Day 2 – An Energetic Day


– An Energetic Day-

I saw some of the worst, some good, combined with the best panel I have seen (although I have to admit that I am pretty new in this conference world). Below are some reflections from this day, when fatigue began to appear.

Energy Again

Let’s start with the good: the EU energy day – democracy and energy transitions. 

There were a lot of different talks about “just transitions” – about this idea that phasing out fossil fuels cannot mean leaving people behind. Prices need to remain relatively cheap for everyone to be able to afford electricity, heating and transportation. But at the same time this access cannot mean the depletion of the environment.

The EU day introduced the linkage between energy transitions and democracy, which directly leads to the concept of “cooperatives”.

A cooperative highlights the notion of membership: the consumer is the producer, and is therefore linked directly to the source of energy. It is as simple as meeting with some people, agreeing to buy solar panels, installing them, and producing energy. This energy that you are producing on yur roof will be used at your home, and the excess can be sold to other people.

Owning your own energy production not only raises people’s awareness, but it actually leads to less consumption.

So what are cooperatives? Cooperatives are forms of organizations where one service is owned by several people. In a cooperative, the users are the providers.

Cooperative: n. an enterprise or organization owned by and operated for the benefit of those using its services.

The European Union launched its REScoop 2020 project, with the goal of achieving renewable energy cooperation, of changing the legislative framework to incentivize co-power, and of increasing finance in renewable energies. If people group together in order to get renewable energies, the prices reduce dramatically, and there is a chance that they not only produce their own energy, but also sell some back to the grid. 

“By 2050, half of the European population could be producing energy” – Julien Guerrier, Executive Director of the European Executive Agency for Small & Medium-sized Enterprises, at COP24

Decentralization of the grid improves democracy, and therefore the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy can be just.

The Greek Island of Sifnos is heading in that direction: achieving energy independence, and 100% renewable.

My greatest question, and the one I had the chance to ask, was how do you go from a monopolized utility model (quite common in this industry) to one where people own their own energy. Clearly, there are some (and not only some) laws that need to be passed. You can listen to the answer below.

Reply from Paula Abreu Marques, Head of unit ‘Renewables and CCS policy’, Directorate-General for Energy, European Commission, followed by Dirk Vansintjan, President of the European Association of renewable energy cooperatives.

Planetary Boundaries

Now let’s turn to the best: planetary boundaries.

Joana Mackowiak Pandera, Ottmar Edenhofer, Johan Röckstrom, Simon Sharpe,  Jan Minx

It’s simple.

The Earth is a mega system made up of nine systems. These are:

  • Stratospheric ozone depletion – remember that big hole we had made over Antartica? Well, it is related to this. You can read about it here.
  • Loss of biosphere integrity: big extinctions of plants and animals
  • Chemical pollution and the release of novel entities: have you heard of Silent Spring, a book written by Rachel Carson? It relates to this. Technically: too much pollution from pesticides and herbicides would lead to a spring with no birds.
  • Climate change: the award-winning topic which you hear very often. Here, it is only one of nine crucial issues.
  • Ocean acidification: if you have hear about coral bleaching, you know what this is about. You can read about it in this post.
  • Freshwater consumption and the global hydrological cycle: what is the first thing astronauts look for in space? Water. This has to be a key indicator of how relevant this is.
  • Land system change: have you every wondered where your food comes from? Well, that question strongly relates to this system.
  • Nitrogen and phosphorous flows to the biosphere and oceans: in other words, fertilizers. We use more of them, and we alter the composition of different ecosystems, leading to algae blooms and dead zones.
  • Atmospheric aerosol loading: those tinny particles that are thrown to the atmosphere. They can come from volcano eruptions, or from coal plants (although not only these two, of course).

Each system has a boundary, and since the boundary is in our planet, we call them planetary boundaries. A boundary is a threshold, a limit, a gate with a “no trespassing” sign that we should not cross. 

However, we have already crossed some of them, and that explains the environmental crisis we are facing right now. There is no country in the planet that has managed to have high scores in social indicators while at the same time stay within the planetary boundaries. In other words, development is directly related to the planet’s destruction. Not good.

We are at risk to overuse the global commons, while at the same time underinvest in social commons. This is, we are using more materials from the planet, while this is not improving our standard of living. 

True, we live much better than in the past. But do we all do so? What happens if we pay attention to inequality indices?

Sustainable development needs to be re-conceptualized, and policy should be oriented immediately to decarbonizing our economies. Of course, easier said than done. Nonetheless, it has to be done. 

 Conclusions from Day 2

We need to rethink the way in which we use the resources from our planet. Technology will help us indeed, but not at the rate we need it.

The IPCC 1.5 degrees celsius report has put it simply: 12 years left for change, before it is too late. This is serious.

From Twitter

There are different ways to achieve this, but the most crucial one is decarbonizing our economies. A cooperative approach seems to be useful. 

Highlights from Day 2

  • The talk on Planetary Boundaries was incredible.
  • I was stopped by the Polish police for taking a picture of the building where the conference was taking place. Such a threat.