Sunday, April 2

Experts, activists and businessmen agree on the urgency of disconnecting the economy from fossil fuels: “We are 20 years late”

“Climate change is going much faster than us and we are 20 years late.” Laurence Tubiana, president and CEO of the European Climate Foundation, has been blunt in her verdict on the urgency for the world’s economies to disconnect from fossil fuels and commit definitively to green energy, in an event organized by elDiario .es in which activists, analysts, businessmen and political leaders have analyzed the challenges and recipes to reduce dependence on polluting energy sources.

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Tubiana has participated in the opening of the event ‘The decarbonisation of the economy, kidnapped by fossil fuels?’, sponsored by the European Climate Foundation and held this Friday at the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid, in a talk that he shared with the Third Vice President of the Government and Minister for the Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, and moderated by the Opinion Director of, Gumersindo Lafuente.

There, Tubiana has made an analysis of the current context and the challenges that the war in Ukraine has presented in relation to the agenda, especially of European countries, to disconnect from non-renewable energy sources. “Things have gotten worse on the one hand because some politicians thought that things [el cambio climático] they moved more slowly, and now the crises that have occurred, the covid and now the war, have complicated everything”, he said, to summarize: “Europe has been the pillar of a series of climate policies, but the problem is that We are 20 years behind.”

In this sense, he has pointed out the importance of the narrative that companies and climate change deniers usually build to continue defending fossil fuels. “This narrative construction is important. With the war it was easy to say: we need more gas, but Europe has to choose another route, because it has decided that the fuels had to be removed before 2030”, he opined. “If we do what was in the plan with the increase in renewable energy, there is going to be a systemic change and we have to organize ourselves around that,” he added.

For Tubiana, companies “always think they are going to win”, which is why she has reflected on the importance of fighting for the “narrative”, in which “citizens, NGOs and also judges” must be involved. He has said, “that in each country they have to remember what is true and what is not and be the third leg that tells companies if they are doing it right.”

Vice President Teresa Ribera has agreed with Tubiana’s analysis and has opted to involve companies in the transition, not only from the investment side but also in the distribution of benefits. In this line, she has opted for the transition measures in the countries, but above all, on “focusing attention on seeing what the redistributive effects are and the social policies that can accompany them”. “Where the benefits are so great, we have to see who gets them and how this can be redistributed,” Ribera said.

“We are at a time when we need to reduce the distribution of dividends and distribute it. This is the most activist thing that I am in a position to say”, commented the minister, who has elaborated: “The situation that we European citizens are experiencing is of such magnitude that it will probably reduce to a very low level the margin of the companies that have margin to continue increasing later would be the best marketing operation they can do right now”.

The obstacles to the transition

After the opening talk, the journalist Sara Acosta, founder and director of Ballena Blanca, has moderated a round table to address the obstacles that hold back governments and societies in the transition to a green economy. Ana Echenique, vice president of the Confederation of Consumers and Users (CECU), participated in this table; Antxon Olabe, environmental economist and essayist, expert in climate change and energy transition; and Gonzalo Sáenz de Miera, president of the Spanish Group for Green Growth.

Echenique has lamented that the pace of the transition is taking place at the risk of what the companies mark and not of the true needs of citizens and the planet in short. “Dialogue, agreeing with companies, is the brake on what we should be doing,” he said, to also regret that consumers have “disconnected” and cannot keep up with climate information. “Social demand should be the great engine, but it is impossible”, he lamented.

From a more business point of view, Sáenz de Miera has recognized that companies are not going at the right pace in terms of ecological transition, but has appealed to the large number of economic and business opportunities that are opening up with the energy transformation that is giving and that it is going to deepen. “We see that there are tremendous opportunities and global competition between countries, regions and companies to take advantage of business and industrial opportunities, etc,” he said, giving the example of the electric car manufacturing industry.

“What do fossil fuel companies have to do? Transform, adapt to this new context, invest in renewables and green hydrogen. There are no real obstacles and we are in an unbeatable opportunity to do it”, she has emphasized.

Less optimistic has been the economist Olabe, who has lamented that climate policies have less impact than desired. “When we declare a climate emergency we are satisfied, happy, aware of the problem, but that declaration does not have a consequence even remotely similar to the one that was declared with the pandemic, which stopped the economy”, he considered, to ask later that these issues begin to “put the batteries to societies in the same way”.

At this point, he regretted, as Tubiana did at the beginning, that companies have taken advantage of the crisis in Ukraine to “build and reactivate a narrative against the energy transition.” “They are sending a message that we cannot go so fast, that we have to be more realistic, it is a fierce use of the story to win this context in their favor”, she has denounced.

Low emission zones, public transport and electrification

The last table of the event has revolved around the recipes to undertake this transition and that societies can finally get rid of fossil fuels. Carlos Bravo, expert in public policies on Transport and the Environment; Assumpta Farrán, General Director of Energy of the Government of Catalonia; and Natalia Collado, a researcher at the Center for Economic Policy – EsadeEcPol, participated in a panel moderated by Raúl Rejón, a journalist from specializing in the environment. All of them have coincided in pointing out the use of public transport, the change in mobility behaviors or the trend towards the electrification of sources as the main solutions to begin this transformation of the model.

Assumpta Farrán recalled that between 30% and 40% of emissions come from road transport, which is why she has opted not only for more electric cars but above all for promoting the use of public transport and improving infrastructure from the States and the vehicles to make it more attractive and that the population feels called to use it.

Carlos Bravo has also recalled that road transport is one of the major sources of emissions and has proposed deepening some existing measures, such as promoting teleworking, enabling exclusive bus lanes on city entrance roads or expanding mobility shared. Bravo has also targeted low emission zones in cities to effectively limit traffic.

“It is not just about electrifying private transport, but about working for a more efficient general mobility. We must make a huge commitment to improve the public transport infrastructure, but we need a new mobility model”, underlined Natalia Collado, who considered that the ways of moving in the future will be different from the current ones, detached from the possession of a private vehicle, with options such as intermodal hubs: get to the city in a vehicle and from there use options such as the subway or bicycle.

The three experts have also discussed one of the main sources of gas emissions: air transport. At this point, Bravo has reflected on the management of demand and the rationalization of travel. “We want to decarbonize the economy, but the administration also has to get out of those lobbies that kidnap it,” he has said in relation, for example, to the construction projects and expansion of large airports. For Farrán, aviation is the spoiled child and he has considered that it is tremendously subsidized. “In the sector that there was more debate after the pandemic to help him was aviation. Either we start to put the same taxes on it as the others or this is going to cost a lot to move, ”he has said. “Why is it cheaper to go by plane than by train from Barcelona to Murcia?”, He has asked himself: “Until we fix these contradictions, how are we going to bet on new and expensive technologies to make them more efficient?”.