Allison Le Corre
May 5, 2023
Next month, European Member States should submit drafts of their updated National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs). These plans, first developed in 2020, outline the concrete actions each country is taking to contribute to reaching the EU’s ambitious targets in matters of climate and energy.
It’s clear that no country will reach these targets without the help of cities. Not only do cities account for more than 70% of greenhouse gas emissions, but they are also important places of change, implementing the ecological transition on the ground. The NECPs are a great opportunity to harness this potential and to integrate concrete local climate and energy plans into national strategies to reach net-zero by 2050.
Unfortunately, few national governments have embraced this opportunity thus far: local governments were in large part excluded from the NECP process last time and not often mentioned in the plans. The NECPlatform project, funded by the EU LIFE programme, is trying to change this in six countries: Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Italy, Portugal, and Romania.
Seizing on the opportunity of the NECP revision process, the project is trying to establish effective, recurring dialogues between local, regional, and national governments, and other relevant stakeholders. The goal is to align objectives and policies in each country, for more coherent and robust plans to tackle climate change.
The process has already started in Croatia, Italy, Portugal, and Romania, where first dialogues were held in the past months. This just marks the first step of a two-year process, that essentially aims to redefine the governance of energy and climate issues in the long-term.
For the national plans to really reflect the voice of local governments, national governments need to go beyond organising sporadic, one-off, top-down consultations. This was the approach of most EU Member States when developing their NECPs last time, in response to the EU’s obligation that they organise multilevel dialogues to discuss the plans (Article 11 of the Governance Regulation).
NECPlatform is showing us that we need to pay special attention to the way these dialogues are organised. These dialogues are thus meant to take place every few months during the revision process of the NECPs. The long-term ambition is for them to give way to permanent platforms that will live beyond the current NECP process. Such platforms would then become a privileged forum to discuss national energy and climate policies more generally.
It’s natural then that the first dialogues that took place in these countries were just setting the scene for a longer-term discussion.
In Romania, the first dialogue opportunity to engage the two national ministries in charge of the NECP process on how to improve the communication channels between national and local governments, as well as with other actors. It was made clear that in the previous years, although the national government had launched a consultation, it had been too top-down and short notice to account for meaningful participation of local authorities and relevant stakeholders. Options to improve this process were discussed, from creating an IT platform to integrating local representatives and stakeholders in the working group that will be put in place to revise the NECPs.
Croatia kicked off the process strong, gathering more than 40 stakeholders from different levels of government, energy entities, NGOs, and academia, and involving a total of 9 ministries. The Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development, in charge of the NECP, has already taken ownership of the platform, which then emboldened more ministries to get involved. With such active engagement from all parties, the first dialogue focused on setting up a concrete agenda of the following workshops, each of which will be dedicated to discussing specific measures of the NECP and gathering feedback from the stakeholders present.
Italy took its first step by gathering key actors from different levels to align their demands and feedback for the national government. The aim is to have a coherent and coordinated set of feedback before discussing directly with ministries in the second round of dialogues.
In Portugal, around 20 participants gathered, including representatives of the two ministries in charge of the NECPs, to dive directly into the key topics where better alignment needs to be drawn: transport, building, agriculture… The format allowed for sincere discussions which put on the table the priorities that need to be worked on in the following dialogues.
Still to come are the first round of dialogues in France and Bulgaria, happening at the end of this month and beginning of June.
The first steps taken in these four countries made it clear that the road ahead is a challenging one, but not an impossible one. The NECP process, if done correctly, could set the field for more integrated and coordinated climate and energy policymaking in EU Member States. And essentially empower local voices on the national stage. What happens in the NECPlatform countries will show us the way.