The Climate Conferences - The political lessons of the Climate Conferences

Session 9

Pierre Calame, Armel Prieur, avril 2021

The 9th session of the Assises was entitled «  The political lessons of the Assises du climat ". Seven officials, intervening at the European Union or French level, were invited to react to the reflections drawn from the first eight sessions, which were fed by over fifty high-level experts.

In his introduction, Pierre Calame recalled the originality of this conference. First of all, it is an initiative of individuals, independent of any institution or network. On a subject such as the climate, where both networks and institutions have been multiplying for several decades, this independence has enabled everyone to express themselves freely, without the risk of their words being directed or exploited by one or other. It is, then, the aftermath of a collective call for debate, signed by more than one hundred personalities and published in the newspaper Ouest France on 10 November 2020. The appeal called for us to (finally) take our responsibility and our international commitments to climate change seriously. Finally, a series of eight two-hour videoconferences were held to explore two major questions :

  • What is the responsibility of our societies towards the climate ? How is it measured? How is it translated legally, accountably and politically ? At what level of governance should it be implemented? With which actors : this was the subject of sessions 1, 2, 3 and 8 ;

  • what policies should be put in place to assume our obligation to achieve results ? According to what criteria should they be chosen? What are the alternatives ? How to combine them ? This was the subject of sessions 4, 5, 6 and 7.

The debates were very constructive and made it possible to identify an interpretation grid for each of the two questions :

The responsibility of our societies with regard to global warming and the resulting obligation to achieve results.

À télécharger : bilan-territoires-2021-fr_climate_chance.pdf (9,1 Mio), questionnement_seance_9.pdf (43 Kio)

Eight theses emerged, submitted to the speakers of the ninth session :

1. The main responsibility stems from our standard of living and is reflected in the ecological footprint of society, wherever GHG emissions have occurred.

2. We need to reduce our ecological footprint to 2 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per EU inhabitant per year by 2050, or in the case of France a reduction rate of 5% per year for 30 years.

3. This obligation to achieve results must be translated into law. One solution : a European Convention on Human Responsibilities, complementing the European Convention on Human Rights.

4. The right political level at which to define our obligation of result is the European Union.

5. In order to assume leadership in the fight against global warming, we must impose this obligation of result and promote a globalisation of responsibility.

6. Several national, European and global deadlines will be decisive in the coming year to promote our commitment.

7. Only multi-level governance will make it possible to coordinate efforts between the EU, the States, the Regions and the territories.

8. The reduction of the ecological footprint requires the emergence of sustainable and equitable supply chains. Effective traceability of emissions throughout the supply chain is essential.

Implementing the obligation of result : three families of solutions have been identified :

And four criteria have been proposed to assess the relevance of each family :

1. The ability to effectively implement the performance obligation : a ceiling on society’s total ecological footprint that is reduced by 5% per year for thirty years.

2. The ability to assess the total ecological footprint,

3. The ability to reconcile the reduction of the ecological footprint with social justice and to decouple the search for well-being for all from the reduction of the ecological footprint.

4. The ability to mobilise all public and private actors in this effort to radically transform society.

The session brought together eight speakers :

  • four representatives of institutions or networks acting at the European level :

    Peter Javorcik, Director General Climate of the European Council ;

    Philippe Lamberts, Co-President of the Green Group in the European Parliament ;

    Roby Biwer, local councillor from Luxembourg, social democrat, member of the Commission for Energy and Climate of the Committee of the European Regions, who represented the Committee ;

    Julie Laernoes, deputy mayor of Nantes, representing the European Energy Cities network of cities committed to the energy transition.

  • the representative of an international network of local authorities :

    Bernard Soulage, professor of economics, former vice-president of the Rhône Alpes region, long-time member of the Committee of the European Regions in charge of transport issues, former Member of the European Parliament, currently Secretary General of the international network Climate Chance ;

  • two French MPs :

    Jean-Marie Fievet, République en Marche, prevented at the last moment from speaking personally and represented by #Ref. err: person/1252#Armel Prieur ;

    Dominique Potier, Socialist Party, former rapporteur of the law on the duty of vigilance ;

  • a British witness, Adam Hardy, representative of the Watchdog association.

