Air, Climate, Energy: all responsible


Publication date

May 31, 2018

Policy brief by Claire Roumet

A hotchpotch of players

On 17th May, the cities of Paris, Brussels and Madrid lodged a complaint with the European Court of Justice against the Commission for giving the car industry a right to pollute (Regulation (EC) No 692/2008 as regards emissions from light passenger and commercial vehicles) . On the same day, the European Commission instituted legal proceedings against 6 Member States (FR, UK, DE, IT, RO and HG) for “failing to respect agreed air quality limit values and for failing to take appropriate measures” . Ironically, the Commission focused its communication on its commitment to protect European citizens (and their health). How can it pretend to protect them when it took no significant action in the wake of the “Dieselgate” scandal, a massive industrial lie, and even extended the industry’s adaptation period for implementing more restrictive anti-pollution standards?

Later in the month, 10 families from around the world who have materially been affected by climate change (either due to rising sea levels as in Fiji or as a result of economic losses in the case of a lavender grower in the South of France) brought an action against the European Commission, demanding that it accelerate its climate change action and significantly increase its 2030 objectives. This complaint echoes recent legal battles in Germany. One of them resulted in the conviction of RWE following a complaint filed by a Peruvian farmer. Arguing that the energy company was partly responsible for climate change, this farmer had demanded that it be held to account and take responsibility for the consequences of its actions.

At the opposite end of the “legal” spectrum is the right to energy which remains a political battleground. The idea behind the recent initiative of the city of Barcelona to create a municipal company so that all citizens have a right to energy is to compensate for a dysfunction in the market which does not guarantee access to a basic need. The city feels responsible and able to offer its citizens a solution.

How to better share responsibilities?

The issue underlying all these examples is responsibility. Who should be held responsible? The designers of the legal framework, those applying it or those suffering from its consequences? And who should be responsible for ensuring policy consistency and alignment (cf. the diesel example above, and all the European policies that are incompatible with the Paris agreement)?

Energy Cities’ members meeting in Rennes last April were categorical. First, it is up to the European Commission to ensure that its proposals, especially budgetary and fiscal ones, are consistent and “Paris compatible”. It also has to be ambitious if it wants European citizens to take it seriously. Yes, the EU can protect, but only if it has the courage to push through the radical changes needed and to ruffle the feathers of major industrial players and is ready to anticipate national opposition.

Second, Energy Cities’ members strongly affirm that all levels, sectors and players are responsible, and that it is only through establishing genuine “adjustment chambers” that we will reach the long- and medium-term objectives we set ourselves. Similar objectives must be set industry by industry and territory by territory and applied simultaneously

Having political rights and objectives is good, robust judicial institutions to enforce them are necessary, but having bodies to mobilise citizens and manage contradictions would be even better. This is precisely the raison d’être of the “dialogue platforms” suggested by the European Parliament in its position on the governance of the Energy Union and rejected by the Member States.

Does sharing responsibilities mean losing legitimacy? Or building a democratic decision-making process adapted to the 21st century? Local authorities are ready to take on their responsibilities. Let’s give them the tools to do so and be co-responsible. Now is the time!

It is also the time to place the transformation of local areas into “Paris compatible” territories at the heart of the new cohesion policy by applying the co-responsibility principle! It is not only a question regarding our survival on this planet, it is above all a matter of urgency for our democracies and the European project.

Unfortunately, we are still wide of the mark as shown by the recently published Commission’s proposals.