Jean-Claude Simon reflects on the workshop “Possibilities of a socio-ecological transformation of the energy sector in times of war”, chaired by transform! europe, in the framework of the 6th edition of the European Forum of Left, Green and Progressive Forces, which took place in October 2022 in Athens.
This workshop, organised by transform! europe, the Green European Foundation (GEF), and the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), explored the perspectives of progressive forces and the options and steps needed to ensure a just transition for all.
“In order to transform our society, we need fundamental changes: changes in production and in our way of living. We also need to work together”, says Conny Hildebrandt, Co-President of transform! europe, who hosted the workshop.
The demand for transformation dates back to the 1973 oil-price shock, with calls issued by the environmental movement to reduce oil consumption, develop renewable energy sources, and phase out coal and nuclear power. Today, it has become obvious that the multiple ongoing worldwide crises are having very negative consequences on our daily lives and that we need a solidarity-based transformation. It is essential to start planning what has to be done and how to get there. Action is needed as there is a very real risk that some regions will become uninhabitable in the very short-term due to high temperatures, desertification, and rising ocean levels. War is also compounding the crises in multiple ways; gas and oil have become weapons and prices are exploding as a result of concentrated power and resources due to speculation. It has become urgent to develop a post-fossil mode of production. The urgent question, therefore, is: what are we going to do about it and how can we organise ourselves?
Dorothy Guerrero (Global Justice Now): We collaborate with movements for climate justice worldwide with a special focus on the “Global South”. Our main concern is to plan the phase-out of fossil fuels and provide arguments for the North-South debate on key environmental issues. Our main goal is to make sure clean energy sources do not fall into the hands of multinational companies but benefit people with specific needs.
Laurent Standaert (Green European Foundation): We are now at a moment of truth when climate change and social anger driven by unaddressed popular needs are becoming two sides of the same coin, both calling for justice. First of all, we need a democratic model and a trans-European approach rooted at the local level. It is essential to design and build a new total infrastructure for sustainable energy and industry, that is to say a new mode of production and of living. This is very far-reaching. It is also urgent to decide what energy democracy is about in terms of ownership and new jobs.
“We cannot have a green deal that focuses only on the green transition. There will not be any climate justice without social justice.” Laurent Standaert from the Green European Foundation
David Rinaldi (Foundation for European Progressive studies): A just socio-ecological transition is a true emergency for the future of mankind. Waiting will only exacerbate the problem and make it more difficult to implement solutions. But of course, too many countries are not paying attention; so, we have to increase the pressure on governments and policy makers with specific political propositions such as how to create new jobs and develop clean technologies with massive investments in the long-term. Justice must be intergenerational as well as being both inter and intra-country. In the short-term, we are pushing for temporary compensation to face price increases, and in the long-term we must address the fact that capitalists are making huge profits.
LS: It is urgent to end all government subsidies that constantly feed the sector and to push for the development of all forms of renewable sources in order to reach zero CO2 emissions. Heating and cooling as well as building renovation are going to be the frontline issues. In addition, a profound reform of the macro-economic structure and of its governance is needed: destructive GDP growth is powered by fossil fuels and that must end. It is time to develop energy commons and cooperatives based on renewable sources to provide both local jobs and democratic practices in our daily operations of energy production.
DR: New fiscal rules must be defined and implemented in the context of new policies, such as a Green New Deal, and at the same time the so-called competitive energy markets have to be transformed.
DG: It is indeed urgent to change the energy markets, to stop the fossil energy corporations and to tax price speculation. We need popular control in order to drive change and to focus on worker rights; financial practices from the City of London or from giant financial entities such as Black Rock have to be terminated. In the Global South, important questions must be considered: What approach should be used to deal with OPEC? How can the developmental model of oil-producing countries be changed?
DR: Today, the market is a system controlled by private energy companies, so we must start right away by making the development of clean technologies a matter of national security. A cap on prices is also urgent. We must prioritise public-led investments in technologies with a high chance of success. These investments will generate new jobs focused on “well-being” and not profits. Decentralised production and new distribution networks will operate as public goods.
LS: Relying on energy markets has created a situation of out-of-control prices that are hurting everyone, so it is time to close these down. In addition, we are confronting many delays caused by bottlenecks in order to initiate solar and wind installations, and building renovations are falling behind. City administrations should have more power to launch such activities with adequate financial support from central governments.
DG: The issues of growth/degrowth and good living are such that it is today necessary to design a new economy based on needs. Today’s way of living is “imperial”, and it must be transformed into a solidarity-based way of living instead. This requires a shift from competition to cooperation. This means a complete transformation of technological development that must be focused on people’s needs and benefits.
DR: The EU has so far not been willing to design and put in place an effective methodology in order to collect taxes based on the huge incomes of fossil energy companies. The extra profits made after the rise in prices have thus not been taxed adequately so far, in spite of many proposals and an on-going discussion about what to do. It is thus urgent to design and put in place an effective taxation system. In addition, corporate benefits are essentially distributed in the form of dividends going to shareholders instead of being used as investments in clean technologies. This is a key failure of the capitalist system that is without solution; we have to move beyond the system in order to find and implement people-based solutions.
LS: We have to grow the sectors that are essential to good living, such as health care and other forms of care, plus all the other activities to meet people’s needs. We must get rid of GDP growth, which is the main cause of today’s environmental disasters. There is a direct link between pollution and health, as well as between accelerated growth and various pandemics. The multiple crises that we are facing are linked. Our way of living must become sparing, circular, slow, and cooperative. The economic priority is to address inequalities and remedy them as fast as possible. Measures must be taken to end tax evasion by major corporations and to come up with a way to tax profits. It is also necessary to end direct and indirect subsidies to the fossil fuel sector. As far as nuclear energy is concerned, it is becoming increasingly wasteful. We can see that managing and maintaining active reactors is getting very costly. Therefore, proposed investments should instead go to renewable projects that can deliver clean electricity much faster and at a lower cost.