The interventions of the various speakers, whose strict adherence to the time limit once again made for a very dense session, were not able to react to all the points presented in the introduction, and in particular to react to each of the eight theses set out for the first question. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that all of these issues were addressed by one or the other.

Summary of the 9th session

A/ The responsibility of our societies towards global warming and the resulting obligation to achieve results

The rise of global, European and French awareness

Peter Javorcik confirmed what had been discussed in the second session : climate policy is high on the European political agenda. This is all the more remarkable as the leaders of the different Member States are now faced with the short-term urgency of the Covid pandemic. Two European Councils, bringing together all the Member States, were held in October and December 2020. They agreed on two targets : a 55% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050.

Peter Javorcik pointed out that the approach followed by the European Union differs from that proposed by the Assises du climat : the reduction of emissions as conceived by the European Union continues to focus only on territorial emissions (on European soil) without taking into account « imported » emissions, but, he said, if the methodologies are different, the objectives are the same and, thanks to the Climate Law currently being debated, these objectives should constitute a real obligation of result.

The new fact, says Peter Javorcik, is that the fight against global warming was until recently a source of division within Europe, Western Europe on one side, Eastern Europe on the other, and that in the last two years this division has been overcome. The issue of combating global warming could well become a factor of cohesion in Europe in the future.

Philippe Lamberts acknowledged the very positive nature of this development and the real involvement of the Commission in the development of the new Green Pact. However, in the light of the latest discussions within the European institutions, he reiterated his doubts and concerns regarding the capacity of these institutions today to implement this obligation of result.

First of all, he points out that the targets themselves remain partly divergent : the Commission’s Green Pact is moving towards a 51-52% reduction by 2030, whereas the European Parliament was calling for a 60% reduction. Moreover, to achieve this result, the Green Pact includes an assumption of carbon sequestration by carbon sinks, particularly in agriculture, whereas the parliamentary proposal was for 60% without sequestration.

Secondly, the EU targets do not include « imported emissions », and as long as emissions in China are not accounted for, the scope of the EU target is seriously diminished.

But his greatest concern remains the lack of coherence of European policies and the risk that, in the course of the negotiations, the Council and the Parliament will reduce the ambition of the Commission’s proposals. Very lucidly, he emphasised that achieving the stated objectives would imply a profound paradigm shift for the economy and society, and that this shift, unfortunately, will not come from Brussels: «  I am rather optimistic about the Commission’s ability to propose, he says, but as soon as it comes to drawing the implications in terms of system change, it stalls both in the Council and in the Parliament, where solid majorities are pushing for an opposition between the language, which has become «  green  » and the practices, which are the opposite «  This concern is reinforced by the current negotiations which, in his opinion, are not going in the right direction.

He gives three examples :

This is, according to him, an illustration of the sensitivity of the Brussels institutions to the action of the lobbies. As always, the devil is in the details : he illustrates this in relation to finance. The European institutions have agreed on the principle of a taxonomy classifying investments according to their climate impact, but at the last moment, that of the implementing decrees, the gas and nuclear lobbies are manoeuvring to classify these modes of energy production as « clean » activities.

Roby Wider nevertheless strikes an optimistic note: he believes that the Climate Law will be able to make the European targets legally binding for each Member State, so that national and local politicians will have to show clear leadership. Furthermore, as Peter Javorcik also pointed out, things are moving at the global level. The election of Joe Biden in the United States gives great hope for a revival of the transatlantic dialogue. Things are moving in China. Roby Wider points out that Korea and Japan have set themselves the same goal of carbon neutrality in 2050, Brazil and China in 2060.

This global development, said Peter Javorcik, is very important politically: carbon adjustment, which is, for Europe, the necessary condition to ensure fair treatment of our own industries, presupposes that our international partners join us and that carbon adjustment is therefore considered as a positive act (indirectly taking into account the ecological footprint) and not a protectionist act.

