“Behind the words” episode 1: The Climate Pact

Policy op-ed by Claire Roumet


Publication date

December 5, 2019

The ecological transition is on everybody’s lips. Climate semantics is so diverse and varied that it sometimes leads to contradictions in the same sentence. This is what happened when the European Parliament adopted an amendment to its COP 25 resolution, which included nuclear power in the list of “clean energy sources”. On the same day, Thursday 28th November, the European Parliament voted in favour of declaring a climate emergency by an overwhelming majority. A vote that took place on the eve of Black Friday, a much debated event – we are living in a time of contradiction!

Many city councils in Belgium, France, Sweden, the Netherlands or Spain have approved this declaration unanimously. In Germany, the expression “Klimanotstand” goes even further:  it means “a state of climate emergency” as if we were under attack or at war. At the local level, the emergency is tangible.  As a local representative, it is no longer possible to ignore it. Every local public policy must integrate this emergency, respond to it and change the course that had been set. Everything must be re-oriented, re-anchored. We need a new compass.

It is worth noting that there is a consensus at the local level.  Not all European municipalities are part of it of course, but mayors are stepping up their commitments. Day after day, an increasing number of them are aligning their strategies with the EU 2030 objectives and are signing up to the Covenant of Mayors. This is why the future “Climate Pact”, one of the promises of the new European Commission, must be based on local territories. These already have a “climate culture” that is just waiting to grow stronger.

But what is a “Climate Pact”?

First and foremost, it is a non-aggression agreement between European policies, which should all integrate the climate emergency. But it is also an agreement between European and local policies to be more flexible, agile and innovative in order to meet today’s challenges.

A Pact is also a partnership agreement between different parties:  the 2030 strategies developed by cities like Louvain or Lyon, are translated into action plans that are mobilising different coalitions of stakeholders depending on the action in question. But all these stakeholders are committing to one another through these strategies.

Finally, a Pact is, by definition, inclusive. There is no pact without equity.

We therefore want a “Coherence Pact” between all the levels of government [i], but we also want the climate emergency to become a cross-cutting objective of all European policies. We are only translating the EU objectives into today’s language.  A High Climate Committee [ii] would assess the situation in its yearly independent report: Are we on the right path? Do the policies implemented guarantee equity? Recommendations would follow suit.

But above all, a pact involves a shared vision. It is the many pacts designed by each territory that give shape to possible futures and will decide between contradictory objectives. The Covenant of Mayors will help in this by showing that the great variety of locally-chosen paths all converge towards a common European objective. The 3×20 have demonstrated their capacity to bring on board the whole of European society, its businesses, universities and citizens.

This rich soil is ready to receive our neutral climate seeds.  The Climate Pact is the Covenant of Mayors 2.0: a Covenant that integrates the strategy shared by all stakeholders in a local territory. A pact anchored in reality, a local AND European pact. This requires not only a change in semantics but a change in our approach.

“Behind the words”, to be continued …

In the next episode, we may have to come back to the term “energy transition”. Still today, it is Energy Cities’ core mission. But is it still the right formula to convey the idea that the point is not only to “patch up” an obsolete energy system but also to re-position society in its ecosystem, within its limits?

Or maybe… “Metamorphoses”?

[i] First step: enforcing multi-level governance as set out in art. 11 of the regulation on Energy Union Governance and Climate Action regulation.

[ii] Such a committee already exists in a number of Member States and metropolitan climate plans sometimes involve an external scientific opinion.