The selected photo is the artwork of a Imagine the Future of Europe game participant
Article by Amerissa Giannouli (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Τhe European Green Deal is an ambitious plan by the European Commission. Despite the positive connotations of its “green” element, it has raised concerns. Various affected parties are uneasy about the fair and practical implementation of this strategy and the eventual achievement of its envisioned objectives. Within Greece, criticism, among other things, has focused on the installation sites and the scale of renewable energy technologies, such as wind farms.
In the context of the World Environmental Day 2021 and in the aftermath of the Conference on the Future of Europe, Inter Alia organised a workshop to present the main elements of the European Green Deal strategy on Circular Economy and Energy, explore concerns and opposition, and propose solutions to make the suggested transition fair, feasible, and truly sustainable for society.
After presenting the key elements and policies of the European Green Deal in relation to the Energy Sector, the role of Circular Economy and the targets of the Greek action plan, participants of the workshop shared their fears and concerns about the proposed strategies and policies.
Concerns about the European Green Deal strategy and proposed policies for the Energy sector
- Climate crisis is more urgent.
- The center of these policies seems to be more the financial profit and big companies than the citizens and the local communities. The economic interests will overshadow the ecological sustainability.
- It is questionable how these policies can be international and inclusive at the same time.
- The costs will be covered by the ordinary citizens.
- These policies are not equally applicable in all countries. Local specificities should be taken into account and the policies should be adapted accordingly.
- There is no panacea that will solve all the problems (referring to the photovoltaic or wind energy technologies “monoculture”).
- Proposed technologies still rely to some degree on investments in fossil fuels.
- Citizens need to be more informed about the investments in renewable energy systems to accept them. The local communities should be approached, so that the residents will understand which are the benefits and how they can adapt to the changes.
- The local communities are not actively and effectively involved in decision-making related to these policies.
- The national action plan is too generic. They do not include legal provisions that will effectively safeguard forests and protected areas (referring to the installations of the renewable energy systems in Greece).
- The aim of the policies related to the energy sector is to meet the energy needs only at the industrial level.
Then, participants were asked to think about what kind of policies and practices they would like to see being implemented in order to deal with climate change and effectively protect the environment.
Preferred policies and practices for dealing with climate change and protecting the environment
- Policies that are created based on the environmental needs and ecological constraints – not only responding to the interests of large corporations and their financial loss due to environmental degradation.
- Policies that use a combination of solutions, embracing the local peculiarity (eg. different land uses, level of industrialisation, natural protected areas, culture heritage, social concerns) of each country and local community.
- Development projects located in already transformed urban environments, without threatening the natural environment.
- Increased motivation of citizens and local communities to turn to renewable energy solutions for both economic and environmental benefits
- Simpler and more organised recycling process.
- Dedicated activities in museums, schools, on the streets that raise awareness on the importance and emergence of protecting the environment. Promote a culture that cares for the environment the same way we care about our homes.
- Support autonomy and self-sufficiency to replace development projects (large scale investments) as the main policy objectives. This may also lead to job creation.
- Stricter environmental protection framework in relation to new investments and development projects without increasing bureaucracy.
- Look for policies related to other aspects of climate change – not just energy production. For example the related policies to what the primary production sector has to offer.
- Better environmental education in schools, at all levels, including training for teachers
- Motivate young professionals and entrepreneurs to develop “green” ideas, even small-scale ones. Such ideas could be funded and reproduced to other levels and contexts.
- More networking and learning about sustainable possibilities that young people have to support green initiatives
- Municipalities organise and offer spaces where young people can participate and have a real say.
- Protection on Natura 2000 areas from industrial development. Care for urban forests that can contribute to the circular economy.
- Citizens should be aware of the appeals they can make to the authorities. That this is not such a difficult process, it is their voice and it is not taking place in a court.
To close the second part of the workshop, participants were asked to think about the structures and changes required to happen so that their preferred policies and practices can be realised.
Changes required for the proposed policies and practices to be realised
- Modification of the decision-making process: more direct-democratic elements.
- Build self-sufficiency
- Lifestyle changes (eg. consumption habits)
- Consumption as the new kind of vote. Consume with greater awareness and put pressure on the companies.
- Express our demands to the institutions. Participate in the public consultations and other forms of civic participation.
- Raise awareness on participation to open consultations and demand more spaces for dialogue with the politicians.
- Raise public awareness on environmental issues.
- Sustainable management systems for more companies and from every industry.
- Projects that involve dialogues with politicians and citizens.
- Education for change
For the final part of the workshop, participants participated in a role play that helped them experience and identify different perspectives on the matter of renewable energy development projects. Participants were asked to play the roles of policy makers, business representatives, NGO representatives, citizens, tourists and workers in the energy sectors. By participating in this activity, participants managed to go deeper into different arguments, interests and perspectives that are either for or against the installation of wind farms.