Roby Wider and Julie Laernoes stressed that this ambition should be shared by all citizens. Hence the importance of introducing these reflections into the Conference on the future of Europe, which must give a voice to citizens, and the local COPs that must be organised, said Roby Wider, in a number of European regions to prepare for COP 26 in Glasgow. And, adds Roby Wider, why not a European referendum in the wake of the Conference on the Future of Europe?

With the classic solutions, as soon as you start to get « into the thick of things », things get stuck

The feeling that emerges from the speeches of the various parties is that despite good intentions, as soon as it comes to taking the plunge, things get stuck. This is what Peter Javorcik acknowledged, for example, about the extension of the company quota mechanism, the ETS, to other economic sectors. When it comes to including housing and transport, a carbon price that increases every year will directly affect people. We are also faced with the fact that the carbon price has a differential impact from one social group to another, from one territory to another. « Even if, he says, you can change your car in a few years, this is not the case for housing, which requires much more time and investment. Faced with this inertia, the increase in the price of carbon will have major consequences for households.

For her part, as Julie Laernoes points out, «  for local authorities, we know how to insulate houses, we are tackling the issue of decarbonising transport, but at local level we are powerless to deal with the relocation of greenhouse gas emissions ".

It is also difficult to rethink the relationships between levels of governance. Bernard Soulage, on the strength of his long experience in Europe, expresses doubts as to the capacity of all European countries to move forward in the same direction ; Ireland’s negative reaction to minimum taxation of multinationals illustrates the difficulty of doing so : he believes that the implementation of a real strategy to combat global warming will require enhanced cooperation between European countries that want to move forward.

The same difficulty arises when it comes to transforming relations between States and local authorities : the worldwide experience of Climate Chance shows that, with the exception of a few Latin American countries, starting with Costa Rica, and even though cities and regions are on average ahead of States in terms of the fight against global warming or adaptation to climate change, most States are totally unaware of the action of cities and regions and hardly show any willingness to work with them.

These few illustrations complete what was mentioned in the previous point and also during the various sessions of the Assizes : despite the display of ambitious objectives, the extent to which an obligation to achieve results implies transformations of the economic model, lifestyles, other policies such as agriculture, international relations, coordination between levels of governance, etc., has not yet been taken into account

Adoption of a European Convention on Human Responsibilities and the evolution of international law

If everyone now agrees on the need, as Roby Biwer reminds us, for «  climate law to make the objectives set at the European level  legally binding », there seems to be little thought given to what this implies in terms of transforming the law. Nevertheless, the idea is meeting with some support. A European convention on human responsibilities, » asks Roby Biwer, « why not?

Julie Laernoes is more categorical:  » what instruments to use in the face of climate irresponsibility  » she asks ? She is convinced that there is no escaping the need to refound international law. She drew a parallel with Covid : the responsibility of governments is clearly engaged there, because the impacts are measurable in the short term, but this is not yet the case for the climate.

These few reactions show how necessary it would be for this issue to be explicitly on the agenda of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

The role of territories, regions and cities

Three of the speakers, Roby Biwer, Julie Laernoes and Bernard Soulage, were particularly competent in this field. There was unanimity on one point: at the French, European and global levels, regions, cities and territories are in the vast majority of cases ahead of the States in the fight against global warming, firstly because they are better suited to a cross-sectoral, systemic approach to the transition, and secondly because they have a front row seat for measuring the impact of climate change. They are therefore obviously essential allies in debating the obligation to achieve results and the policies to be put in place to achieve them.

Roby Biwer recalled that the Committee of the European Regions (which does not only represent the regions) represents one million local and regional elected representatives in Europe, responsible for 70% of the implementation of European policies and 90% of mitigation policies. Almost everywhere, cities and regions are more demanding than the states, pushing them forward. They are also, he said, in a much better position than states to involve all citizens in the decision-making process, which is essential. It is also them, he reminded the meeting, who are in the front line to anticipate and accompany the professional reconversions resulting from the fact that real transition strategies will radically call into question certain branches of the economy and will lead to the development of others.

