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My real wake call was a discussion with African and Pacific island climate activists

I am a novice when it comes to climate diplomacy. Back home, I studied environmental and political science. Therefore I was so grateful for the opportunity and trust Youth and Environment Europe gave me when I was selected as a part of the delegation. My main task was to follow the topics of Adaptation and Climate-induced migration, strictly correlated and fundamental subjects also in the framework of loss and damage, which turned out to be the crucial point of this COP. Furthermore, I was pleased to design and facilitate our “Intergenerational Dialogue about Climate-induced Migration in the framework of Adaptation”.

Although I participated in multiple calls and training about negotiations, COPs and UNFCCC, I believe there is no better way to prepare yourself for it than just experiencing it right on the spot. The arrival at the venue was overwhelming, and I was constantly getting lost between the pavilions and negotiation rooms. The pavilion themselves were an expression of each delegation; however, I sometimes felt like I was at a technological fair or art exhibition instead of a climate conference—usually, the pavilions were designed in a very techno optimistic and anthropocentric approach. Except for MENA pavilions, for me were, Japanese and Brazilian Pavilion quite a disappointment because of their flashiness and their strict focus on energy while ignoring the issue of biodiversity loss, which really puzzled me, especially with Amazon burning. Clearly, in the delegation’s minds, there is no voice questioning the growth imperative.

There is a vast disparity in the blue zone when the negotiation rooms and areas with pavilions, events and activists are physically divided by a road. During the first days, I even felt somewhat unwelcoming, that I do not belong to those negotiation rooms. This sensation was only enhanced by the fact that I was not allowed to enter multiple negotiations. Especially in the case of discussions around the Adaptation Fund, I felt sincerely disappointed. Not only because adaptation was the key topic on my portfolio, which I had followed for many months prior to COP27 and adaptation finance was named as a crucial issue of this year’s COP. Civil society deserves to have a voice present as the adaptation measures and projects should be principally locally led and this flagship discussion should be open to everyone. But also that the decision makers literally labelled this COP as a “Adaptation COP” in which we are all “together for implementation”. Does this slogan ring a bell for you? Yes, that is an official slogan for this year’s presidency. However, it seems that we are not that together after all, and some of us are simply more exclusive. Civil society is left behind closed doors as we are observers who cannot observe.

The sentiment of detachment followed me through the whole week. I spent my day passing by in the corridors and rooms with strong AC, either to simulate Artic weather or maybe to distract us from maintaining the temperature goal and that there is no climate crisis at all. I felt there that real-life problems exist in some other dimension. And the whole COP27 was set in an artificial environment, in a manmade resort with five stars hotels where real-life problems seem to not exist. But only seem, you can feel the elephant in the room in the form of human rights abuse and poverty being present at every step. I constantly had to remind myself what I am advocating for. And I wonder, when I have a problem focusing on what is right here, how must the decision-makers and negotiators feel? My real wake call was a discussion with African and Pacific island climate activists. It is eye-opening to hear their stories about how devastating it is for their communities and how, with tearful eyes, they explain to their children that they might lose their homes soon and never come back. It also made me realise how fundamental the concepts we are talking about (adaptation, loss and damage) are, how they already impact so many people worldwide, and why we are just reading about it in newspapers. Even though I read and studied about these issues for so long, suddenly, I found myself there so emotional and ashamed.

“Adaptation is for us is a story of grief. No matter how we adapt, we will lose our homes.” – Marshall Island Activists.
It is tragic, however, when you realise that in the pavilions, activists are crying for their voices to be heard and strong measures to be implemented. Yet, the pledges from the politicians, who are seated a few meters away, do not correspond with this humanitarian and ecological catastrophe. I felt incredibly humbled while also ashamed while listening to them. And I wonder why these conferences are not held in burning Amazon, in sinking islands or in drought-sued African communities? Let the leaders go to see the climate hell on their own eyes!

