I have been writing an article for a new publication soon to be launched by the editorial group that publishes Sun & Wind Energy magazine, and as part of the research I read a report that the IEA launched a few days ago – the Medium Term Renewable Energy Market Report 2012. I am definitely very familiar with renewable energy issues, and used to hearing about its massive growth. Yet, I found some of the illustrations in the report genuinely staggering. Here is one, illustrating the incredibly rapid growth of solar photovoltaics globally. In 2011, they reached almost 70 Gigawatts (GW), starting from around 5 GW in 2005. So, on average, over those 6 years, the equivalent capacity of 10 nuclear power stations was installed per year in solar PV. Sure, the comparison is a bit stretched, as solar and nuclear operate differently – and of course the sun is not always shining (as we know well here in the UK this “summer”!). But the comparison does give some sense of proportion. We are not talking small numbers and marginal technologies any more.
Overall, renewable energy is projected to growth by around 40% in the next 5 years. Some types of generation will grow at an even faster rate. Offshore wind power, for example, is set to grow from 4 GW to 26 GW in 2017 – and that is a relatively conservative estimate as it is assumed some countries will not manage to achieve the renewable energy targets they have set for themselves.
I think this should have been the top story on all business pages of all newspapers globally. Yet, a quick google search shows the story was mainly picked up by the specialist media, while the mainstream media did not cover it in detail. Then you wonder why so many people have wrong perceptions about renewable energy and its merits vs fossil fuels or nuclear power. As a business journalist myself, I really wonder a lot about what is behind this problem. I do have some ideas, but I’ll leave that for another post – as it’s a long and complicated discussion.
I found this video about the Green Deal very well done. The Green Deal is a scheme which the UK government will launch later this year and that is meant to finance much needed energy conservation improvements in the housing sector. The potential is huge. How the scheme will work remains to be seen, but this video has made me feel more optimistic than I have been before.
I’ve recently come across a very interesting report: “Where the Green Grants Went”, published by the UK Environmental Funders Network. The basic finding can be summarised very simply: environmental campaigns don’t get enough funding, given the massive scale of the crisis we are facing, and compared to the much larger funding that goes to other societal issues.
Despite the fact that 94% of UK citizens say the environment is “important” or “very important” to them personally (Eurobarometer poll), the environment is far from a mainstream issue in the minds of people making large donations to charity through trusts or foundations. Environmental grants represent only around 3% of total UK philanthropy, and climate change, within that, only around 0.7%. For example, 2009/10, grants made to climate change mitigation totalled £15.8 million. By means of comparison, in the same year, the National Galleries in London and Edinburgh raised £50 million in four months to purchase a single painting.
The report specifically says that environmental organisations working at EU level are particularly under-resourced compared to commercial interest lobbies. This does not come as a surprise of course, but it’s interesting to see the actual statistics.
The EFN’s work to build an evidence base to UK environmental philanthropy is great. However, one wonders how these findings are recommendations can be taken on board more widely – and not just by donors, but also by environmentalists themselves. I have worked in places where a much needed piece of work that could potentially have influenced the environmental policy of 27 or more countries, costing, say, £3-4,000 was not carried out because funding was not available and people didn’t have the time or knowledge to fundraise for it. Now, if we had realised that this is a pretty small amount of money, compared to what spent on other causes, perhaps we would have had more courage to go out there and find the cash.
Ultimately, both funders and environmental organisation management teams need to become more enthusiastic about issues that are apparently very technical and where results are hard to understand – but that can have a lasting impact. This is quite a typical problem in EU policy, which may appear to be impenetrable to many but can have a massive impact when it goes the right way (or indeed when it goes the wrong way).
One solution would be to make the so-called “Cinderella” issues more palatable and accessible to campaigners and funders through clever use of technology. One example I have found is the Where We Live video. Produced in the US, this 9-minute documentary about a successful campaign to protect California’s climate change legislation. It is an inspiring video that explains in simple terms what would otherwise be a complex issue, illustrating how the campaign achieved its success. If something similar was done on successful EU environmental campaigns, this could perhaps help to encourage more organisations to overcome their resistance to becoming involved, and more donors to help.
The Lisbon treaty has been accused of all sorts of things by its opponents, but there is little doubt that it does include new provisions aimed at making European Union workings more transparent. In my view one the most crucial ones is that the Council of Ministers will be forced to become more transparent and make its deliberations public.
Yesterday we also heard some news about changes in the way the European Parliament will relate to the Council of Ministers and the European Commission that could have profound consequences on the way EU affairs are conducted, as a consequence of the Lisbon Treaty coming into force.
Some key changes are:
- the principle of “equal treatment by the Commission for Parliament and the Council of Ministers”. This means MEPs will have more access to meetings and to documentation on the Commission’s meetings with national experts (which can be extremely untransparent at times).
