Energy and climate-related issues are at the top of the political agenda in 2015, as is shown by the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) to be held in Paris by the end of the year and the European Commission’s Energy Union strategy.
This represents a considerable challenge – and an opportunity – for the European Left. In order to contribute to this on-going debate, Transform! launched a working group made up of researchers and activists from across Europe. The kick-off workshop was held in Brussels on the 18th and 19th of April.
The workshop opened with a presentation by MEP Neoklis Sylikiotis (GUE/NGL) on the Energy Union strategy, made public through a European Commission communication early in the year. It has a threefold objective: to create a common energy policy, to increase competitiveness, and to complete the internal market. The strategic framework of the EC focuses mainly on the security of energy supply and on the creation of a competitive energy market – remaining far too incomplete with regard to energy poverty. As it stands, the Energy Union strategy is a further step towards “the commodification of energy for the benefit of the monopolies and multinational corporations”. Energy is a “public social good, and must be treated as such. An Energy Union must put at the centre the citizens, the consumers, the local communities and the SMEs [Small and Medium Enterprises]” – in other words, it must include democracy.
Four key topics were at the core of the two-day workshop: the emergency of climate change, an alternative energy transition, democracy and social justice, and the geopolitical aspects of energy in Europe and its neighbourhood. It was made very clear that the liberation of knowledge is the pre-condition for mass mobilisation in favour of a genuine energy transition that would respect the ecosystem – and not take it for granted. Even the scenarios presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are based on contested figures “quantifying the unquantifiable”, which leads to false representations of climate change.
False representations lessening the actual risks prevent collective awareness of the intensity of the threat on mankind, and therefore undermine mobilisation. Such a mobilisation would jeopardise corporate power and fossil fuel companies, largely responsible for environmental destruction. It is therefore a highly political issue. Using our own representations, not based on watered-down assessments but genuine scientific results, is a major challenge for social movements and environmental NGOs – as well as for the Left. It is a democratic necessity.
Moreover, the Left should not overlook the responsibility of the highest social classes in climate change, since there is a tremendous contradiction between its causes (who is responsible for it?) and its effects (who is suffering from it?). A comprehensive study on the emission per class would be a significant tool in the social struggle against climate change, and would allow for social justice and climate justice movements to come closer together. Things are moving in the right direction, as is shown by the example of the European anti-fracking campaign. Whereas trade unions were likely to support fracking as a way to get cheaper energy and, thus, limiting the downward pressure on wages, closer contacts with social movements have helped to rise awareness in terms of its social and environmental costs for communities.
Together with a culture of transparent dialogue in a bottom-up perspective, the issue of democracy is crucial for a Left energy transition programme – at every step of the way, from production to redistribution. Energy use should be considered as a right, and the fight against energy poverty must therefore be a top priority. The shift towards a fairer, more democratic and less polarised European energy model will require massive public investment – in other words, a strong political will. In this respect, education in energy issues and climate change is of utmost importance.
The Transform! Akademia working group on energy will publish an e-book, whose goal is to deepen the analyses discussed at the kick-off workshop, due to be released shortly before the United Nations Climate Change Conference scheduled for December 2015. It will also participate in the Global Village for Alternatives, an initiative of the “Coalition Climat 21” aiming at gathering activists, researchers and citizens at the margins of the UN conference to discuss climate-related issues in a perspective of social justice and international solidarity.