This article is part of New Europe’s: Our World in 2016

Georgia – Tbilisi  : Georgia’s mind is in Paris 2015 was the year of Paris. In November, a terrorist attack in Paris drove home the message that a failed state – war, conflict, poverty, and radicalization – anywhere undermines democracies everywhere. And as France refused to be terrorized, so were 195 nations determined to keep a historic appointment with our future, as the custodians of a planet. On December 12 th 2015, in Paris, the world reached a historic agreement to tackle climate change. The main aim was keeping the rise of global temperature well below 2 Celsius by curbing CO2 emissions. The agreement entails investment and technology transfers that will allow developing nations to grow without emulating the model of untamed and unconditional growth. In 2015, Paris, the city that started the history of modern democracy in Europe, became the place in which the world came to realize that we sink or float together as a planet, as democracies, as peoples. It is now clear that climate change affects us all, from droughts in California, to floods in Britain, and from blazing fires in Ukraine to mudslides to China.

In many ways, Paris became the capital of Europe, where the urgency for common and resolute action for the protection of our way of life became inescapable. As democracies, as modern consumer societies, we are interdependent. Georgia is a small but ambitious developing nation in the South Caucasus, which sets objectives it is confident it can meet.

Tbilisi has set the ambitious objective of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. As billions must be transferred to emerging economies to develop to avoid the developed world’s model of dirty, untamed and unconditional growth, Georgia is a positive force for green growth that invests in a technologically mature and economically sustainable form of energy, namely hydro-power. Hydropower and, more recently, solar power are forms of energy that have reached “grid parity.” With over 25,000 streams and rivers, Georgia has reached 90% autonomy in electricity production and has only developed 20% of its estimated capacity. Georgia today has clean, affordable, and, therefore, socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable energy.

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Reaching a carbon-neutral economy requires linking Georgia’s grid to its neighbors, scaling up production and investment. Under, the umbrella of the Neighborhood Investment Facility, over the last five years, Georgia has worked with institutional investors – EBRD, EIB, KfW – to upgrade its power grid. The plan entailed the creation of a regionally scoped Black Sea Energy Transmission System that would not only cover domestic needs but would allow for the export of hydroelectric power to Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. As the grid develops, the country is attracting Foreign Direct Investment in hydroelectric production, mainly from Turkey.

In October, investors in Georgia announced the building of four new hydroelectric plant-building projects for the value of $ 723 million, which should add 1.7 billion kW of energy per hour to the country’s capacity.

That is roughly 17% of its current production capacity. Georgia will thus soon be able to replace expensive thermal energy and switch to hydroelectric power all year around, with enough surplus to export.

The rate of developing hydroelectric power makes the ambition of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050 timid. However, “carbon-neutral” implies technology transfer in transport, in industry, in housing, as well as sustaining an economy reliant on energy intensive tourism. Even a country like Georgia, blessed by nature by a wealth this previously unharnessed natural resource, will need to invest not only in production, but in saving energy to become a carbon-neutral economy and society.

Policy orientation at a national level remains relevant, over and beyond international obligations. Taming growth and setting qualitative objectives in development is a controversial objective, especially in countries like Georgia, with limited public funding that must rely on private and, more often than not foreign investment for their development. And that is not merely a matter of regulating the energy industry. Developing Georgia’s grid entailed the engagement of institutional or strategic investors. The results were immediate, as a new and potentially lucrative market was created, mobilizing substantial – for Georgian standards – private resources. But, while giant leaps can be achieved in the beginning of a process, Georgia must now make qualitative steps across its economy to reach the carbon neutrality.

In 2014, Georgia reached 5.5mn total visitors in its tourist sector; in 2015, growth in arrivals has remained steady. The objective now is diversification of our tourist market and a gradual surge in spending per visitor. Remaining a mass tourism inexpensive destination means that natural resources, including water, unique habitats and the environment are over-drained. Georgia is a small country but has 22 different microclimates, unique products – including wine – rooted in our tradition. From honey to forestry and from fish farming to tea growing, Georgia is full of potential and must grow in a manner that builds on this wealth. The good news is that this is a distinctly European model of growth, and Georgia has already committed to a European socioeconomic model of development.

In many respects, Georgia is no longer meeting benchmarks alone, as in the early stages of out post-Soviet transition. We are now looking through a European lens at our future, molding our ambitions for the future as Europeans. In 2015, Georgia was present in Paris. We were present in November, in solidarity with the French, ready to cooperate with our partners to maintain open, secure, democratic and safe societies. And we were present in December, ready to be as ambitious as any European, for the building of a greener economy and a more sustainable society.