- improved “accountability of the Commission as the EU executive body”, towards the European Parliament. This will include a more “transparent procedure for nominating special representatives and ambassadors”.
- The EU Parliament will start holding a new “Question Hour” with Commissioners during plenary sessions, including the Vice-President for External Relations/High-Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. In addition, if Parliament asks the Commission President to withdraw his confidence in an individual Member of the College, he must seriously consider whether to require the resignation of the Commissioner or explain his refusal to do so before Parliament in the following plenary session.
- Under the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament will also gain the power to ask the Commission to enact new legislation. Before Lisbon, this was not possible as the sole right of legislative initiative (the right to propose new laws) was with the EU Commission. Under the rules agreed today, the Parliament will have the right to ask the Commission to legislate on an issue – and there will be clear deadlines for this procedure. In particular, there will be a three-month deadline for the Commission to respond with a concrete follow-up to a legislative initiative report. It will have a year to submit a proposal to Parliament. If no proposal is submitted, the Commission will give detailed explanations to Parliament.
There is very little online information on what these increased legislative powers really mean, but I found this legal explanation on Ralf Grahn’s blog quite useful.
A story on news service Euractiv indicates that these changes in relations between the Parliament and other institutions will be “seismic…it is rumoured that senior people within the Commission are saying that things will never be the same again and that this deal represents a real power gain for the Parliament.”
Of course one of the major changes brought about by the Lisbon Treaty is also – and crucially – that 40 new areas of policy will come under the co-decision process, meaning that the Parliament will have a say where it didn’t have one before, for example in crucial areas of the EU budget and with regards to international treaties.
And yes, more power to the European Parliament also means that more lobbyists are descending to Brussels to try to influence what is becoming a “paradise for lobbyists“. But more powers for the European Parliament also mean more democratic accountability for the EU because MEPs are accessible not just to industry lobbyists but also to a variety of organisations representing civil society. And, increasingly, also to private citizens, thanks also to the growth of social networking such as facebook and twitter.
Of course as always there will be a variety of other factors involved in determining how democratically accountable EU institutions really are, which are outside the scope of these specific changes brought about by the Lisbon Treaty. Poor media coverage in many countries will continue to keep the EU out of sight for most citizens. The nasty habit of national politicians blaming problems on the EU when things are bad, and taking credit when things are good will continue to feed misunderstandings and mistrust amongst EU citizens and make them feel disempowered.
Yet the Lisbon Treaty introduces something else which could potentially empower them – the European Citizens’ Initiative. This means that if at least one million citizens request the EU Commission to legislate on an issue, the EU Commission has to consider doing this. It’s still not clear precisely how well it will work, but there is some work going to define it more precisely, to be discussed at a stakeholder forum on the 22nd of February in Brussels. The blog of the Young European Federalists has useful information on the debate going on behind the scenes.
Of course the picture created by Lisbon isn’t completely positive: there is no doubt that the new Lisbon Treaty changes are also creating some confusion, particularly because of the the proliferation of senior roles. As this article by Ian Traynor published yesterday on the Guardian rightly says:
Obama announced last week he was too busy for a slated summit with the Europeans in Madrid in May. The US state department made plain that one reason for Obama’s absence is that, under Lisbon, it was not clear with whom the Americans should be dealing.
Matthias Matthijs, a Washington-based academic who is visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Bologna Centre, said the post-Lisbon fiasco over who is in charge may take a year to sort out. That person is supposed to be Van Rompuy or Catherine Ashton, the new EU foreign policy chief also created by the Lisbon treaty. But no one appears to have told the Spanish prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who took on the rotating six-month presidency of the EU last month determined not to forfeit any of its perks and privileges to Van Rompuy who, under the Lisbon terms, chairs all summits of EU leaders.
There is no doubt there is quite a bit of confusion on this issue. I personally also have some concerns about changes that the Lisbon Treaty has made to the “comitology” process, which may make it even less transparent than it is. I am not an expert on this and would really welcome some feedback from people more in the know.
But focusing solely on the problems created by Lisbon rather than potentially positive changes that are happening definitely does not do this issue justice, nor does it help to make the EU more democratic and transparent.
While browsing blogs and tweets about the EU today I stumbled upon this very interesting post on Dick Nieuwenhius’ blog which carries an open letter to EU Commission president Barroso and incoming commissioners from the EC’s community of internet editors and webmasters. The title is “Harnessing the power of the Internet for better communication”.
In this letter, Dick and his colleagues make a strong plea for making more use of the full potential of web 2.0 in order to communicate better with EU citizens. I agree with absolutely everything that’s in there, as I think that a genuine revolution is happening which could finally help the EU become less of a mysterious black box for the average citizen. However, rapid technological developments could also do exactly the opposite if the institutions and the wider community of EU policy and communications experts will be too slow to respond.
