Some of the world’s biggest countries have been stepping up in recent days with wide-ranging plans to cut global warming emissions in advance of a United Nations summit meeting write Gary Dirks and Fron Nahzi in Policy Review.And as nations that have long avoided the subject turn their attention to the environment, Albania is showing promise of becoming a leader in sustainable development in a region whose coal-based systems have been major polluters.
Albania? The country that for the last couple of decades has slid into the news only as a source of Balkan violence and political and economic dysfunction?
Yes. With EU and US backing, the new government of Prime Minister Edi Rama is working to rebuild the rule of law. His party’s resounding win in local elections in June demonstrates public confidence in the ongoing reforms and efforts to not only put Albania on track for EU membership but also to generate solid investment opportunities that only a few years ago appeared unattainable.
Renewable energy is a good example. When he first took office in 2013, Rama started out by imposing strict enforcement on the payment of electric bills, which 42 percent of users had not been paying. He even sacked the deputy minister of environment for failing to pay her electric bills. This showed that government ministers do not stand above the law.
Now Rama can go further by expanding legal and judicial reform to help Albania find a steady supply of affordable energy. To do so will help free the country from the grips of corrupt officials and attract much-needed foreign investment.
One attractive opportunity is the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, which will bring natural gas from the Caspian across Albania to Italy. While not a zero-carbon fuel, natural gas is cleaner than the coal that dominates southeast Europe power generation, and natural gas power plants can provide flexible and reliable power generation for the region.
A more exciting set of options can be explored with the extensive network of dams in Albania by employing what’s called “pumped storage” – storing and generating energy by moving water. As the European grid expands into the Balkans, renewable power from northeast Europe, which at times is in surplus, could be stored by an Albanian pumped storage system. The same system would allow Albania to pursue domestic wind and solar projects to power its own economy and to export to neighbors in need of clean energy. Kosovo, Albania’s neighbor to the northeast, is also seeking sources of reliable energy. Currently, Kosovo’s electric power is sourced from two outdated, deteriorating, and highly polluting lignite-fired power plants. Kosovo could benefit immediately from new energy sources starting up in Albania.
Prime Minister Edi Rama’s reforms combined with EU polices and emissions-trading systems provide a mutually beneficial opportunity to Albania and potential multinational investors. To attract investors for these projects, however, Albania needs to continue momentum away from its image as a “mafia state” toward a nation rooted in the rule of law by implementing further judicial reforms.
At a recent conference on Albania’s justice system, top EU and US representatives applauded Rama’s reforms and emphasized that these types of rigorous reforms must continue. Ambassador Romana Vlahutin, head of the EU Delegation to Albania, noted, “The reform must also ensure full independence of the prosecution from any political or other undue influence, especially prosecution of high level corruption and organized crime cases.”
In today’s turbulent investment climate, multinationals have limited favorable geographic locations and political environments where investments are likely to prove profitable - even fewer in the clean energy sector. Albania is rapidly becoming an ideal prospect, but it must ensure a hospitable business environment to attract the right investors.
Gary Dirks, is Director, Arizona State University Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and Fron Nahzi, is Global Business Development Director, ASU Walton Sustainability Solutions