Julie Laernoes reminds us that it is at the local level that it is possible to think about the transformations to be carried out: (contrary to the slogan popularised at the Earth Summit, « think globally, act locally ») «  today we must think locally to act globally ". This is the idea that cities and regions should unite around the obligation to achieve results in order to influence the necessary changes at the level of States, regions and the international community. This is all the more urgent, she emphasised, as up to now « cities have done the easy thing »: in order to get into the thick of things, it is necessary to shake up the States in order to get out of society’s irresponsibility.

Referring to the observatory on the action of non-state actors set up by Climate Chance, which has just published its latest report, the vast majority of the world’s cities and regions are ahead of the states in terms of both commitments and practices. Bernard Soulage also reminds us, referring to the situation of many cities and regions in the South, of the need to talk much more about adapting to climate change because it is already here: «  this policy should have the same degree of urgency as the mitigation policy, but unfortunately the funding is (still) not there« .

All this argues in favour of a much more concerted strategy by the various networks of cities and regions to promote the most advanced experiences, to campaign for genuine multi-level governance, and to act together with regard to the States to break the glass ceiling that they all face.

Can and should we move towards a European referendum on the obligation to achieve results in the fight against global warming?

Roby Biwer was rapporteur for the Committee of the Regions on biodiversity. A survey on this subject received 80,000 responses. « Many young people today are less materialistic than we were. The referendum would be a huge boost. And if we, the regions and cities are behind the idea of a referendum it would be a very strong message} ".

The fight against climate change must be part of a much broader effort to rethink our economic doctrines

We have seen in previous sessions that the necessary rationing of greenhouse gas emissions requires a rethinking of an economic doctrine that considers only two categories of goods, private goods managed by the market and public goods. For Dominique Potier, the global common good that is the climate is not the only one that invites us to go beyond this vision. Land is also part of it: land, from the local to the global, from the land as a garden to the land as a homeland. Everywhere in the world, he says, where land has been considered as a market good similar to industrial goods, this has led to the destruction of land and society. Over three centuries, by contrast, where land is shared, democracy and prosperity flourish.

It was with this conviction that land could not be left to the free play of the market that Edgar Pisani, at the end of the 1950s, set up collective land management structures that shifted the trade-off between the remuneration of labour and the remuneration of capital in favour of labour. Today, he says, we need a new step forward, to treat land as a common good, which is a new issue, that of the trade-off between land as a productive factor and the sharing of land as a green resource.

This statement is very similar to that of Bruno Parmentier in the 8th session, when he shows that agricultural production methods are a decisive factor in climate preservation : it is therefore no longer only the trade-off between capital and labour that is at issue, but also the rules applying to the preservation of the resource. We find again the need already stated in relation to the climate for a new balance between ecological, social and economic necessities.

Dominique Potier, Member of Parliament for Meurthe-et-Moselle (Toul, Neuve Maison), pointed out that a comprehensive study on land management had been launched in his area. He dreams of a tool at the level of the communities of communes that would make it possible to show the long-term ecological and social consequences of land management, in particular by constructing indicators of co-responsibility in land management: «  It would be an extraordinary adventure, he emphasises, making land management an epic ".

Pierre Calame agrees with him. According to him, climate and land belong to the same category of goods, those that can be divided by sharing but are in finite quantity: a cap on emissions for the climate, finite resources for land. This illustrates, he says, that in the great return to the oeconomy, seeking the well-being of all while respecting the limits of the planet, it is one of the four categories of goods, calling for collective reflection on the governance regimes that apply to it. «  The climate and land struggles can be mutually reinforcing , concludes Dominique Potier.

B/ Which family of solutions is the most appropriate?

