By Kostas Komninos – Head of Energy and Climate Change at Aegean Energy & Environment Agency
The Islands of FEDARENE have been working in pursuit of a common goal for the past 30 years: embarking on a sustainable development paradigm. These efforts are beginning to bear fruit, notably through Europe’s firm decision to fight climate change.
The issue of islands’ energy transition is clearly emerging as a separate area of intervention at European level, both through the “Clean Energy for EU Islands” Initiative and the «Split Memorandum”. Moreover, Directive 2018/2001 stipulates that, to increase RES penetration in the Outermost Regions and small islands, Member States may adapt financial support schemes for projects located in those regions, to reflect the increased energy production cost.
This favorable political framework is backed up with an unprecedent amount of resources. A significant part of EU investment programs, namely the Structural Funds but also the novel Recovery and Resilience Facility, has been reserved for climate targets, while a dedicated tool, the Just Transition Mechanism (JTM), has been set up to support these policies.
Against this backdrop, a concerted multi-level action among European, national, regional and local authorities is now urgently needed. Energy agencies, with their significant technical knowledge and deep understanding of the island-specific conditions, are crucial actors to transform the political momentum into tangible actions. Their work can enable the islands’ clean energy transition in the framework of an overall sustainable development.
It should, first, be acknowledged that islands require a dedicated regulatory framework, depending on their specific conditions. This approach would facilitate the preparation of financially, socially and environmentally feasible projects, which will activate investments while ensuring the interests of all stakeholders. Such projects are suitable for replication in other geographical areas, enabling the capitalization of the islands’ experience for the benefit of whole Europe.
My experience while working side by side with island communities has shown that any transition agenda should be part of an integrated strategy with measurable benefits for the local economy. The development of such strategies should be promoted by Member States, making use of territorial development tools such as the Integrated Territorial Investments (ITIs). The recent “GReco islands” initiative focusing on the design and implementation of ITIs in small Greek islands in the fields of energy, water and waste management, transport, sustainable mobility and circular economy, is an eloquent example thereof. By adopting an integrated approach to the planning and management of natural resources and infrastructures, islands can overcome structural problems of insularity, all while offering higher quality of life to local communities and their visitors but also significant know-how to the European academia and industry.
The activation of combined technological, financial and social innovation in the islands through integrated approaches can accelerate their shift towards a circular and climate-neutral economy, signaling -the smart and green transitions at the local, national and European levels. It is a unique opportunity that the current momentum does nοt allow to be missed.