One interesting aspect that needs to be considered when we talk about energy systems is that the produced energy is intended, among other things, for personal home consumption and industry consumption. This distinction might help us develop and implement policies that address each purpose differently. For example, personal energy uses might be covered by policies that promote the production of energy for self-consumption (i.e. each household could produce its own energy or benefit from energy communities). This implies smaller scale installation of energy systems which could also supply energy to smaller local businesses and institutions (eg. schools, municipality buildings). On the other hand, to secure energy disposal from renewable energy systems at all times and also, produce the required amount of energy to cover the needs of the industry sector, larger scale energy systems might be unavoidable. Of course, this should be associated with careful and robust environmental studies that show where such large systems can and should be installed in order to avoid biodiversity loss and further ecological degradation. Finally, it was clear for the participants that there is a need to better inform the citizens and the local community on such matters, as well as create participatory processes that directly involve them and take into account their views. The current public consultation system is not enough.
Based on the workshop results, we identified six categories of policy interventions that should be further developed at the local, regional (Greece), as well as European level. These are:
- Education – No matter what the subject of the discussion is, education will be the most important aspect for systemic changes and changes in the attitudes of the people. We should aim for transformative and experiential learning that is happening at any levels (school, university, lifelong learning) and contexts (formal, informal, non-formal). This kind of education is prerequisite to even start talking about any kind of sustainable transition. Reflections on transformative and experiential learning can be found at A. Giannouli (2017) Education to Say Goodbye to the Culture of Growth.
- Information – People need to be aware of the effects and changes in their lives when a new policy is pushed forward. Apart from being familiar with what climate crisis, loss of biodiversity and pollution will do to them, it is essential to bring people on board to allow any policy to be implemented effectively. Different people have different views on what should be done and should not be done in different political areas. This makes it easy for misunderstandings and fake news to polarise opinions, cause conflicts and drive to dead ends.
- Participation – People should be able to contribute to the creation of policies that affect them. The mainstream possibilities for participation in the decision making are unknown or/and insufficient to support civic engagement and participation. Regardless of how corrupted or disfunctional the system of a country might look like for the citizens, by giving the opportunity to people to get involved in the policy developments, propose changes and assist in the implementation of these changes, offers them the opportunity to get involved and feel more responsible about them.
- Social innovation – There has been a lot of talk about “green” innovations and “smart” solutions to deal with climate change, urban pollution and lack of resources. However, what we should be aiming for is innovations that respect the planetary boundaries and at the same time, serve the local social needs. Usually, smart solutions are small scale and closely associated with the local characteristics. This is good and should be further reinforced as a new paradigm against industrial models which are by definition energy dependent. In this sense, communities can work on their strengths and build on actions and ideas that make them more resilient and autonomous. If you are looking for such good practices in Greece, read Changing Narratives – from Innovation and Sustainability to Autonomy and Resilience (A. Giannouli, 2021).
- Stricter and more specific legislation – Given the globalisation and the fast pace of life, we cannot avoid in the near future the existence of heavy industries, big corporations and generally, natural resource intensive sectors. Of course, we could start working towards a new paradigm of “good life” and community organising (see more about the Degrowth alternative) as suggested already from the previous point. Until then, such industries must be more regulated and become accountable for the environmental and social impacts they cause. There should be no more “rewarding the polluter” policies and the process for giving permits for “green” development projects should be stricter and based on very careful and detailed Environmental Impact Assessments. Finally, the principle “build on an already built environment” should be followed in order to avoid further environmental disruption in an area.
- Embracing diversity – Probably the most important value of any policy is to be able to address the real needs of its target groups. People, cultures, geography, ecology, technology, economics, etc. differ according to each country, region, community, even neighborhood. Any suggested policy should take into consideration these diversities in a way that responds to the needs of those that are the most affected by these policies in the most effective way. There are lots of good ideas and practices around the world that have been successful in dealing with numerous ecological problems. Such ideas and practices might not be possible to be used as they are in different contexts. However, a good policy is a policy that gets inspired by such good practices and uses them to create something that might work better in the particular case at stake. Finally, a single problem does not mean that it has a single solution. So it is better to apply different policies instead of using only one, for everything. Natural laws imply that the more diverse you are the more resilient you will be to problems, including ecological problems.
When it comes to policy proposals, there will always be challenges that create debates and tensions among the people involved and directly affected. What is clear so far is that there are people who are questioning the principles, objectives and foundations of the European Green Deal and its associated national action plans. If we want to talk about really just and sustainable transitions, we need to see how we can make the process more democratic and participatory. At the same time, look for transformations within ourselves, the community and the economy. Otherwise, European Green Deal is going to be another “subsidy” and “investment” programme for profit, another “greener” way for doing business as usual and not for a change on how we perceive ourselves and our (production, consumption, cultural, political, etc) systems in relation to nature.