Vienna to Host the "TRATOLOW" Climate Conference for the Western Balkans and Turkey

PeopleDiplomats ♦ Published: April 29, 2024; 21:58 ♦ (Vindobona)

In a crucial meeting in Vienna today, leading climate and environmental representatives from the Western Balkans, Turkey and the EU discussed strategies to tackle climate change. Organized by the Austrian Ministry for Climate Action, the EU Department for Climate Action and the Austrian Environment Agency, the conference focused on the TRATOLOW project, which aims to achieve a sustainable climate transition in these regions.

Environment and climate ministers and other high-ranking representatives from the Western Balkans, Turkey and the EU met in Vienna to discuss climate protection, the energy transition and adaptation to climate change in the region. / Picture: © BMK/Paul Benteler

The TRATOLOW conference provides a unique platform for the exchange of best practices, the discussion of financial strategies, and the planning of measures to increase energy efficiency and independence through renewable energies. Important items on the agenda were the implementation of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), which are key instruments of EU policy to reduce carbon emissions.

Verena Ehold, Managing Director of the German Environment Agency, explained the importance of the meeting: "We are at a critical point in the fight against climate change. The conference in Vienna sends a strong signal that we are moving forward together towards a climate-neutral and resilient future. Cooperation and dialog are essential for this."

Exchange and cooperation at the international level

Another focus of the conference was the implementation of the EU's "Fit for 55" package, a comprehensive set of measures aimed at reducing the EU's emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. The participants discussed the need for rapid and effective implementation of this package to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and enable a climate-neutral economy by 2050.

Climate Action Minister Leonore Gewessler commented on the urgency of the task: "We are measuring, seeing, and feeling the effects of the climate crisis everywhere, and the TRATOLOW conference provides an important opportunity not only to make plans but also to develop concrete, actionable solutions that will enable a profound decarbonization of our energy systems as well as industry, transport, and buildings."

Support from the European Commission

Since October 2021, a network of experts led by the Austrian Environment Agency and project partner NIRAS has been supporting the Western Balkan countries and Turkey in developing a low-emission, resource-efficient, and climate-friendly economy. This commitment is financially supported by the European Commission and aims to strengthen regional cooperation and create the framework conditions for the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The conference in Vienna is not only a milestone in regional climate policy, but also an example of the commitment of the participating countries and institutions to jointly tackle the challenges of climate change and develop sustainable solutions for future generations. The outcomes and agreements of this conference will be crucial in setting the course for a greener and more climate-resilient future in Europe and beyond.

Climate situation in South East Europe

The situation in the Western Balkans with regard to climate change is particularly challenging. This region, which comprises several countries including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, faces numerous climatic and environmental challenges:

The Western Balkans are increasingly experiencing extreme weather events, including heat waves, droughts, and severe flooding. These events have a direct impact on agriculture, water resources, and the health of the population. For example, heatwaves lead to increased deaths and greater strain on health systems, while droughts affect agricultural production, which in turn jeopardizes food security.

Many countries in the Western Balkans are heavily dependent on fossil fuels, especially coal. This leads to high CO2 emissions and other environmentally harmful emissions. The transition to renewable energy sources is necessary but difficult due to outdated infrastructure, limited investment in renewable technologies, and political hurdles.

The countries of the Western Balkans are undergoing political and economic transformation processes that are often characterized by instability and slow reform progress. This situation makes comprehensive and coordinated climate protection measures difficult. In addition, the region is dependent on international financial and technical support to achieve its climate and environmental goals.

Although the need for regional cooperation to effectively address the challenges of climate change is recognized, cooperation between the countries of the Western Balkans often falls short of expectations. Political tensions and diverging national interests can hinder the development of joint strategies and projects.

The socio-economic effects of climate change are particularly noticeable in the Western Balkans. Poverty, limited labor market opportunities, and emigration of young people exacerbate vulnerability to climate risks. Climate change also has a direct impact on living conditions through the increase in climate-related disasters, which in turn harm infrastructure and economic growth.

In light of these challenges, initiatives such as the TRATOLOW project are crucial to support the region in developing and implementing strategies to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. These efforts are central to creating a sustainable, resilient, and climate-friendly future in the Western Balkans.