Instead of focusing on what matters, COP27 hit the headlines with its scandals: the scarcity of food and water, sewage rivers or Coca-Cola sponsorship. Although that created severe difficulties for me as a Climate Activist, I would appreciate if the world knew more about the actual outcomes (or rather lack of it) or about the human rights issue. This COP was a terrifying and stressful experience for many both local and international activists. Civil society had to deal with many forms of humiliation and terror (last-minute cancels of hotels and Airbnb, scams, constant passport scanning, spying mobile apps, presence of secret police in the venue etc.). The disappointing results feel like the last punch into the face.

It is clear now that COP27 was not successful, but it is also questionable how to measure success in terms of the climate crisis. That is why I find it so strange that we are discussing solutions to climate change, as there is no solution, we can only create an airbag, but now it is clear that this airbag will not be accessible to everybody. When drafting my research for COP27 on Adaptation, I had a motto of my supervisor and mentor in my head: “The less we do in mitigation, the more we have to do in adaptation, if not the more we have loss and damage.” I would rather not like to believe that is the tale of this COP when a loss and damage fund is established while fossil fuels are burnt. Together for implementation…of loss and damage, indeed.

Therefore, I cannot simply describe how I feel after COP27 since there are so many aspects. But although now I focused primarily on criticism, and I dare to say rightly so, I also had a great time with my team. Also, I am incredibly honoured that I could facilitate our side event. I met up with so many inspiring and kind people during the week too. And I believe, that is what COPs are also about. Nevertheless, I am proud to say that this week made me a better, stronger and more humble person and I will surely retrieve from this experience for a very long time in my professional and personal life.

Let me just say on the very last note, stop haggling about where the next COPs are going to take place; climate action must happen now!

COP27 Reflections - Together for implementation?

The motto for this COP was “Together for Implementation” – but have we been able to pass it to action? And are the parties truly “together” in the face of the climate crisis?
Read Here

COP27 Reflections – Adéla

We only got 10 days to save the world!

Attending the first week of COP27 brought me many new experiences and milestones. It was the first time that I participated in COP in person, coordinated the preparation of a policy position paper, co-organized and co-facilitated a COP side event with high-level panellists, and participated in a protest. It was a great occasion also to meet with Member Organizations and other young activists. I think young people did their best at this COP to make a powerful impact on progressing climate action. The Children and Youth Pavilion was always filled with an audience, having interesting events and influential speakers. I am very proud of our delegation, as we maximized our time, engaged in many activities, organized bilateral meetings with negotiators, developed a position paper together with European youth NGOs on phasing out fossil fuels, and the list goes on.

On the other hand, it was disappointing that all these efforts and demands were not warmly welcomed by decision-makers, who still tend to come up with weak excuses instead of taking responsibility and finding solutions.

The lack of transparency in negotiations further deepened our anxiety. Not only we had no access to negotiations as Observers, but also there were no newsletters or other reliable sources to follow how the negotiations were going. To this date after COP27, writing my reflections, I am still not aware of the outcomes. It makes me question how climate action will be implemented without any level of inclusivity, leaving key stakeholders completely out of the discussions.

Overall, I learnt a lot, exchanging with youth coming from different regions and realities, as well as with experienced policy-makers and experts, and listening to technical panel discussions and roundtables. It gave me a lot of motivation and hope to see young people working together, fully committed to a better future and I am grateful that I could take part in these efforts. It seems we have still a long way to go.

COP27 Reflections - Together for implementation?

The motto for this COP was “Together for Implementation” – but have we been able to pass it to action? And are the parties truly “together” in the face of the climate crisis?
Read Here

COP27 Reflections – Timea

There is absolutely nothing passive about the climate crisis.

Trying to gather my thoughts on COP has been a challenging task. Firstly, it goes without saying that I am proud of the YEE team, it’s so much work getting young people into these spaces, so much work to secure funding, to show up and do the work despite all the imposter syndrome these events impose.

