New research from Baringa Partners, co-funded by Shell, shows that by accelerating Bulgaria’s transition to natural gas and away from coal, the country stands to reduce C02 emissions levels by 46 million tonnes.
The forecast of significant environmental gains comes as the Bulgarian Government is working to set up a wholesale gas exchange and further diversify its gas supplies. The findings, detailed in Baringa’s Energy Transition in Bulgaria report, show the transition to natural gas would bring numerous societal benefits as well as addressing the fact that many of the country’s coal plants currently do not comply with EU directives.
The transition to natural gas by Bulgaria, which in 2017 reduced its CO2 emissions by the second largest percentage of any EU country, would mark an important contribution to hitting the EU’s overall targets for CO2 emissions reductions. In line with the Paris Agreement, the EU is currently targeting a reduction in emissions of 80 to 95% by 2050, which would mean a fall in CO2 levels to between 286 and 1,144 million tonnes. 
Jayesh Parmar, Partner in Energy and Resources at Baringa Partners, comments: “We’ve all seen the global headlines about the climate emergency we face and know that action is urgently needed to address how we currently generate energy. So far, the focus has largely been on replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources. However, this isn’t going to happen over-night and we need a source of energy which will keep the lights on in the meantime. We believe natural gas can play this transition role, reducing CO2 emissions and, eventually, shifting a country’s energy system towards more renewable sources.
“In countries like Bulgaria, switching from coal to natural gas will go a long way towards reducing emissions and addressing the cost of a reliance on coal. Where this will be most successful is where Governments legislate now for a faster transition, something which we have been engaging with Bulgarian stakeholders to consider. Joining the Coal Regions in Transition platform will also aid Bulgaria in its transition.”
The research focuses on transition to natural gas in Bulgaria as a crucial steppingstone to a low carbon economy, where renewables will play a much larger role. Similar uses of natural gas as steppingstones are a focus of the draft Energy and Climate Plans produced by the majority of member states and submitted to the European Commission in December 2018. The final versions of these plans will be submitted in December 2019. 
The Baringa report points to a number of European countries that are already using natural gas as part of their strategy to move away from coal and transition to a lower carbon energy supply. In Germany and Spain, for instance, the closure of unprofitable coal mines was carried out between 2011 and 2018 with some converted into natural gas plants. Natural gas plants are seen by these countries as a key part of the journey towards using more renewable energy. However, as was the case in Germany and Spain, transitioning to natural gas will require significant financial support.
Kamelia Slaveykova, Country Chair of Shell Bulgaria, adds: “This study which was co-funded by Shell highlights the key benefit of accelerating Bulgaria’s transition to natural gas and beyond. At Shell, we believe that the move towards a low-carbon future includes the need for a commitment from governments around the world to transition from using coal to cleaner hydrocarbons, such as natural gas, as well as other solutions including renewable energy. Bulgaria and other countries would see a big benefit to both their emission levels and their health services if they accelerated this shift. For Bulgaria in particular, joining the Coal Regions in Transition platform could be an important first step.”
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) which was consulted as part of the study preparation and is a long-term supporter of the Bulgarian energy sector. Harry Boyd-Carpenter – Director, Head of Energy EMEA, said: “Urgent and decisive steps are needed to address the challenges posed by climate change and poor air quality. This requires a fundamental shift away from the most polluting fuels towards low and zero carbon alternatives. EBRD has put decarbonisation at the centre of our new energy sector strategy under which we will support the gas sector in the countries we operate in, where it is consistent with a low-carbon transition that is both secure and affordable.
 Total greenhouse gas emission trends and projections, European Environment Agency
 National Energy and Climate Plans, European Commission