Some of the world’s biggest countries
have been stepping up in recent days with wide-ranging plans to cut global
warming emissions in advance of a United Nations summit meeting write Gary Dirks and Fron Nahzi in Policy Review.And as nations that have long avoided
the subject turn their attention to the environment, Albania is showing promise
of becoming a leader in sustainable development in a region whose coal-based
systems have been major polluters.

Albania? The country that for the last couple of
decades has slid into the news only as a source of Balkan violence and
political and economic dysfunction?

Yes. With EU and US backing, the new government of Prime
Minister Edi Rama is working to rebuild the rule of law. His party’s resounding
win in local elections in June demonstrates public confidence in the ongoing
reforms and efforts to not only put Albania on track for EU membership but also
to generate solid investment opportunities that only a few years ago appeared
unattainable.

Renewable energy is a good example. When he
first took office in 2013, Rama started out by imposing strict
enforcement on the payment of electric bills, which 42 percent of users had not
been paying. He even sacked the deputy minister of environment for failing to
pay her electric bills. This showed that government ministers do not stand
above the law.

Now Rama can go further by expanding legal and
judicial reform to help Albania find a steady supply of affordable energy. To
do so will help free the country from the grips of corrupt officials and
attract much-needed foreign investment.

One attractive opportunity is the Trans Adriatic
Pipeline, which will bring natural gas from the Caspian across Albania to
Italy. While not a zero-carbon fuel, natural gas is cleaner than the coal
that dominates southeast Europe power generation, and natural gas power plants
can provide flexible and reliable power generation for the region.

A more exciting set of options can be explored with
the extensive network of dams in Albania by employing what’s called “pumped
storage” – storing and generating energy by moving water. As the European
grid expands into the Balkans, renewable power from northeast Europe, which at
times is in surplus, could be stored by an Albanian pumped storage
system. The same system would allow Albania to pursue domestic wind and
solar projects to power its own economy and to export to neighbors in need of
clean energy. Kosovo, Albania’s neighbor to the northeast, is also
seeking sources of reliable energy. Currently, Kosovo’s electric power is
sourced from two outdated, deteriorating, and highly polluting lignite-fired
power plants. Kosovo could benefit immediately from new energy sources
starting up in Albania.

Prime Minister Edi Rama’s reforms combined with EU
polices and emissions-trading systems provide a mutually beneficial opportunity
to Albania and potential multinational investors. To attract investors for these
projects, however, Albania needs to continue momentum away from its image as a
“mafia state” toward a nation rooted in the rule of law by implementing further
judicial reforms.

At a recent conference on Albania’s justice system,
top EU and US representatives applauded Rama’s reforms and emphasized that
these types of rigorous reforms must continue. Ambassador Romana Vlahutin, head
of the EU Delegation to Albania, noted, “The reform must also ensure full
independence of the prosecution from any political or other undue influence,
especially prosecution of high level corruption and organized crime
cases.”

In today’s turbulent investment climate,
multinationals have limited favorable geographic locations and political
environments where investments are likely to prove profitable – even fewer in the
clean energy sector. Albania is rapidly becoming an ideal prospect, but it must
ensure a hospitable business environment to attract the right investors.

Gary Dirks, is
Director, Arizona State University Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of
Sustainability and Fron Nahzi, is Global Business Development Director,
ASU Walton Sustainability Solutions