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13 June, 2024
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''Cyprus has the potential to become a model of sustainability in Europe''

In an exclusive interview with Professor Cameron Hepburn, Battcock Professor of Environmental Economics at Oxford, Cyprus is uniquely positioned to lead in sustainable development

Shemaine Bushnell Kyriakides

In a recent interview during the first-ever Green Agenda Cyprus Summit held at the Hilton in Nicosia, environmental economist and sustainability advocate, Professor Cameron Hepburn, delved into the pressing need for Cyprus to embrace a green transition. Highlighting the economic and health benefits of renewable energy and electric vehicles, Professor Hepburn argued that Cyprus, with its abundant sunshine and advanced financial sector, is uniquely positioned to lead in sustainable development. His message is clear: transitioning to greener practices is not only environmentally responsible but also economically advantageous, promising cheaper energy and reduced pollution-related deaths. Despite the challenges, he believes Cyprus has the potential to become a model for sustainability in Europe.

Q: You had a very interesting presentation. I especially liked it when you said Cyprus has the dirtiest and most expensive grid in the EU. You're the first person who’s actually said it out loud. So, in a nutshell, could you give me a brief overview of your message? And please do tell me, is the green transition sustainable in Cyprus?

Professor Hepburn: Well, for sure it's sustainable because it's economically sensible. You don't have to be a greenie to be interested in wanting cheap energy. And this is the cheapest energy you'll get. EVs are more resource-efficient, waste less energy, and are a more physically sensible way of moving people around. In addition, you reduce emissions, get your country faster to net zero, and save local pollutants that harm people. Air pollution is the fourth largest killer in Cyprus. As you move to a cleaner energy and transport system, you also reduce the number of deaths. So, lots of reasons are lining up. Maybe it's trendy as well. I'm not very trendy, but on the substance of the issues, we've seen a shift that is not going to be reversed. This is the future.

Q: But what do you say about the green transition in the farming industry? I presume it involves lowering or even getting rid of pesticides and chemicals in agriculture to reduce carbon? I've spoken to a few people in the agricultural industry, and they say this green transition is causing poverty. It's going to be very difficult for them. What do you have to say about that?

Professor Hepburn: I understand concerns from those who've been doing things in particular ways for a long time. It is true that we potentially have poverty in front of us because of climatic changes leading to drought and breadbasket failures, hence wide-scale famine. We need to get this problem under control to ensure a resilient food system. That will require changes, but it's worth looking at the opportunities available. You can farm and produce energy from the same land. In many countries, we're seeing farmers loving this transition because they're getting extra revenue streams and making more money. In the UK, this is beginning to happen as well. It does require rethinking how things are done, and I understand that's going to be disruptive for people.

Q: Why do you think it's taken so long for Cyprus to start this transition? Professor John Oliver was here for the digital agenda last year. He said we have the capability. We're a very sunny island. If we continue to build more solar panels, we could provide electricity to all homes in Cyprus and export it as well.

Professor Hepburn: Cyprus has a phenomenal opportunity. It's the sunniest country in Europe. It's not a huge landmass, so you can electrify your transport system straightforwardly. A critical piece of the green transition is the financial system and capital markets because it's more upfront expenditure for much lower operating costs. That requires a good financial system, and Cyprus has great bankers. So, all the ingredients are there for a successful transition. The delay might be because a decade ago, the cost of solar energy was much higher. Now, it's significantly cheaper, making the transition more economically attractive.

Q: Do you think there’s a chance to change the mentality in Cyprus, especially with the Electricity Authority of Cyprus (EAC) having a monopoly on electricity?

Professor Hepburn: Changing mentality is possible, but not everyone has to move at once. A vanguard of progressive thinkers and players can lead the way, with others following gradually. Different communities need tailored messages. For bankers, it's about profitability. For others, it's about reducing air pollution deaths or being part of a sustainable future. Some will resist change, but overall, progress can happen step-by-step.

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