Spaces such as COP27 offer a huge amount of inspiration and joy from meeting so many interesting and motivated people. It is so uplifting to find yourself surrounded by people talking as passionately (or more passionately) about your interests day in and day out: a continuous reminder that I have so much to learn. I do believe we need COPs, there needs to be regular moments of international diplomacy and a high-level event like this attests to the importance of its subject (hopefully).

And yet, I felt there was a lot of cognitive dissonance. COP27 was located in a resort town, in hotels each one more luxurious than the next, and the people who weren’t there for COP, were tourists.Each location had pools and fountains, and yet if you look just a few metres over, the land was completely arid with a handful of palm trees lining the streets. The venues were functional but also in some ways a bit extravagant and clearly ‘single-use’. Where will all these COP27 LED signs go once it is all over after two weeks?

The Green Zone, open to all publics and civil society, looked like exactly what you’d imagine a satire of a climate conference to look like: every building lit up in fluorescent lights as sun goes down in Sharm el-Sheikh at 17h30, huge ‘recycled’ art installations, rows and rows of plant corridors whose plants were clearly dead…All of that was for show, which really isn’t the point. 

There was also the strange atmosphere of watching what you say in the political climate of Egypt. Mincing your words, when you are meant to be part of civil society, is a bit counterintuitive. It goes without saying that climate justice is social justice and vice-versa, and no climate action can happen at the expense of human rights. Abdel Fattah’s hunger strike has been ongoing since the day before COP started. UNFCCC still ‘approved’ actions and protests and I felt privileged to see my team standing for the rights of environmental defenders.

My concluding thoughts, having gone through an eye-opening week, is that this isn’t a future that is simply occuring, or happening to us. We are actively building this future, in the negotiation rooms, in our personal choices, in the choice of COP Presidency… There is absolutely nothing passive about the climate crisis. Let us hope some of the outcomes of this COP, such as the Loss & Damage fund, will be a step in the right direction, and we will stop sitting idly in rooms filled with AC while the sun gets hotter outside.

COP27 Reflections - Together for implementation?

The motto for this COP was “Together for Implementation” – but have we been able to pass it to action? And are the parties truly “together” in the face of the climate crisis?
Read Here

COP27 Reflections – Chloé

YEE COP27 delegations

COP27 Reflections - Together for implementation?

COP27 wrapped up after negotiations which continued far into the night in the last days of the conference in Sharm el-Sheikh. Despite some positive outcomes, such as the Loss & Damage fund, there is still a lack of recognition of the need to phase out fossil fuels and a general lack of ambition. The motto for this COP was “Together for Implementation” – but have we been able to pass it to action? And are the parties truly “together” in the face of the climate crisis?

Critiques have been heavy so far: Frans Timmermans, EU Climate Policy Chief, addressed the COP: “I urge you to acknowledge when you walk out of this room, that we have all fallen short in actions to avoid and minimise loss and damage. We should have done much more, our citizens expect us to lead.” His conclusions are humbling: “This is the make or break decade, but what we have in front of us is not enough of a step forward for people and planet.”

A year on from COP26, we are faced with the same issues and discussions. COP26 president, Alok Sharma, recalled: “I said in Glasgow that the pulse of 1.5 degrees was weak. Unfortunately, it remains on life support. And all of us need to look ourselves in the mirror and consider we have fully risen to that challenge of the past two weeks.” 1.5 is still the rallying cry from civil society, but it seems an air of resignation could be felt: we aren’t set to keep to this target.

As young people, acutely aware that this is our future being decided, it is frustrating to feel that ambitions are being lowered – but the silver lining: at least there was no backsliding on resolutions made in Glasgow. The reality is that climate diplomacy, based on consensus, will be slower and more conservative than the action and words we see on the ground. 