This is because the rapid development of social networking, such as twitter or facebook can help to spread news to relevant, new audiences – but it may also help to spread misinformation and rumours about the EU if someone wishes to use it that way, and no doubt many will, and already are doing so (for example, this is very obvious to anyone using the European Parliament’s facebook “fan page”).
So my only word of warning would be “be careful what you wish for”! There is also a danger that we will all get caught up in something that generates more and more work and more demands on our limited time without necessarily solving some deeply-rooted, underlying issues related to the way citizens relate to politics more generally. I also don’t totally agree about mainstream media being in such a decline – in fact I think that for anyone working on EU policy achieving coverage on the FT, or perhaps on some specialist media outlet, is still far more important than a bit of buzz on social networks. But I could be wrong of course.
In the meantime, in any case, we have tried to start a web 2.0 revolution of our own, by starting up a new Twitter account for the Coolproducts for a Cool Planet campaign, which we co-manage on behalf of a wide coalition of environmental organisations.
As world leaders leave Copenhagen, where millions of people’s hopes about a fair, absolute and binding deal on climate change were shattered, I think we can all do with some good news to lift our morale.
The Joint Research Center of the European Commission has published a report on electricity consumption and efficiency trends in the European Union.
Among the report’s most striking conclusions are that over the period 2004-2007 the final energy consumption in the EU-27 Member States decreased, while electricity end-use consumption in EU-27 continued to grow, but at a lower rate than the economic growth. The researchers directly attribute part of these positive developments to the effectiveness EU energy efficiency policies, although they stress there is still a lot to do.
Does this mean that perhaps some of the most neglected, least reported, behind the scenes solutions to climate change are the answer as opposed to hoping to get all world leaders to agree on a binding treaty? Of course I realise we do need a global agreement if we want emissions to go down globally – and the effort that went into this summit, by governments and from civil society organisations which organised an unprecedented mobilisation of millions of people – was absolutely justified. And my thoughts go to the hundreds of committed, hard working campaigners that put some much effort into Copenhagen for so long, some of which even had to put up with the awful and unprecedented decision to exclude NGOs from the talks.
But I also wonder whether such a huge focus on Copenhagen (which at times meant several other crucial aspects of climate policy were inevitably neglected) and the massive disappointment it has now caused, means we are all in danger of being too pessimistic about what can be done and the time and effort it will take to get there. We can’t afford to wait until we get a deal in Mexico in December 2010 (which of course we still need to achieve) – so I say, in the meantime, let’s just start working a lot harder on these policies on the ground that actually already work and can achieve rapid results…. One example among several I could make is the Coolproducts for a Cool Planet campaign to make the products we use in the European Union much more green and energy efficient – one of the low profile, high impact climate policies that are going unreported at the moment despite the fact they are incredibly crucial in achieving all those global emission reduction targets we talk about.
On the other hand, without a deal at Copenhagen, it will be harder to get an agreement in the EU in 2010 for more stringent climate policies, and for a higher 2020 emission reduction target (this is currently 20%, but the idea was that it would be 30% if there was a global agreement in place) – and this in turn will make it harder to keep the momentum going to get strong energy efficiency policy moving. But my own two pence is that we need to put more effort into showing that there are positive stories, solutions that work, so that it becomes obvious that setting global targets is feasible. This in turn could also help to reach a global deal.
Going back to the actual report, other interesting findings are that in an average household, and excluding heating systems, the main sources of electricity consumption are fridges (20%), lighting (14%), cloth/dishwashers (12%), cooking (10%), televisions (10%), standby modes (7%). A remaining 25% includes other electronics, air-conditioning, ventilation, etc.
Class A air-conditioners have increased their market share from 17% in 2005 to 61% in 2008. This is a positive development as it means people are buying more energy efficient products. However, the number of units sold is still increasing very fast, which means air conditioning is responsible for a growing share of electricity use (+10% in 2007), a trend which may increase as the climate gets hotter. The report also says the stock of information and communication technologies (ICT) is still growing at a high rate of 4% per year.
(this blog entry is partly based on a helpful summary of the report by ECOS, an organisation we work with on the Coolproducts campaign.)
I can highly recommend investing half an hour to listen to this video of a lecture by Lord Wallace – one of the clearest, most comprehensive overviews of British Euro–scepticism I’ve ever heard – outlining its historical origins and the challenges it poses to the UK government when it deals with the EU, and in particular the difficulties it will create for a likely future Conservative government.
If you haven’t got half an hour, try reading my quick summary below (I’ve done my best to make it accurate and not put too much of my own opinion in here…apologies in advance to Lord Wallace if I haven’t been as accurate as I should have – but people can also listen to the video themselves.)
William Wallace (Lord Wallace of Saltaire) is a Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader in the House of Lords and a spokesperson for Home Affairs and Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and he was speaking at the Irish Institute for European and International Affairs.
