EESC calls for a socially fair energy transition and a permanent dialogue with citizens

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Civil society must be continuously involved in the EU strategy to reduce greenhouse gases, aimed at achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) points out that the transition to a decarbonised Europe should take place in a socially fair and efficient manner, where all actors join forces and give their contribution, emphasising that action for beyond 2030 is urgently needed.

The EESC endorses the strategy for long-term EU greenhouse gas emissions reduction put together by the European Commission and its objective of making the European Union a climate-neutral economy by 2050. In the opinion drawn up by Pierre Jean Coulon and Stefan Back and adopted at the June plenary session, the Committee calls on the Commission to establish a permanent dialogue with citizens and to make sure that the transition is socially fair.

A permanent citizens' dialogue and a new social pact

All future major political decisions and legislative initiatives at European, national and local levels should include active engagement with civil society, with a view to reinforcing the EU strategy and guaranteeing full public approval. A new social pact should be agreed. Citizens, the EU, Member States, regions, cities, businesses, trade unions, NGOs, and national economic and social committees need to all work together, so that nobody is left behind. Resources should come from the European Social Fund and the European Globalisation Fund, which should be properly adapted for that purpose.

The transition to a climate-neutral society must be implemented through a competitive, socially fair and multilateral approach as well as appropriate consultation tools, said Mr Coulon, president of the Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society (TEN). Such a transition is possible and beneficial for Europe. But everybody must be on board, we all need to join forces to achieve this common goal, he added.

The EESC invites the Commission to formulate and submit a proposal for such a dialogue by 2020 and highlights that it should be public, transparent and visible and that its profile could be raised by becoming a responsibility of the Commission itself, for instance through a specific European Commission vice‑president. It should not only consist of an internet platform, but also of meetings and direct contact with the general public.

Good results but not enough: focusing on mobility

Energy efficiency and renewables are vital to fully decarbonise Europe. The target of net-zero emissions means that non-emission sources have to be prioritised to produce electricity. By 2030, it is estimated that greenhouse gas emissions will decrease by 45% (more than the 40% agreed by the EU in the Paris Agreement) and, by 2050, by 60%, which is still not climate-neutral.

This is why it is urgent to decide on sustainable development measures for beyond 2030. Mobility is key, it is one of the areas where progress is most needed and can be made. It is essential to the functioning of the EU internal market, therefore we need to find solutions to reduce its CO2 footprint without impacting on the entire EU economy and society, indicated Mr Back. We could design, adopt and implement a carbon pricing system that takes into account its effects on businesses and citizens and is fully accepted by them, he continued.

Clean mobility involves first of all changing behaviour, for example by choosing public transport. In addition, alternative propulsion systems for all modes of transport should be prioritised: electrification, sustainable hydrogen, gas and biofuels, even for heavy-duty road vehicles, shipping and aviation. We should invest in technology and innovation – the transition to a climate-neutral economy will not happen without far-reaching research. Finally, it is important to increase efficiency and, to this end, to tap into the potential of digitalisation, electrification and collaborative systems.

The role of the regions

In the decarbonisation of Europe, it is also necessary to act at regional and local level, to involve regions and local communities and authorities, as they are crucial in delivering climate and energy policy and in nurturing the behaviours needed for its effective implementation. Many local communities are already taking the initiative and follow innovative solutions. Islands in the EU, including outermost regions, are often at the forefront and implement climate-neutral policies.

The future strategy should also deal with third country relations (to get more countries on board, especially major and emerging economies) and adequate financing (a budget is fundamental to the implementation of the strategy and should be available also for funding local and grassroots initiatives).

A permanent dialogue with citizens must be a priority, everybody has to be engaged. We need to prove that the transition is beneficial for the entire society, warned Mr Back. We cannot separate citizens from decision-makers, concluded Mr Coulon. We are committed to representing civil society organisations and will present this opinion to the new Commission. It is our duty to spur on the other institutions.

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