This was YEE’s second COP and this year, YEE was able to send two delegations, allowing for a rotation each week. With 11 young people from Europe over the course of a fortnight, we had a diversity of roles and perspectives. As our delegate Adéla said: “Although I participated in multiple calls and trainings about negotiations, COPs and UNFCCC, I believe there is no better way to prepare yourself for it than just experiencing it right on the spot.” No matter our feelings on the outcomes and the events at COP, it is undeniable that as young people it is incredibly empowering to be able to attend such high-level events.

A space for young people?

It could look like that young people were finally given a proper space at COPs when the Youth & Children Pavilion was announced earlier this year.

However, as the head of week 2 delegation, Agnes, reflects, it was not exactly what we were hoping for:

"Even though the Youth & Children Pavilion was one small step of the youth involvement, it was most of the time still a place for youth to youth and not a place to bring together negotiators and young people. It was isolated and did not serve the immediate response needed for the role of youth in the climate crisis."
Agnes
Head of Week 2 Delegation

Nonetheless, there were many young people at COP that we were able to connect and coordinate with – a partnership building which resulted in a collective push for the phasing out of fossil fuels at the EU level. As our delegate Timea said: “I think young people did their best at this COP to make a powerful impact on progressing climate action. The Children and Youth Pavilion was always filled with an audience, having interesting events and influential speakers.”  The value of young people’s contributions did not go unnoticed. 

A step forward on Loss & Damage

The most positive outcome of COP was undoubtedly the announcement of a Loss and Damage fund, after years of advocacy from the Global South. Especially Small Island States and other countries particularly hit by climate change have been using COPs to highlight the need for measures to support efforts to adapt to this new reality and finance the costs caused by the climate crisis. This is sometimes understood as ‘climate reparation’. While the details of this fund, who will pay and what amount, are yet to be decided, it is a historic move which will reopen the conversation of responsibility surrounding climate change. Will it be based on historic emissions and responsibilities? A question of a country’s development status? The EU’s Frans Timmermans argues: “I think everybody should be brought into the system on the basis of where they are today… China is one of the biggest economies on the planet with a lot of financial strength. Why should they not be made co-responsible for funding loss and damage?” The current list of developing vs developed countries used in negotiations is based on a UN determination from the 1990s. We will have to watch and see how the Loss & Damage fund puts in question responsibility and who will end up contributing to the fund.

Given the focus of this COP on implementation, and therefore adaptation, this result can definitely  be seen as a step forward. Yet there is more adaptation needed if we don’t keep acting on mitigation. This implementation plan did not include the phasing out of fossil fuels – an essential step for climate change mitigation. Keeping 1.5 °C alive has never felt more precarious. 

Organising side-events 

As civil society, one of our best opportunities was to organise and host side-events. In week 1, in partnership with the European Environmental Bureau and the International Foundation for African Children, we organised an Intergenerational Dialogue on Climate-Induced Migration in the framework of adaptation. We were able to bring together a diverse range of figures from H.E. Nduwa Mkaka, the Minister of Natural Resources and Climate Change of the Republic of Malawi, to Koko Warner the, Manager of the Impacts, Vulnerability, & Risks Sub Programme at UNFCCC, and Sinziana Puscas, a Climate Change and Migration Specialist from the International Organisation on Migration (IOM).

Overall, we were able to have a moment of exchange on what we believe to be an essential topic when considering implementation and adaptation. We were also able to host a UNFCCC-approved protest in the Blue Zone at the end of Week 1 – calling for the protection of environmental defenders and denouncing the fact that multiple countries view environmental defenders as criminals. Studies have found that between 2012 and 2022, more than 1700 environmental activists have been murdered or gone missing. This felt particularly pertinent in the political context of Egypt. 

In the second week, we organised a networking session on intergenerational equity in the Youth & Children Pavilion where we shared our frustrations about youth involvement, or rather the lack of it, in the decision-making processes with Dr. Christina Voigt, the Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL), who was part of the negotiations as an academic. Dr. Voigt stated: “If you ask, what is intergenerational equity, my answer is, that is what is missing at COP.” Overall, these side-events were very meaningful to our experience at COP – a definite challenge but fruitful. 

