June 17, 2022
It is the last of the ‘soft’ instruments put forward by Donella and Denis Meadows in the revised version of their 2004 ‘Limits to growth’ report. Having explored, in my previous op-eds, inspiration (May), learning (April), networking (March) and love (February), we are left with this obvious fact: we will need utmost honesty to make the transition happen. And it’s no coincidence that this was the topic of debate among the cities of the European Mission for ’Climate Neutral Cities in 2030’ during the initiative’s launch on 13 June in Brussels.
In the end, perhaps this is what happened at the European Parliament last week, during the long-awaited vote on the climate package – the renowned ‘Fit for 55’ (which is already obsolete, as the Commission published on 18 May, in its ‘REPower EU’ plan that increases the package’s goals!). Not ambitious enough, much too far from the bare minimum… MEPs want a more climate-realistic roadmap for European industry. And yet, even after going back to the drawing board, it will still fall very, very short of an honest position. Because being ‘honest’ would mean setting goals which are in line with the issues at stake.
This month, the European Covenant of Mayors Board met with the Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, and the European Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson, to discuss what territories can do to reduce our energy needs and how cities can contribute to the ‘EU Save Energy’ plan. The Commission suggests that Member States add a ‘REPowerEU’ chapter to their recovery plan, which could be funded by a reallocation of Cohesion funds to the national energy strategy. Is this good news?
Let’s be honest: the renationalisation of part of the Cohesion Policy, after that of the Common Agricultural Policy, (that can also be used for the REPowerEU strategy), could only be good news if (and only if!) the recovery plans are truly rooted in the territories, i.e. designed, decided and implemented alongside them.
If the investments in new local socio-economic systems make it possible for all the territories to meet (reduced) needs, encourage interactions with their neighbours and weave a web of micro-interdependencies, then shared prosperity can be built. Because territories are the ones who hold the keys to a resilient, renewable and independent energy system, in close proximity to resources, and they have the ability to meet needs.
This new chapter of the recovery plans, which should enable us to free ourselves of our dependencies, must be a clear and concise roadmap for our ‘phasing out’. Indeed, what we need today is an ‘exit strategy’. And we need to ‘tell it like it is’, to be brutally honest, in order to move away from the illusion of substituting one energy with another. This exit strategy, ultimately, cannot ignore our consumption methods.
Any strategy to ensure energy supply must begin with the territories and stem from their diversity.
To be honest, I’m not sure that our European leaders understand it this way. I also do not believe that allowing the States to define the ‘REPower’ chapter of investment plans on their own is what will help us move away from thinking on a national scale.
It is necessary to decipher the issues at stake and the balance of power that will result from the proposals. There can be no political negotiation without trust. And for that, more than ever, we need intellectual and moral honesty.