still visible today. A robust correlation exists between economic development levels (gauged by GDP per capita) and progress in the green transition (evaluated by CO2 intensity). Consequently, less advanced economies grapple with the dual challenge of economic and environmental convergence. For Slovakia, reducing emissions while pursuing convergence is inherently challenging, as its catch-up endeavours may conflict with climate objectives. Additionally, it is essential to acknowledge that Slovakia and these countries inherited a significant reliance on nuclear and fossil energy, along with an energy-inefficient building stock, from the communist era. On the other hand, it is necessary to add that Slovakia is in a better condition in this area of ​​industry-issue than, for example, Poland, but on the other hand, for instance, Slovakia is completely dependent on gas supplies, which came precisely from Russia – until the Russian aggression in Ukraine – thus absenting any diversity of resources (Riepl and Zavarská, 2023).

Automotive industry as driving force of Slovakia’s economy

From an economic perspective – considering it as another issue area – automotive industry lies at the heart of Slovakia’s industrial core. This sector of industry become the most important and driving force of Slovakia’s economy. Slovakia is the leading car producer per capita in the world. Also, this type of industry is the largest one in this country, constituting 13% of GDP, as well as 54% of industrial production and 33% of industrial exports. As mentioned earlier, Slovakia must refocus and specialize in e-mobility to realize substitution of current situation, or to search for new and more diversified projects and industrial opportunities within green transition and given goals (Globsec, 2021).

Energy security issue due to the Russian war against Ukraine

The issue of energy security has risen to the forefront of the EU policy agenda, with the landlocked Visegrád countries emerging as particularly vulnerable in their energy structures. In the event of a complete switch-off of Russian gas imports, these nations (Slovakia included) face the potential for gas shortages of up to 40%. The imperative for a prompt and resolute reconfiguration of the EU energy system is evident. This political momentum holds the promise of amplifying investments in renewable energy sources and sustainable solutions in the Visegrád countries as they hasten their efforts to decouple from Russia. It is noteworthy that Slovakia exclusively relied on Russian imports for gas and oil before the Russian invasion (Riepl and Zavarská, 2023). However, the conflict itself can also affect the transition and transformation to a green economy, by reducing interest, or by moving the issue to the sidelines of interest and relevancy.

Possible recommendations

The current situation mentioned above, as well as selected specifics and challenges for Slovakia in hindering the green transition, can also serve as basis for recommendations that would be beneficial for the economy, as well as the fulfilment of obligations, goals, and agreements within the framework of the European Green Deal and the fight against climate change. The following policy recommendations for Slovakia, its institutions and the political leaders represent the most relevant options that can contribute to changes and moving forward.

Increasing society’s trust and support in climate change mitigation policies

Support and trust in policies that mitigate the impacts of climate change and introduce measures that change the overall structure of industries is crucial and necessary for the effective implementation of changes and greener transition policies. It is necessary for political elites, leaders, government, and parliament, as well as other state and public institutions to inform and present true information and increase their transparency. It is necessary for politicians to be interested in these topics, not to trivialize them, and to conduct a professional discussion with the public. Transparency as well as cooperation with professional and scientific circles are also key aspects.

Investment in renewable energy technologies

Slovakia, with its geographical location and conditions, has a high potential for using wind and investing in wind power plants on its territory. In addition to legal adjustments, approval and simplification of certain legal and administrative steps, the trust of society is needed again. Another source of energy are regions with unused geothermal deposits, which can contribute and serve the self-sufficiency of the region, or the use of green and renewable energy.

Development of innovative technologies in the building and transportation sector

Gradual beneficial redirection of freight transport from road to rail transport. Balance the tax burden on fuels with their real impact on the environment. Transfer of transport work in and around cities from individual car transport to mass rail, urban or bicycle transport. In building sector there are solutions in green infrastructure and green projects.

Continuation of participation of emission trading system 

A fundamental instrument for cost-effective reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in industries, energy, and aviation transport is the European Emission Allowance Trading Scheme (EU ETS), which covers approximately 50% of total annual greenhouse gas emissions in Slovakia. The EU ETS operates on a „cap-and-trade“ system with a progressively decreasing annual limit for the volume of emitted gases. This policy recommendation is also already mentioned in the environmental policy strategy until 2030, which shows relevance and facilitates implementation, or continuity (Široký et al., 2020).

Development and establishment of cooperation in projects for green energy

Establishing cooperation with neighbouring states, but also with the private sector, think-tanks, or professional groups for the implementation of projects for green energy is a suitable step towards faster and more effective mitigation of climate impacts and the transition to a green economy. The offer of knowledge from the actors is an effective tool that can lead to deepening cooperation in other sectors and spheres, from which both parties involved can benefit (Riepl and Zavarská, 2023).

Refraining from developing new projects and building infrastructure with negative impacts

A current example is the permission of the Slovak Minister of the Environment for the construction of a liquefied gas terminal in the port of Bratislava. The terminal is intended to serve as a refuelling station for cargo ships. This step should contribute to the increasing demand for liquefied gas, as well as to a larger source of gas for Slovakia. Negative impacts such as a methane leak, an increase in the contribution of greenhouse gas emissions, or possible environmental and water pollution are clear examples of stopping such projects (Pálka, 2024). A more appropriate way is to invest in renewable energy sources and build technologies.


Zdroje:

Consilium Europa (2023a) European Green Deal, Consilium.europa.eu. Available at: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/green-deal/.

Consilium Europa (2023b) Fit for 55, Consilium.europa.eu. Available at: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/green-deal/fit-for-55-the-eu-plan-for-a-green-transition/.

Globsec (2021) Slovakia: An Automotive Industry Perspective, GLOBSEC – A Global Think Tank: Ideas Shaping the World. Available at: https://www.globsec.org/what-we-do/publications/slovakia-automotive-industry-perspective.

Pálka, D. (2024) V Bratislavskom prístave má vyrásť LNG terminál, Správy RTVS. Available at: https://spravy.rtvs.sk/2024/01/v-bratislavskom-pristave-ma-vyrast-terminal-na-skvapalneny-plyn-environmentalisti-sa-buria/.

Riepl, T. and Zavarská, Z. (2023) ‘Towards a Greener Visegrád Group: Progress and Challenges in the Context of the European Green Deal’. Available at: https://wiiw.ac.at/towards-a-greener-visegrad-group-progress-and-challenges-in-the-context-of-the-european-green-deal-dlp-6430.pdf.

Široký, P., et al. (2020). Zelenšie Slovensko – Stratégia environmentálnej politiky Slovenskej republiky do roku 2030. Ministerstvo životného prostredia Slovenskej republiky. Available at: https://www.minzp.sk/files/iep/publikacia_zelensie-slovensko-sj_web.pdf.

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