A challenging experience overall

There was no shortage of challenges at COP – from the pure stressful environment of thousands of people milling around hundreds of pavilions to the pressure felt at being a young person in such a professional and intimidating space.. A key hardship our delegates felt was the frustrations and disappointment at what was being said in negotiation spaces.

As Sophia recounted:

“Hearing them seriously discuss whether the 1.5° target should be kept alive while listening to the personal stories of people already very affected by the impacts of climate change was simply unbelievable”.
Sophia
COP27 delegate

And this is when we were able to access these spaces: our observer badges did not guarantee full access. This resulted in a “lack of transparency of negotiations (which) further deepened our anxiety. Not only did we have no access to negotiations as Observers, but also there were no newsletters or other reliable sources to follow how the negotiations were going” said our delegate Timea. 

The political context was also particular. Our head of delegation for week 1, Pegah, described how “everyday, our team was concerned about what to say and what not to say, so they do not put themselves or their team in danger”. Our Strategic Communications Officer, Chloé, agreed: “Mincing your words, when you are meant to be part of civil society, is counterintuitive.” We will be publishing more thoughts on this particular aspect of COP27 soon.

Finally, the very setting of COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh caused “cognitive dissonance” as Chloé affirmed. Adéla described how

 

“the whole COP27 was set in an artificial environment, in a manmade resort with five stars hotels where real-life problems seem to not exist.”
Adéla
COP27 delegate

Two weeks for learning and inspiration

It’s easy to fall into feelings of stress and frustration at COP, all well-founded. It is a challenging environment for anyone – from a young climate activist to a seasoned diplomat. But it is clear that there are some positive aspects to these huge events that gather climate professionals and civil society from all four corners of the globe. Firstly, it’s a steep learning curve. Timea articulated this: “I learnt a lot, exchanging with youth coming from different regions and realities, as well as with experienced policy-makers and experts… It gave me a lot of motivation and hope to see young people working together, fully committed for a better future”.

“It is so uplifting to find yourself surrounded by people talking as passionately (or more passionately) about your interests day in and day out: a continuous reminder that I have so much to learn” agreed our Strategic Communications Officer, Chloé. Overall, it is about seizing the opportunity as Anna affirmed “COP can be a great source of inspiration for those who seek it.”

Hope was not eclipsed by despair – “Even in this desert of frustration, there are still islands of hope. I joined a loss and damage climate strike and had an opportunity to speak or even yell from the heart and I met many young climate activists who are so passionate and wholehearted, so I dare to hope that our future is in safe hands” stated our delegate Aleksandra.

Some of the outcomes inspired optimism, our head of delegation for Week2, Agnes, described how “after reading the final decision of COP27, I felt the spark of a small victory by the explicit mention of the role of youth in addressing climate change and the encouragement towards including youth representatives in the climate negotiations.”

Eva, our Communications Manager, attested that “after spending the week at the conference, hearing some great speeches, seeing some great work from experts, and observing many protests, I might hesitantly agree that it is actually our best shot at doing anything about the climate crisis on the global scale. By saying this, I am however not trying to excuse the greenwashing, the inaction, the obvious business interests, the propaganda of the organisers.”

Overall, there’s no easy way to summarise being a young person at such a high level event, as our delegate Marian said:

 

“At COP, one day you feel powerful, and another day completely hopeless.”
Marian
COP27 Delegate
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COP27 Reflections – Together for implementation?​

The Earth is burning, the COP is drowning

After a hot summer, you’d think the next COP would finally be the one for action, but the negotiations are stalling. We, the young observers of the international climate negotiations, reveal to you the hopeless backstage of this summit’s preparation. There is an urgent need to reform this institution, which remains fundamental in the fight against climate change. We propose the establishment of
a Global Citizens’ Climate Convention.

Written by Lou Collin and Thomas Reboul, this paper benefited from crucial contributions from Anna Antraygues.

Translated from the French original by Lou Collin.

