Addressing our inconsistencies in order to meet the challenge

Policy op-ed by Claire Roumet

How do we respond to the emergency, to the need to adjust our path and revisit our goals, without changing a single policy? In some ways, this is the question that’s been missing from all the Commissioner hearings currently taking place in the European Parliament.

There are many inconsistencies between our goals, and although the word “growth” is gradually being replaced with “prosperity”, our priorities have changed very little. For example, the Commissioner-designate for Energy, Kadri Simson, voiced her support for the gas and liquefied natural gas sector, stating that such resources are necessary to implement the energy transition and ensure energy security – even though her native city of Tartu in Estonia has an exemplary energy mix, with an efficient, dense urban heating network supplied from renewable sources. However, Estonia has a neighbour which is a significant player in energy geopolitics, and which continues to exploit one of the world’s largest shale oil fields, located in its territory, in the name of energy sovereignty.

Yes, the challenges posed by climate change, security of supply, resource management, migratory instability, and politics are colossal. Yes, these are complex issues, and the trade-offs between the various goals can be difficult.

Faced with this complexity, municipal authorities want to make informed decisions, beyond debates with experts, and to have tools enabling them to measure not only the impacts on the climate (greenhouse gases and resources) but also the benefits. Pressure from citizens clearly demands action (not reports full of figures), but when it comes to deciding what action to take, and especially demonstrating the impact of that action, existing reporting systems are vastly inadequate.

The complexity of the world calls for more sophisticated tools. For relevant and rich collective debates that actually produce solutions, we need a “climate culture”, and basic knowledge that will enable everyone to take action. We must measure progress monthly, daily, continuously – not once every five years. We must also develop local strategies based on actual available resources, not extrapolations of national statistics.

In this context, recent surveys in various countries[i] show that the climate change challenge has been clearly identified, but that very few of the mechanisms of global warming are understood, and that our basic scientific education on possible solutions is extremely fragmented. Creating a climate culture in Europe, with a Climate Pact, is one of the core tasks of the incoming First Vice-President of the European Commission! And a good thing too, because the need is urgent. However, the Commission must give itself the means to ensure that the upcoming debates on the structural changes that lie ahead of us, on our path towards a resilient Europe, are places of collective construction. The future of democracy is at stake.

On 4 October, a citizens’ convention was launched in France. 150 participants, selected at random, have been tasked with “suggesting measures to reduce greenhouse gases by at least 40% by 2030, in keeping with social justice principles”. Let us hope that the convention will be given the time and resources necessary for an informed debate.

Keeping our climate and energy commitments will require a fresh approach. Unfortunately, at the European level, the Commissioner hearings do not herald any such change. But at the national level, we may be seeing true citizen conventions with the means to co-construct policy. And, of course, at the local level, new tools are required to grasp the complexity of interactions, along with the shrewdness to uncover hidden resources (human, natural and organisational), enabling us to constantly measure progress and thus adjust our path. But, above all, we must ensure that everybody takes action.

[i] “Young People and the Climate” survey, conducted by the association “Pour une école alternative en Belgique” (For an alternative school in Belgium), see also the proposals made by the “Shift Project” for teaching the climate issue.



Claire Roumet

Publication date

October 10, 2019