Euroscepticism is a complex, tough and widespread sentiment, which dominates the British public debate about the EU…which, however, any government that comes in will eventually have to deal with, as it is not in line with the times and the national interest of the UK.
A Eurobarometer poll last year showed that the UK is the least keen public in the EU towards European integration, with Ireland (which has however meanwhile shifted its stance after another referendum on Lisbon). We knew that already, but what is striking is the fact people have extraordinarily inaccurate and exaggerated ideas about fundamental things – e.g. how much money the UK pays towards the EU budget (people think it’s a lot more than it is).
This year’s expenses scandal has meant politicians are even less trusted in general by the public, and the EU Parliament elections reflected that loss of support. In May 2010, the results of the general elections will most likely also see the rise of independents, and particularly of small or extremist parties such as BNP and UKIP. This is a trend seen in many other countries, and Britain is not alone in this. The Conservatives are having to elaborate their stance on Europe within this context, and in the hope of not losing too much ground to these parties (my comment – but isn’t it the case that the BNP is taking votes away from Labour and not necessarily Conservatives?).
There are, however some positive trends, Wallace added.
Firstly, the the Obama administration is not interested in a relationship with UK separately from the EU, and this was made clear to Conservatives when they visited Washington – when they were also queried about their alliances with extremists in the EU Parliament. So the approach that has been taken to far by successive UK governments, and most notably by Tony Blair, of trying to have a special relationship with the US at the expense of the EU, may not work now.
Secondly, the British sense of national identity is increasingly outdated as it doesn’t take into account so many things that have happened in the past 50 years and even in the past 3–4 years, that considerably change the debate. For example, the debate on the EU is still largely based on the Maastricht Treaty and the social chapter, something that was clear in the reactions to the Lisbon treaty coming into force a few weeks ago – whereas the issues related to the Lisbon Treaty are different. The issues related to the economic crisis have yet to be taken into account by many Eurosceptics – the UK is still seen as a competitive global financial centre, whilst Germany supposedly has an outdated economic model based on manufacturing. We are now however discovering things are not as simple as that – we are in deeper recession then France or Germany who have recovered much faster and better. That fact now potentially alters the essential debate about Europe too.
It’s pretty clear therefore that ANY government that comes in in May 2010 will have to tackle these issues. For the moment, David Cameron does not seem so interested in foreign policy, and has so far only used European issue as a way to manage internal party politics. To an extent, he is “trapped” by the Eurosceptic party and the press and it will be a huge challenge for him to get round this problem when it comes to working within the EU in a pragmatic way. The proposals he has made, than would give primacy to domestic legislation are a dangerous road to go down, not too dissimilar to a road that extreme right wingers have taken in the US against international law. (I would add – given he has made so many good statements on the need to tackle climate change, how on earth will he be able to do that if the UK is isolated on the global scene rather than firmly part of the EU – where most of the policy action is happening?)
William Hague is however different – he has engaged in the past in a lot of anti Europe campaigning but not always in a very well-informed way (my note – his most recent opinion piece on the FT however proves that something is shifting, as his position seems far more nuanced than it used to be. I still don’t agree with him but at least he is sounding more coherent than before…).
ANY new government will have to have some sort of changed narrative to persuade the public that more EU cooperation is in Britain’s interest, whether it’s defence (where shrinking public budgets mean it’s too costly not to cooperate with other countries) climate change or police work across borders.
Wallace left the audience with an interesting final thought – that Cameron is in a better position than any other UK party to change the Conservative’s position on Europe – but there are risks involved including alienating parts of the party and losing votes to UKIP and BNP so how much this will happen remains to be seen.
Max Hastings of the FT also wrote a very illuminating article on why the EU issue is a looming crisis for the Conservatives.
There’s nothing like the combination of the words “policy” and “the EU” that’s more likely to get most people running for the door. Yet EU policy affects issues that matter to people: from product safety to climate change measures and from bank regulation to mobile phone roaming tariffs. Can we really afford to ignore it, or dismiss it as merely the work of “unelected bureaucrats” without trying to understand it a bit better?
Made up of 27 countries, with a population of just under 500 million people and a GDP higher than that of the US, the EU is the largest trading block in the world and a major source of international development aid. Yet, to the average European citizen its workings remain a mystery. Many feel it’s impossible to have a say and prefer not to engage, including not just ordinary citizens, but also some very important organisations.
In this context, it’s hardly surprising that the most recent EU parliament elections had a very low turnout. We’ll try to do our bit to provide information on what really matters to Europeans and to the organisations they belong to. We aim to make EU policy making accessible and understandable to wider audiences, by using every day language and avoiding jargon. We believe that in order for the EU to become more democratic and transparent we need to ensure that more citizens – and a much wider variety of organisations – understand and influence its workings.