After our first experience of international climate negotiations at the United Nations campus in Bonn, we came back with a bitter taste. While we had the honor of playing the role of young observers at the 56th session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) “implementation” negotiations, we also and above all had the regret of attending a bad play bringing together 198 countries known as “the Parties”. Large, sanitized rooms serve as the stage and the program is always the same. The (non)text machine is launched, fuelled by a ballet of verbal negotiations strictly codified by the UNFCCC to find agreements, present objectives and action plans that are, on paper, ever more audacious. As for their implementation, the Global Assessment scheduled for COP28 should shed light on the extent to which countries are lagging behind in meeting their targets.

In between ‘working’ sessions, a participant who started going to UNFCCC events at COP2 warned us: ‘I haven’t been to the negotiations for years and years. They will never lead to anything concrete. The most interesting thing to do here is outside the working rooms. This is the international climate fair, an invaluable place to find new allies and promising projects to try to mitigate the damage. Indeed, what happens in the negotiating rooms is disconcerting. The will of the nations, which can be measured by the speed and quality of the discussions, is inversely proportional to the climate emergency. Some delegations, often well-funded, from the so-called “developed” or fossil fuel exporting countries are meticulously sinking progress that could help them meet their 2015 Paris commitments. Meanwhile, the less wealthy countries and those most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change cannot follow all the negotiations: small teams due to poor resources, lack of trained negotiators, difficulties linked to master English, the technical UN language, etc. In addition, there are appalling visa problems that prevent delegations, observers and indigenous communities from arriving in time in the country of the negotiations. It is difficult to negotiate when you cannot travel to the country where the talks are taking place…

We also question the slowness of the UN process. Discussions very quickly move away from the substantive issues to argue about the progress of the negotiation, the format of the document, whether or not to display the text under NBC 1 discussion, the placement of punctuation, etc. All too often, therefore, we found ourselves faced with debates on the form of a text, emptied of its initial substance. Entire passages are discussed at length and then finally excluded if a consensus is not reached. Indeed, with the principle of unanimity that reigns in these negotiating forums, as soon as one Party opposes a term, the machine breaks down. Thus, on several occasions, the Parties only agree on the fact that they did not agree.

In rare working sessions, we have the right to speak. We have taken advantage of this to denounce the Parties’ desire to turn land, forests and oceans into economic assets. For example, during the first “dialogue” on oceans and climate change, which featured four hours of self-congratulatory statements by the Parties, one of the signatories of this forum called on the assembly to address issues that have been avoided until now: overfishing and deep-sea trawling. This appeal, as well as the one on the need to develop truly protected maritime areas, without industrial fishing, remained unanswered. Behind the scenes, a delegate from a country with significant fisheries resources, although silent during the dialogue, came to greet the intervention at the end of the session. On the other hand, the delegation from another European country revealed its unease at the non-existent position of the European Union on these issues.

In the end, we sensed a conformism, even apathy, on the part of some delegations in the face of our sometimes disturbing questions. The demands of countries suffering the consequences of climate change today are often ignored. Elements of language and rhetorical pirouettes sprinkled with economic justifications and technological solutions are all techniques that prevent substantive debates and allow the positions chosen by governments to be maintained. These discussions give the impression of a profound disconnection from reality and show the deleterious effects of the structure of international climate negotiations on ways of thinking about and responding to systemic problems.

These are our worrying observations. Unfortunately, the international community is currently relying in part on this mode of operation to reverse the curve of greenhouse gas emissions, the increase in the Earth’s average temperature, the decline in biodiversity, desertification, soil and water pollution, the destruction of primary forests, the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, etc. It is therefore urgent to rethink the environmental negotiations, which are vital for facing the climate crisis together. Young people and most NGOs are the only ones who can express themselves freely in these international debates. In Bonn, negotiators encouraged us to act, even though they are the ones at the negotiating table. In response to this invitation, the No Bullshit Coalition (NBC) has formed to sign this platform.

