Friday 22. October 2021

Compassion in the EU Energy Transition

Energy transition is at the heart of all our efforts to reach the goals set in the Paris Convention in the fight against climate change. One of the champions in this struggle is the EU.

Energy transition is at the heart of all our efforts to reach the goals set in the Paris Convention in the fight against climate change. One of the champions in this struggle is the EU. Besides all necessary technical proposals and solutions we need a change of attitude as proposed by Pope Francis in «Laudato Si». What might be if we complete our technical approach with a different attitude, guided by our heart rather than by our reason? This is where Marieke Reijalt, theologian and executive director of EHA, introduces «compassion» (empathy) as a different way of understanding, leading to a different way of acting.


The Treaty of Rome on March 25, 1957 established four freedoms for the citizens of Europe: the free movement of goods, services, capital and persons. On 25 February 2015 the new Juncker Commission added a fifth freedom in its Communication 'A Framework Strategy for a Resilient Energy Union with a Forward Looking Climate Change Policy', (COM(2015) 080): free energy flows.


In the preamble of the Treaty of Rome, the six signatories declared they were “Intending to confirm the solidarity which binds Europe and overseas countries, and desiring to ensure the development of their prosperity, in accordance with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations”. The “fifth freedom” thus became part of one of the most significant treaties of the last century, creating the largest single market in the world based on the principle of solidarity.


A vast body of legislation

Over the last years this Energy Union Strategy set to deploy six legislative packages that aim to:

  1. reduce European energy demand and increase energy efficiency
  2. secure energy supply and reduce dependence on imports
  3. fully integrate the European energy market
  4. reduce CO2 emissions
  5. develop renewable energy sources to re-balance the energy mix
  6. promote sustainable transport. 

A vast body of legislation, that has catapulted (EU) citizens into  the very heart of European energy and transport transition from reducing the use of fossil fuels to seeking alternative energy sources to (net) zero emission by 2050. Recently the impact of these measures on income and expenditures of these EU citizens have triggered large demonstrations and marches across Europe for a more responsible execution (Youth for Climate) and a fair division of the cost burden (yellow vests) of this transition.


Solidarity as compassion

Compassion is not a word that appears often in EU’s vast library of Communications, Regulations and Directives. Although the EU’s bread and butter is “solidarity”, the constant battle between the national interests in the Council of Member States, the policy ambition of the EU Commission and the citizens voice of the EU Parliament leaves only crumbs of goodwill to feed this intention.


Compassion for EU citizens who, in order to make a decent living still depend on fossil fuels to heat their homes and fuel their cars. Compassion for future generations who know that, if catastrophic warming of their planet is to be avoided, radial measures are needed before 2030. But also Compassion for EU and national policy makers, who all feel this need for solidarity in their hearts, but find little outlet to translate this principle in language that survives the scrutiny of the review of “their internal services”.


Europe’s energy and transport transition has been based on principles of technology neutrality and market mechanisms. These two metaphors have seriously hampered the deployment of, for example, potentially zero emission solutions like the use of hydrogen as an energy carrier. As we obviously can’t predict what “markets will do”, we opt for juggling the introduction of all alternatives till “the market decides…”. As “the market” has become increasingly unpredictable (Dieselgate) and unreliable (again Dieselgate) the “radical” introduction of alternative solutions, is indeed jeopardized.


The World Energy Outlook 2018 of the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicates that “in all cases, governments will have a critical influence in the direction of the future energy system” and that “under current and planned policies, modeled in the (IEA) New Policies Scenario, energy demand is set to grow by more than 25% to 2040, requiring more than $2 trillion a year of investment in new energy supply”. Although costs of renewable power alternatives and energy storage technologies are falling rapidly, 70% of this 2 trillion will still need to come from public financing. Decisions on public funding therefore require the votes of EU citizens that rather depending on “supermarket” mechanisms (focusing on the lowest price).


How do we reconcile compassion for current and future generations of EU citizens, with EU’s traditional “compassion” for markets and and with the need for “clean” technologies in maintaining the fifth freedom? Maybe the solution could come from an understanding of compassion which results from the idea of solidarity to be found in the Treaty of Rome of more than 60 years ago.


Responsibility for the emerging and developing countries

The largest impact of “European” zero emission technologies will be felt most strongly in emerging and developing economies in avoiding CO2 emissions of fossil fuel in the powering of conventional applications. This solidarity with “overseas” countries will demand compassionate and truthful responses. Requests for technical assistance and technology cooperation to implement these technologies, under harsher conditions than pilot projects in Europe’s energy and transport geography, are rising rapidly.


If EU bodies are failing current citizens and future citizens, who increasingly are coming from “overseas countries”, with regards to the key EU principle of solidarity, the various religious denominations will need to pick up responsibility and organize visible actions to develop a more concrete response. They claim to have millennia of expertise in – compassion - even in such a complex, tricky and demanding domain as energy use and energy transition. To achieve the goals, this attitude could be crucial.


Marieke Reijalt

Executive director EHA, the European Hydrogen Association


The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.

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Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.