The European Green Deal and Energy Democracy
Ten years from now we will likely look back upon this decade and this new European project with a resounding sense of success or failure. In recent history there has never been a decade so vital in determining the fate of future European generations as the one we enter now. We face three major overlapping challenges. Firstly, we have an economic crisis which is represented by increases in poverty, inequality and homelessness. Secondly, an environmental and climate crisis which threatens food security, front line communities, current economic models and entrenched investment portfolios. Lastly, we have a crisis of democracy where liberal democratic values are threatened in Europe.
The new commission in Brussels headed up by Ursula von Der Leyen have clearly set out their plans…“At the heart of our work is the need to address the changes in climate, technology and demography that are transforming our societies and way of life.” In response to the climate crisis the commission has laid out a European Green Deal in which their “goal is to reconcile the economy with our planet, to reconcile the way we produce, the way we consume, with our planet and to make it work for our people. The European Green Deal is on the one hand about cutting emissions, but on the other hand about creating jobs and boosting innovation.” These policy measures will change the face of Europe; it’s trade, energy, food and financing. This progressive stance should of course be welcomed, we need leaders with strong and just policy who can tell and sell a story of hope.
However, if this Green Deal cannot respond to the three crucial issues faced in Europe what state of affairs will we be looking at in 2030. Are we looking down the barrel of the most radical, fair and transformative set of polices that can produce a carbon neutral society by 2050 – perhaps a society enriched by citizen participation in democratic processes where the economy works within planetary boundaries and exists to serve the majority of the population? Or, are there two bullets loaded ready to reinforce spiralling levels of inequality where energy policy plays into the hands of dubiously revamped oil companies? Policy which does the latter will likely bolster support for anti-establishment movements disdainful of centralised Neo-liberal policy. You need look no further than the yellow vest movement in France for evidence of this.
One of the main pillars of the new European Green deal is energy policy. Transitioning the energy system towards net zero emissions is a multifaceted problem. The solution is not so clear but it will likely involve improved efficiencies, electrification of systems, deployment of renewable energy and circular economic models. Classically the provision of energy within the EU has been from state and corporate actors through a centralised production system. The history of our energy system means that large multinational fossil fuel companies and investors are integral in the designing of new energy policy. These conflicts of interest around their asset and investment portfolios are a significant issue, the ability of these entities to promote information favourable to itself is vast when compared to smaller and new actors in the industry. Evidence has shown that despite clear calls for transitioning to carbon neutrally in the EU the European Parliament “regrets the fact that fossil fuel subsidies are still increasing and amount to around €55 billion per year”.
Hope is not however lost because last March an EU Climate Change resolution called on “All levels of government, whether national, regional or local, to put in place measures to encourage the participation of citizens in the energy transition and to stimulate the exchange of best practices; stresses that the involvement of citizens in the energy system through decentralised self-generation of renewable energy,…” Furthermore, EU law now allows communities and individuals to generate, consume and sell their own energy. By 2050 approximately 45% of renewable energy production could be owned by citizens, 37% of which could come through participation in an initiative of a citizen energy community.
The citizen inclusion in the production of renewable energy through individual and community ownership is a unique opportunity for addressing systemic inequality. An energy transition based on citizen inclusion and ownership can empower citizens to fight climate change whilst strengthening local economies and our European democratic model.
Whether the European Green Deal will play into the hands of the invested interests of today is yet to be seen. What however is clear is that there is a legal mandate for citizen owned renewable energy production. The benefits will become clear when citizens are placed at the heart of European Green Deal. The biggest loss will be if we get to 2050 and the owner and operator of a solar panel on your roof is a corporation listed on the stock exchange.
In collaboration with the United Nations Youth Association Energy Working Group we at Sustainability Influencers advocate for measures to encourage the participation of citizens in the energy transition. We work towards educating and empowering the youth – the citizens of today and the future – to building a fairer and more sustainable world.
Author: James Nickles
James is part of the Advocacy team within the Sustainability Influencers. He is a Graduate student in Climate Change at the University of Copenhagen.