In addition to calling on the Parties to respect their promises of action and financing, here is our innovative recommendation to transform the functioning of the UNFCCC and, why not, try to save the COPs from drowning.

We propose the establishment of a new body within the UNFCCC processes, one that is decision-making, inclusive and citizen-based: the Global Citizens’ Climate Convention. Based on the principles of the French Citizens’ Climate Convention, it would bring together the world’s citizens in a representative and inclusive manner, for example with regard to indigenous representatives or NBC 2 The Non-Bullshit-Coalition is calling for ideas and recommendations from citizens to make this proposal a reality in order to save the COPs from sinking and to spare as many people and ecosystems as possible from the effects of climate change. If you have ideas on how to make this idea more concrete, debate with #NBC. Because the political and ruling class has given up on international climate negotiations, it’s time for citizens to take matters into their own hands.

The following organisations support it: ● Youth Environment Europe ● Avenir Climatique ● NOISE – Office of Governance and Inter-school Coordination ● NOISE – bureau de gouvernance et de coordination interécoles ● NOISE – AgroParisTech ● NOISE – ESSEC ● NOISE – ESCP ● Esp’r – HEC ● Les Agros à la COP – Agro ParisTech ● Dévelop’Ponts – Ponts ParisTech ● PC Durable – ESPCI ● Terre à Terre – ENS Saclay ● ENvertS – ENS de Lyon ● Make a difference (MAD) – Télécom Paris ● Écosyst’aime – ENSTA ● SupAero for Earth – SupAe ● Esp’r – Supoptique ● Eole – ESTP NBC  ● Greensae – ENSAE ● Les ENSGagés – ENSG ● Assas Environnement NBC

 
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The Earth is burning, the COP is drowning | Opinion article

 

Energy crisis and ecological emergency: is the REPowerEU plan THE solution? 

Author: Mathilde Angeledei

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the 24 of February 2022, the European Union faced a lack of gas distribution from Russia due to its support to Ukraine in the conflict. In reaction, the European Commission presented on March 8 the idea of coming up with a new project which aims at phasing out Russian fossil fuels and becoming more autonomous and independent regarding its energy supply and security. The plan was well received by EU leaders, who signed the Versailles declaration. They all agreed on the necessity to make the EU independent from  Russian energy imports as soon as possible. On May 18, the Commission presented the REPowerEU plan and a week after the EU Energy Platform Task Force was established to secure alternative supplies.

The REPowerEU plan sets out a series of measures to rapidly reduce dependence on Russian energies by developing new energy cooperation agreements while investing in its own green transition. 

The REPowerEU plan moves around three main areas: 

Energy savings & reduction 

Firstly, rather than waiting for an alternative solution to Russian energy, the EU prefers to count on energy savings from its own citizens and companies. Saving energy is the cheapest, safest and cleanest way to start the REPowerEU plan. The Commission wrote five simple daily life guidelines for EU citizens to follow:

  • reducing heating temperatures or using less air-conditioning;
  • using household appliances more efficiently;
  • driving more economically;
  • shifting to more public transport and active mobility;
  • switching off the lights. 

This is in line with the Commission’s objective to save around 13 bcm (billion cubic meters) of gas import by relying only on citizens’ and businesses’ responsible behavior.

In the long term, the Commission wants to boost industrial decarbonisation with €3 billion of frontloaded projects under the Innovation Fund and increase its ambition on energy savings by raising the EU-wide target on efficiency for 2030 from 9% to 13%. 

On top of that, the EU demands a reduction emergency plan in case of gas supply disruption. 

Alternative Energy Supplies

Secondly, the EU is working with international partners such as Israel and Egypt to find alternative energy supplies. 

In the short term, the EU needs alternative supplies of gas, oil and coal and it is exploring the future of renewable hydrogen too. 

In the long term, the EU will invest in an integrated and adapted gas and electricity infrastructure network. Moreover, the EU is currently writing a proposal to ensure the industry has access to critical raw materials. 

