Cop27: “There are always opportunities in disruption”

Founded in 1968, Mouvement Ecologique, also known as Méco, advocates for sustainable development, climate action and justice, the protection of biodiversity, citizen participation and an alternative, greener energy policy. Photo: Guy Wolff/Maison Moderne

Founded in 1968, Mouvement Ecologique, also known as Méco, advocates for sustainable development, climate action and justice, the protection of biodiversity, citizen participation and an alternative, greener energy policy. Photo: Guy Wolff/Maison Moderne

The UN’s COP27 is taking place in Egypt at the start of November, in the middle of an energy crisis. Mouvement écologique’s president Blanche Weber and energy specialist Christophe Murroccu look at this decisive event.

The COP27 summit will build on the promises of COP26 to phase out coal and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, focusing on the voices of minorities like youth, women and indigenous people. The conference in Sharm el-Sheikh will also bring attention to clean technologies and the centrality of water and agriculture in the crisis. The role of science in the future of climate action will also be addressed.

The UN climate conference is starting in a few weeks, and this in the middle of an energy crisis. Do you feel like the energy crisis encourages the energy transition more than the COP does?

Christophe Murroccu: It’s difficult to say whether the energy crisis encourages the transition, but it definitely has an impact on the transition. For one, the origin of this crisis is very negative: the war in Ukraine came at relatively short notice and therefore led to short-term solutions that aren’t necessarily structural in nature.

And then, we’re not yet in the winter and [don’t yet have the same] demand for hot water and heating, so we can’t say yet how far the impact will reach. The crisis has clearly generated a whole series of reflections, among others in the European Union, when it comes to moving away from fossil fuels at a faster pace. So, I don’t know about ‘support’ but it’s moved things along.

Blanche WeberBlanche Weber: There will now be a societal decision to take on whether this will go in the right or wrong direction. We are now in one of these disruptive moments that bring change with them. That’s doubtful that things will continue the way they did before the war, but change remains a socio-political decision.

And we see two tendencies: one looks towards encouraging fossil fuels and returning to a nuclear discourse. The other party looks at long-term solutions.

“ The crisis has created a momentum within the EU that the EU can bring to the COP to plead for more ambition.”
Christophe Murroccu

Christophe Murroccuenergy politics specialistMouvement écologique 

Could climate action during COP27 slip into the background because of the urgent solutions needed for the energy crisis?

CM: The crisis, as I said, has very clearly influenced the efforts and thought processes of the EU. We got a new strategy in May--REPowerEU--that makes member states reconsider their efforts and ambitions, be it in terms of greenhouse gas emissions or renewable energy. [There is also a will to be] independent from Russia and to consume less fossil fuels. The crisis has created a momentum within the EU that the EU can bring to the COP to plead for more ambition. But at the COP in 2016, there was also a speech for more engagement and ambition. What remained were just speeches. So what counts this year--and that’s something we say every year--is to support these speeches with concrete actions. These measures should be structural and not just band-aids. They have to have a long-term effect.

You say that the EU could bring a positive momentum to the COP, but when you look at how EU member states--like Germany with its €200m package--have come up with individual packages, do you think there really is a chance for international solidarity in the face of climate change?

CM: I think there is a chance. In 2015, a package of climate financing solutions was signed. It was a matter of hundreds of billions that needed to be gathered, mainly for mitigation and adaptation. Our prime minister [Xavier Bettel] said during the last COP that Luxembourg wanted to contribute €200m over 4-5 years to this sum. This means there is a dynamism but also a lack of concrete actions. This decision should be part of the next COP, alongside putting into practice decisions taken during COP26. Be it on a national, EU or international level: it’s good to hold speeches, but you have to show that you really mean it.

BW: I feel like we’re in a technical debate right now. We are in a model--with our growth and the financing of our social system--that just doesn’t add up. We are in a logic of more consumption and energy use. This isn’t just about replacing gas with renewable energies but also where we will tabulate the energy consumption in the future.

There is also the social justice to consider: How far will the countries that have caused climate change go to finance the countries that are suffering the consequences of climate change the most, even if it’s just to acknowledge their debt? We are now in a fundamental discussion, not about techniques, gas or renewables, but the direction our society is taking politically. Is our growth ideology right or not? How do we define social justice in our country but also internationally? Because the idea that we don’t have to consider the rest of the world is also over. These are very systemic, structural questions. Rather than asking whether the COP is an opportunity, I would ask, ‘How do we manage to show the urgency of the situation?’

We don’t really have a choice anymore, when you look at the floods in Pakistan this summer or the loss of biodiversity.

