Regaining confidence

Policy op-ed by Claire Roumet

I have changed my mind at least 10 times about the content of this editorial. Traditionally, in December, we look at the past year, and in January at the one to come: but this time…where to begin? So many things have happened, but how can we put things in perspective when shut indoors all day long, with no opportunity to discuss them out loud. And are they even worth writing about?

But there is some good news!

The European Council has just adopted an unprecedented budget for the coming years together with a recovery plan and the next financial framework up to 2027. 30% and 37% of expenditure respectively will have to be earmarked for climate actions. This adds up to a lot of opportunities for cities. However, technical assistance, funding and support must be put in place quickly so that they can ensure the European funding is used locally. This is indeed the new fear of the European institutions: how to boost the take-up rate of EU funds.

It is not just about amounts and how they are earmarked. Ambitious objectives have also been adopted: reducing GHG emissions by 55% by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality in Europe by 2050 at the latest. Nevertheless, the political orientations and debates on priorities do not seem to fully reflect the extent of the changes needed. The European proposals rush into technological choices, banking on hydrogen and batteries and on gases of all colours; it is not easy for local players to position themselves on the development of energy policies without greater knowledge of their ramifications. This is what we are trying to do with this special newsletter on hydrogen:  analysing from a local perspective what this “vehicle”, this new energy stream, might change in terms of energy management. Beyond the technological solutions, one issue is never mentioned: reducing demand, which remains an absolute taboo. Undocumented, unthought-out, undefended.

All scientists agree that adopting a sector-based approach of swapping sources will not enable us to achieve our targets. It must be a collective project that empowers everyone. Mathieu Saujot and Laura Brimont have just written a brilliant analysis of the links between social inequalities and the ecological transition. Their proposals are clear: we must reaffirm the transition as a collective project and citizen participation as a vector of engagement and legitimisation; we must also rely on trusted third parties (such as Mayors) to counter mistrust.

Examples throughout Europe illustrate these three dimensions, such as the launch of a municipal energy company with citizen participation by the City of Porto. But these collective, participative aspects and projects reforging links must also be included in the strategy of the recovery plans and the climate plans and provide a backbone for the transition. The Paris Forum of 11 December showed the vitality of the commitments made by Mayors from all over the world to celebrate the 5 years of the Paris Agreement.

This wealth of initiatives must become the focal point of the national, European and global political project of the transition!



Claire Roumet

Publication date

December 15, 2020