Renewables

Thirdly, for the quantities the Member States still need to consume, the goal is to replace it with renewable energies. Many short and long-term measures have been proposed by the Commission. 

Concerning short-term measures, the EU wants to increase the production of biomethane to save 17 bcm of gas imports and intensify solar and wind energy projects to save around 50 bcm of gas imports

Concerning long-term measures, the EU wants to modernize and simplify the legislation on renewable energy such as wind turbines and solar panels to enable a rapid issuance of building permits at low environmental risk. One of the most ambitious projects of the EU is to build a 17.5 GW hydrogen accelerator of electrolysers by 2025 to fuel the EU industry with homegrown production of 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen. 

Why is the REPowerEU plan problematic? 

If exiting from the Russian fossil fuels, gas and coal import is a necessity, should it be then done at all costs? This ambitious REPower EU plan will challenge the EU more than any other plan before. Indeed, this plan should combine a rapid transition to decarbonised energy with the building of strong partnerships between democratic countries while keeping energy affordable and secure for all citizens.

Switching off the light is common sense

The first objective of the project is saving energy, however, it seems clear that asking citizens to reduce energy is a tough job. Electric devices, especially cars and home technologies have increased this last decade, intensifying the need for energy. The solutions offered by the EU have already been implemented in people’s minds for years. Switching off the light when leaving a room is common sense, the same as using less air-conditioning. In the short term period, the EU needs to focus on industries and administration offices to save energy because they are the first consumers of energy and are most able to establish plans to reduce their energy consumption. 

Renewable energy overlooked concerns

For many countries, it is still difficult to envisage such a quick transition at a time when energy prices are causing public anger. An abrupt halt to Russian imports combined with a forced installation of renewable energy facilities will make the working classes, already hard hit by the energy crisis, even more insecure. 

The main objective of the EU is to become independent by investing in renewable energy. However, the creation of an energy park based solely on renewable energies requires several years of discussion and implementation. It will also require strong cooperation between the 27 states and huge financial investments. 

In an amendment voted on June 27, the Energy minister of Member States backtracked on the development of renewable energies. The amendment removes the Commission’s push to increase the target for renewables in Europe’s energy mix to 45%, replacing it with the 40% target. This is below both the European Parliament’s and the European Commission’s positions, which both support the 45% target. The amendment also deleted the legal concept of “overriding public interest” for renewable energies. If adopted, the principle would help protect new renewable projects against legal challenges. Although unanimously welcomed, the REPower EU plan seems in fact creating dissension among the 27.

Another hurdle concerns renewable energy in the EU. When talking about renewable energy, the issue of rare metals is often overlooked. Europe is not a producer of these precious metals. A rapid and brutal change in its energy policy risks putting it once again at the mercy of the countries producing these rare metals, such as China. 

Moreover, the environmental impact of the extraction of these rare metals is an issue. Often criticized, their extraction is a source of significant pollution for the ecosystems. 

Human rights

Concerning the objective of diversifying imports of energy, the EU concluded new agreements with Egypt, regarding the import of hydrogen; and with Azerbaijan, regarding the import of fossil fuels and gas. If these agreements allow the EU to diversify our sources of energy, they are, however, rooted in cooperation with countries that are often criticized for their respect of human rights. For more than two years, the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Upper Karaba has already caused several thousand deaths. If the EU wants to put an end to Russian energy imports for ethical reasons, it should not be at the expense of other populations. 

In conclusion, the REPower EU Plan, born from a very laudable desire to move away from a harmful dependence on Russian energy, does not seem to take the necessary time to prepare a prosperous transition for all. 

More than ever, European citizens must be aware of their energy impact and do their best to control and reduce it. Last but not least, governments should develop energy efficiency laws for businesses to initiate a general awareness movement to promote more efficient energy consumption. 

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Energy crisis and ecological emergency: is the REPowerEU plan THE solution? 

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Policy Brief | COP27