For many of the speakers, the third family, that of individual tradable quotas is a real discovery. As we know, only the first two families, carbon price (family 1) and investments and regulations (family 2) were known. It is all the more remarkable to note that for most speakers this third family deserves to be explored in greater depth. As Peter Javorcik points out, «  This third family is very interesting. I am discovering it. For the moment, it is not even mentioned in European discussions, but it should be better debated ».  He feels that, beyond the principles, this third family, like the others, requires further study and discussion: «  what methodologies and measurements of the ecological footprint ? What political and social questions would be raised by its implementation ? How to differentiate situations and quotas by type of territory etc…« .

Julie Laernoes is even more radical: «  The carbon tax has become a taboo, it has a bad image, especially when imposed at the European Union level. Social justice is against it. The quota system, on the other hand, attacks the essentials. For her, it is the only proposal that allows a real decoupling of welfare development and fossil fuel consumption. Bernard Soulage confirms: «  {the carbon tax is totally blind to social justice and relocations  » It is also this decoupling that is at the heart of the reflection of the Together international network, led by Samuel Thirion, guided precisely by the reflection: «  More well-being and less carbon ".

Of all the participants, Bernard Soulage, both as a politician and as an economist, has given the most thought to these questions: for years he has been campaigning for a parallel, already mentioned in our previous sessions, between the VAT mechanism and a mechanism for recording « carbon added », as a complement to « added value », throughout the production chain. This is the only solution, he says, and this is the stroke of genius. Indeed, he recalls, «  it is because of its simplicity and the way in which at each stage of the exchange the added value is counted and the tax already paid is reimbursed to the seller, according to the same mechanism proposed for the carbon account of reimbursement of carbon points to the seller at each transaction, that the VAT created in France in 1948 has spread throughout the world ".

It is true that at the same time, the participants underlined the impasses of the method advocated until now, that of the « price signal ». As we saw earlier, Peter Javorcik, defending the European ETS system, said that «  the right price signal should remain an essential tool  » but he acknowledged that difficulties arise when it is extended to new sectors that affect lifestyle. Philippe Lamberts, for his part, showed us, as he had mentioned in relation to free quotas, that the system would not be able to take imported emissions into account.

To the question put to him by one of the participants as to whether the European Union would be in a position to force the Member States to ensure the traceability of greenhouse gases in the sectors, which is necessary for the introduction of the individual quota system, he replied that this is indeed a challenge but that there is no impossibility.

Dominique Potier said that in this direction the CJDES, Centre des Jeunes Dirigeants de l’Economie Sociale, had already developed an « impact score » to assess the quality of the production process, not only from the point of view of greenhouse gas emissions, but also from other points of view (echoing the thoughts expressed by Alister Smith in the 8th session on the concept of sustainable industries). « Let’s find a common language so that each citizen can choose a mode of production and not just a product; let’s put young people in a position to choose. Thus language (equity in the face of a global common good) and indicators (tools for measuring the ecological footprint) are the two legs on which to walk.

Jean-Marie Fiévet, who was prevented from attending at the last minute and whose spokesman Armel Prieur was, as MP for the Deux-Sèvres, very interested in the individual carbon account mechanism ; he has already carried out tests with traders and craftsmen and has begun to take the issue to the level of the presidency and the government in France.

A short video by Adam Hardy showed the commonality of thinking between a group of English academics advocating the concept of «  universal carbon credit as a carbon currency «  and the carbon account as developed in France. Another way for him to say that we have not yet entered « the hard way », he thinks that classical economic thinking is still at the stage of greenwashing. The English reflection is part of the wider perspective of the Institute of the Global Commons (another similarity with the reflections that emerged from the Assises du climat) and he considers that it is urgent to create citizens’ groups at the local level to discuss this.

Adam Hardy

By way of a very provisional conclusion : the follow-up to the Conference

By way of conclusion, Pierre Calame was invited to draw the first lessons from the conference, and he made the following observations

It is possible to watch the session on the facebook recording HERE (it starts at 4’21)

A quarter time montage can be viewed HERE


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