The problems with “Greening” Ukraine

Two days ago on twitter (@Odessablogger) I was asked two very good questions.  One by my scholarly chum @Aghidel relating to the pros and cons of Ukraine’s WTO entry, I suspect in light of Russian entry this week, and another about “greening Ukraine”.

My thoughts about the benefits (or not) of WTO membership of Ukraine can be found in a series of 148 long twitter statements to my academic chum and maybe I will write a short entry here on the subject in the future.  However there is no way I could write about the obstacles to “greening Ukraine” via twitter.  There is just too much to say.

Now there is much to say that is good as far as Ukraine is concerned with regards to alternative forms of energy, political will, subsidies/grants/governmental financial encouragement etc, but that was not the question.  It also, through default, via 20 years of neglecting public infrastructure, well ahead of the EU’s 2050 environmentally friendly transport plan with regards to rail use for both people and goods.  Who’d have though that doing nothing through complete ineptitude and corruption for 20 years with regards to roads etc, would put Ukraine ahead of most EU nations in the context of such a environmentally friendly transportation plan relating to rail?

Anyway, question was relating to the problems, and as with all things going forwards, a significant amount of the problems are historical by nature.  There are though problems going forwards, which I will also mention.

Aside from pollution, carbon capture and waste management from the more heavily industrialised regions, not to mention indiscriminate Soviet dumping of hazardous materials still needing to be sanitised as much as possible, there is another, obvious issue, past, present and future that needs to be addressed. -  The housing stock and commercial premises of Ukraine.

The most obvious place to start is energy efficiency and energy efficiency awareness.  An example being in winter, the old Soviet communal heating systems which are turned on in October and run through to April get so hot that people have their windows open when it is - 15C degrees outside, less they be living in a sauna.  It is one of many clear examples of energy waste throughout Ukraine.  I could list a dozen more but the purpose of this post is not to highlight the energy efficiency short-comings of Ukraine.

The most obvious answer to the above example, you will all be saying, is individual boilers and thermostats on radiators (which in many cases there are none, thus the need to open windows to control the heat), individual meters to monitor usage and an educational programme to top it all off - before decommissioning the antique Soviet infrastructure.  Well quite!

But this brings us to the much larger problem of retro-fitting the huge housing (and commercial) stock in existence in Ukraine.  A problem no different to many other nations where 75 - 80% of envisaged housing stock is already in existence and far from being “green”.

A thorough greening retro-fit of existing stock involves far more than thermostats and boilers.  There is wall and roof insulation, meter fitting, windows, doors, communal areas in apartment blocks, energy efficient refrigerators, washing machines, TVs, etc.  Anything you can think of, down to light bulbs for the vast majority of 46 million Ukrainians and their homes.

Naturally you can see why “greening” is seen as an economy/GDP booster amongst the developed nations in times of economic strife.   A lot of work, a lot of manufacturing and a lot of jobs.

Jobs takes us to the next problem.  If such a truly mammoth undertaking was seriously engaged in, are there sufficient skilled and trained construction workers familiar with the installation and maintenance of green technologies in Ukraine?  We are talking about a country bigger than France with 46 million people and about as big a housing and commercial property stock numerically, already in existence.

The issues going forwards with new build can be overcome within the “legitimate” and qualified construction industry as projects of a certain size always attract the best qualified people.  However, Ukraine is full of unqualified builders.  That is not to say they are necessarily bad, some are very good despite no formal qualifications, having spent a lifetime building.  Others it has to be said are truly awful despite the same lifetime in construction.  It is the unqualified plethora of local building gangs that will ultimately end up doing a large amount of retro fitting with materials and technologies they are completely unfamiliar with.  The results of such work are guaranteed to be hit and miss.

The option then is to manage those qualified to retro-fit and “green” Ukraine by instigating some form of training and bureaucracy to confirm ability.  This may take the form of self regulation amongst the “legitimate” construction firms as was the case with the CSCS system in the UK, or it may take the form of governmental programmes and bureaucracy.  In both cases there is a huge administrative and training expense.  It also has to be said that in Ukraine, any form of bureaucracy is open to corrupt practices.

Let us assume that such certification and training is made available and such a “greening” programme is undertaken with sufficient finances behind it.  In adopting such a programme and using the green materials and technologies there is a very real and inherent risk that many currently working in construction would become unemployable.  As it is, electricians and plumbers (as an example) are continually having to update their skills and qualifications as new regulations and technologies hit the market.

Can Ukraine cope with the huge number of black economy building gangs suddenly becoming unemployable in the sector?  Is the country sufficiently “joined up” to train all these people in a useful, up to date, green technology/material?  Unlikely!

The lack of existing skills to “green” Ukraine plus the lack of training opportunities across such a large nation presents an obvious bottleneck to quality retro-fitting and thus qualitative “greening”.  That is before we consider the disjointedness of regional administrations.

Now, as I said at the very beginning of this post, the political will for “green” in Ukraine, across the entire political spectrum exists.  New solar farms are popping up and getting planning permission quite frequently.  Hydro and wind farms likewise.  All very good, but it does nothing to address the energy efficiency (or lack of) relating to the commercial properties and the housing stock of Ukraine already in existence or the retro-fit and the skills involved, which must be a very serious consideration for any nation wanting to “green” itself.

Is there a retro-fit plan?  Is there a training and re-skilling plan?  Is there anything more than political rhetoric over energy efficiency and the occasional NGO delivering anything more than “green/energy efficiency advice” in the form of leaflets and  lectures?

With the majority of Ukraine’s commercial and housing stock already in existence, where is the plan for retro-fitting and the economic stimulus (and eventual savings) this would generate?  Is there an implementation strategy?  Is there the skill set?  Is there even the awareness?