Sunday, December 10

Brave cities in the face of the climate crisis

It has been a hot summer. We are no longer talking about waves, but about a permanent heat that has led to record temperatures in much of the country. Danteque images of uncontrolled fires for days, crops that put food sovereignty in check and irreparable damage to peninsular ecosystems. The warming of the sea to tropical levels is now leading to violent storms and large hail that goes beyond the cold drop that we know in the Mediterranean climate.

All this has been enlivened with the soundtrack of summer, in talk shows and news, on how to overcome the energy and price crisis caused by the increase in gas rates and its impact on the global market in the global geopolitical context.

I cannot help but feel frustration and indignation, just like a large part of the public, when I see how late and badly it has come to respond to one of humanity’s greatest challenges: climate change, about which we have had scientific evidence for decades and clear alerts. More than 30 years have passed since the first UN IPCC report, and so far we have come haggling over degrees of temperature that we can govern as if it were a macabre game.

Nor can I help but feel nostalgic when the 10th anniversary of the platform for a New Energy Model will be held in Madrid on September 17. At that time I was a deputy in Congress for ICV, and I had the opportunity to witness the birth of a plural space, full of generosity and collective intelligence to bring out in public debate the injustice of the energy model, and especially the abuses and privileges of the electrical oligopoly arising from privatization processes tailored to the sector. Spain was leading electricity prices in Europe and we were in the queue for renewable energy production, being a country rich in wind and sun.

On this platform, environmentalists, trade unions, organized citizens, conscientious businessmen and academics learned together, generating proposals to advance concrete measures against energy poverty, foreign dependency, the threat of fracking or the heavenly profits of oligopoly. Names like Jorge Morales, Ladis Martínez, Cote Romero, Alba del Campo, Mario Sánchez and many more, from diverse backgrounds, met in Lavapiés to set up proposals and prioritize struggles.

But they were also years in which the ministers Cañete and Soria approved, by decree, dozens of measures that delved into the weaknesses of the system. From the sun tax, the abandonment of energy saving policies, the firm commitment to gas in collusion with Convergencia i Unió (whose deputy spokesperson today is the leader of the Foment employers’ association) or the change in the Coastal Law. And all this in permanent dialogue with the oligopoly, to approve each decree to its measure.

It was in those times when the PP spokesman replied to me in parliament that this climate change thing was like the Mayan prophecies. Yes, yes, as real as the level of environmental debate in that government.

It was a legislature of denunciation and tenacious struggle. We find ourselves with a political wall that blocked the essential and urgent energy transformation that Spain required. And today we are where we are. Because just as fires are prevented in winter, energy policy requires a long look and planning. Reducing foreign energy dependency, betting on renewables, democratizing energy and protecting citizens from the abuses of the oligopoly requires courage and high-mindedness.

Certainly, the new left-wing coalition government, after years of destruction, has retraced part of the path of the PP with important measures to favor renewables, self-consumption or questioning the injustice of the electricity market also in Europe. The Iberian exception is one of the achievements, but we run the risk of it being a fragile and temporary measure. The marginal market is a problem beyond the Russian supply crisis. Too many conflicting interests of each state, due to the lack of a European model, threaten the viability of the changes pointed out by Von der Leyen.

So, although it is essential to speed up the change agenda at the national and European level, and not fall into the usual mistakes, such as making macro-projects at the service of gas, I also want to point out that during this lost decade there have been administrations that have been resistance and hope.

And that platform created 10 years ago, which had its own Alliance Against Energy Poverty in Catalonia, promoted spaces of empowerment to understand the perversity of the market. These citizen schools generated the essential knowledge so that, when the cities of change emerged in 2015, measures in this field were quickly applied. Cities have been trenches against energy poverty, the de-commodification of energy, equity-oriented rehabilitation in neighborhoods and the commitment to self-consumption.

From Cádiz to Barcelona, ​​the cities of change have created citizen assistance services, municipal marketing or production companies have been created, ordinances have been changed to favor sustainability and supply with clean energy. We can say that the pending homework began to be done when power, in some consistories, has been led by people not kidnapped by traditional discourses, conditioned by the boards of directors of Endesa or Iberdrola, but listening to those authentic schools of change in the energy model . Listening to the specific cases, the stories of cold, of patients connected to machines at home, of illnesses caused by lack of thermal comfort, from technical knowledge and daily experience.

And what I propose is not a story. A few weeks ago, Barcelona presented the balance of the service that was created at the end of 2015 to advise citizens. In addition to creating the marketer, Barcelona Energía, Energy Advice Points were set up throughout the city. It started in the three most impoverished areas of the city, training people at risk of social exclusion to become agents of change. Empowerment, relationship between equals and defense of rights as the key to success. This service, in 2021 alone, has served more than 33,000 people. Since it was created, and thanks to regulations promoted by social movements, more than 100,000 power outages for impoverished families have been avoided. While the companies carry out disinformation campaigns, at the energy advice points in Barcelona the rates are modified, social bonds are processed and the home is visited to facilitate micro-rehabilitations.

Cádiz has been another example of commitment to a local energy policy. Creating Eléctrica de Cádiz, training workers to fight against energy poverty and making citizens aware of the importance of energy as the axis of economic and local transformation.

Valencia also has a powerful energy transformation strategy that includes advice to citizens in neighborhoods, promotion of energy-neutral districts or a clear commitment to sustainable mobility in the city.

I am grateful for having had the privilege of seeing the platform born and learning from it over the years. It was also a privilege to have participated in the first Government of Ada Colau in Barcelona as deputy mayor responsible for social policies and, now, to be able to continue this line of work at the head of the Prat de Llobregat social services. This eco-socialist municipality has launched the House of Energy, a reference space for citizens, companies, schools… El Prat leads the launch of the largest local energy community with a public majority in the State. And it does so by involving companies, schools and neighbors to share energy production and consumption. A project that bears the mark of a fighter for a change in the energy model such as Joan Herrera.

In short, the cities are ahead. They are more agile and brave. They anticipate challenges. But that courage of David against Goliath is urgently needed in all areas of the administration. We can’t keep being late. If in 2019 the Government approved self-consumption, now it is time to go further. European funds have to go to good hands. We must continue to change regulation in favor of the common good. Promoting renewables, but also democratization and proximity to shared communities, as Portugal is promoting. The large energy companies threaten the democratization of the green transition and, in this scenario, the municipalities must be the priority partners of any government if it really wants to stand up to an energy market that does not respond to social, environmental or economic needs. Brave cities are the levers of transformation we need.