That we must act isn’t negotiable anymore. We will have to see how the next six months go and make sure that we don’t fall into old routines and make mistakes. That some subsidies aren’t 100% climate-compliant isn’t the point--even if we’re not fully supportive of the tripartite deal. The real discussion is that we must take decisions on a structural level because we don’t have a choice, unless we choose to ignore the future.

Is Luxembourg’s tripartite deal, which included fossil fuel discounts and VAT reductions, a lost opportunity to push people to consume less?

BW: In all respects, it makes no sense. On an ecological level, it sends a wrong message to people. The energy price cap takes away the real costs of the market and doesn’t consider the impacts of this on the market. Price signals and real prices need to come back because they can have an impact on the behaviour of consumers. We know that the people with the highest income consume more, so the current subsidies support their excessive energy consumption. I can understand the reasons--social peace and mitigating the impacts of the inflation--but, since we’ve known for a long while that this was coming upon us, it would have been possible to find solutions with social partners and businesses that are combining social and ecological needs.

CM: There should have been structural solutions. This is again slapping a band-aid on the wound. It doesn’t touch upon systemic inequalities.

The real topic is that we must take decisions on a structural level because we don’t have a choice, unless we choose to ignore the future
Blanche Weber

Blanche WeberPresidentMouvement écologique

There are also recommendations on how to consume less…

CM: Luxembourg took its time to publicly formulate these. So when we saw them, we just thought, ‘All this for this?’ These measures weren’t revolutionary to begin with, but there is also no liability behind them--everybody can adopt changes voluntarily and the government will just monitor the progress. We expected more liability for communes, for instance.

BW: We also wanted all existing hindrances to be solved by the State. Currently, each commune has to find its own solutions… There should have been governmental recommendations to help communes navigate obstacles when applying the energy saving plan.

The price cap also leaves everyone bitter because those who consume a lot receive the same support as those who don’t. If you’d announced a threshold for consumption, where anything above the threshold was at full price, people might have found it socially fairer. Plus there is the question among citizens whether the changes they adopt actually contribute to the solution. Their impact isn’t communicated enough to encourage them.

Some have said the crisis is the perfect moment to transition to renewables. Do you believe that the tripartite deal reflects this?

BW: To be honest, our green subsidies are great. We’re at the top on an EU level. There are two issues though: we must improve the rental market for lower income households, and we must inform foreign residents who might not even know about existing governmental aids. And then there’s the fact that we have a lack of consulting and application help for the implementation of renewables. Some efforts are made, but we know that tradespeople [who install heat pumps and solar panels] are overwhelmed with requests and can’t take on more work.

The government should make sure to not just encourage people to switch but also support them, no matter how long it takes.

But it would be wrong to narrow down the discourse to citizens only, because businesses have to deal with rising energy costs, wage indexations and inflation too. On top of the demand from customers for the energy transition.

CM: It’s a challenge. 

BW: Yes, and we don’t want them to be ignored because we’re under the impression that the industry and SMEs are more and more aware of the energy transition. That is extremely positive. These are actors who need years to transition, but they are aware of it.

Do you reckon there will be a paradigm shift at the COP27?

BW: As an association, I’ll say this: the tripartite deal is raising a lot of concern that there may be a stubbornness to not acknowledge the urgency of the energy transition. There is also the fact that the biodiversity crisis has slipped in the background even more … so the discourse is worrying. But, on the other hand, there are more and more individuals who personally and professionally question the established system. Their courage may be born from worry that we can’t continue to live like this because of the visible impact on our personal lives. I think the challenge in this crisis--where there are a lot of negative feelings--is to put together a vision of the future and to present the steps to reach it.

The big hope is that we could put social togetherness at the centre of this vision instead of consumption, car-centrism or economic growth.

CM: It’s clear that more and more people want a more sustainable lifestyle and environment. And it’s clear that the government is turning the right screws. What is missing are the long-term changes that would allow many to live more sustainably. People can only be as sustainable as their environment allows.

How do we keep an eye on long-term issues like the loss of biodiversity and climate change when faced with situations that need immediate solutions like the pandemic in 2020 or the energy crisis right now?

CM: You simply cannot ignore them. If you look at Luxembourg, we’ve seen the impact of the drought on businesses, residents, farmers, older people … the climate and biodiversity crises have reached Luxembourg. There’s no need to be a scientist to see this. These issues will get worse over the years, and I think it’s impossible to just turn a blind eye to this.

BW: I think this fact has finally reached politicians. Just because you have issues with, for instance, making ends meet at the end of the month, doesn’t mean that you don’t care about the climate crisis. All these crises are connected and shouldn’t be separated.

This article first appeared in the November 2022 issue of Delano magazine.