« If you had only one wish? »

Policy op-ed by Claire Roumet

This summer, far from Brussels’ overheated streets, I was asked this seemingly innocent question by a friend while chatting after a pleasant walk: “if you were to ask for only one measure from the future European Commission, what would it be?”

You can always count on holidays to change your perspectives and give your priorities a reality-check! How can one explain the need for climate mainstreaming at all levels (European, national, local) in an intelligible, yet relevant way when real changes affecting our lifestyles are taking place, without the support of esoteric concepts?  How can one sum up the eight points of our Manifesto to European policy-makers when it is already the result of drastic culling and editing?

Change everything!

This is the simplified message we could send to the new Vice-President of the Commission in charge of Climate Action, Frans Timmermans .

Frans Timmermans has been Vice-President for 5 years, his previous position involving the difficult task of enforcing the rule of law in the European Union. He is a municipality and sustainable development supporter. This is good news for the local transition.

The “Green Deal”[i] he should be in charge of (a promise of the incoming Commission President) aims to make carbon neutrality a legal requirement. It should also mainstream a massive reduction in our footprint in all European policies, not only for carbon but for all resources. The Commission president has also promised to create a Just Transition Fund and transform the EIB into a climate bank. 

It is too soon to have details of the ambitions of the new executive. Some proposals are already on the table. The EIB, for example, has proposed to revise its lending criteria to exclude fossil fuels. The “Just Transition Fund” is a request from the Parliament and the Commission is already working on a proposal. However, undivided support from the new Commission would make this fund a programme that could change the Cohesion policy’s approach to local transition.

This fund can help transform territories if it results in massive investments in “climate governance”. As at the European level, all local policies must be aligned if we want to achieve climate neutrality. The new Brussels-Capital Minister for Climate Action has made it a priority for the next term[ii].

This is a lesson we can learn from forward-looking cities: climate mainstreaming can help change decisions and public investment criteria in favour of measures encouraging local resilience. But this requires a complete overhaul of the system of governance if we want to mobilise the players and share in the transition’s benefits and responsibilities.

[i] Its portfolio remains to be confirmed following his hearing by the European Parliament in October

[ii] The Brussels-Capital Region is an Energy Cities member. See the interview of Alain Maron on how to reach carbon neutrality