Report on transform! europe Participation in COP24 in Katowice

We analyse and engage the challenges of climate change from the perspective of our “productive transformation” project. For us only a systemic change of the whole capitalistic system can be real solution to anthropocentric climate change.

From the 6th to 10th December 2018, transform! europe took part in the 24th Conference of Parties (COP) in Katowice. This annually conference meets under the “United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change” which is an international treaty to stabilise the greenhouse gas emissions (UNFCC, signed 1992 in Rio de Janeiro).

Climate change is currently the most pressing issues, but the whole human-nature metabolism needs a fundamental change. The discussion on the “planetary boundaries” might be the most existential challenge humanity must face. It is therefore fair to say that we are in a truly civilizational crisis. A speaker from the Philippines stated at one of the many meetings in Katowice that a world with “only” one-degree temperature rise would already be a world of disaster. Already now 26 million people annually are being pushed into poverty, due to the climate crisis. But it is well known that the world is strait on its way to 3 degrees warming, and this in the optimistic (!) case that all nations would comply with their obligations they have committed so far.

In this time this year’s COP is one of the most important international climate conferences so far. In 2015 the COP21 decided on an international agreement which needs, to become operational, a “rulebook”. Deciding on these implementation guidelines (Paris rulebook) is one of the main tasks of the COP24 this year. We received the final rulebook after a long night at the 15th December.

Other important challenges are the enhancement of the commitments to the NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions). These NDCs are the offer of each nation of what it wants to achieve regarding the transition towards a CO2 neutral economy. The industrialised Western nations want to avoid that anything else than emissions cuts appear in the NDCs, while most of the Global Southern countries want to keep these commitments as comprehensive as possible, thus securing financial contributions of the Global North.

Another highly political and therefore contested field is the discussion on the “loss & damage” fund which will help the Global South in adapting to the climate crisis, based on the understanding that first: the old industrialised countries are responsible for the climate crises and secondly that they are also richer therefore need to pay more. Other payments also need to be drastically scaled up to 100 billion US-Dollar per year (!). As one speaker from the Global South said: “The whole discussion on payments in favour of the poorest nations again prove the ability of the rich western nations to turn everything to their own advantage.” At the many side events one fact was often mentioned: that the crisis is so huge that without massive and unprecedented financial flows to third world countries humanity has no chance to avoid the crash. Only with massive immediate payments we can hope for keeping global temperature rise below 1,5 degrees.

The spirit of the civil society actors was high – nonetheless, or rather because of this: many were in an aggravated and fiercely determined mood. On the 10th December 2018 the human rights declaration had its 70th anniversary. That would have been a pretty good reason for celebrations, if not EU in collaboration with the USA would pressure the third world countries so much that human rights might not any longer be part of the rulebook.

transform! europe used the COP24 for advancing the discussion of productive transformation from the specific point of “Energy Democracy” (ED). In the past years we have already cooperated on this issue with many allies. This year we co-organised events with Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (New York), Friends of the Earth Europe (Brussels) and Transnational Institute (Amsterdam).

We started our program on Thursday, December 6, with a “TUED Roundtable: Analysis, Allies and Action”. We based our discussion on the TUED discussion paper, When “Green” Doesn’t “Grow”: Facing Up to the Failure of Profit-Driven Climate Policy. Sean Sweeney (TUED) stated in the introduction that the growth of the renewable energies is negligible and that we have to come to the conclusion that the free market system has failed miserably. Even the Bloomberg New Energy Outlook 2018 states that: “Even if we decommissioned all the world’s coal plants by 2035, the power sector would still be tracking above a climate-safe trajectory, burning too much unabated gas. Getting to two degrees requires a zero-carbon solution to the seasonal extremes, one that doesn’t involve unabated gas.” (Matthias Kimmel, energy economics analyst at BNEF). The usual appeal to “more ambition” will not help us. Only a system based on public control and social ownership of the energy production and distribution will enable us to reach the Paris Agreement targets. Sean Seweeny’s presentation made clear that there is neither a transition happening, nor any change of the mind sets of the elites – both preferred terms of some civil society organisations and academics, which both might be a little bit too close to the powers-that-be. John Treat (TUED) hinted at the fact that there won’t be any change of the system as long as electricity is commodified, as the electricity system is currently structured to make money, not solving problems. Daniel Angelim reported from the “Trade Union Confederation of the Americas” (TUCA-CSA) last conference in Costa Rica and mentioned the recent challenges with the continent wide political shift to the far right. TUCA has adopted a progressive declaration on “De-privatize, Democratize, De-commodify”. A comrade from a trade union from Poland explained the historical hardships of the Silesian coal region which would now experience a second transformation after the first one following the fall of the wall. In the past the Polish governments have not been a trustworthy partner for the trade unions. Therefore, the workers would be very hesitant towards the announced challenges to the coal production. The role for the state now must be to actively design and implement the necessary transformations while securing good and decent jobs not only for the workers but for the whole regions. In the Philippines ED would be a hotly fought over issue, like the green jobs act. Energy cooperatives in the Philippines would be frequent but would have problems to assert themselves vis-à-vis the big power plants and their access to the power grids. Sam Mason (Public and Commercial Services Union, PCS) reported from United Kingdom with the news that the whole debate on just transition (JT) and ED has changed totally since one year as Labour is really working on alternatives to the current system. The last Labour Congress has brought a breakthrough in dealing with ED. A comrade from the Swedish transport federation denied the possibility of universal individual transport via e-mobility. In the year 2017 73.5 million cars were produced world-wide. It is impossible to have the same amount of cars in the future. We need instead free public transport, and not the ”Uber-isation” of the transport as Uber has no trade unions and is congesting our streets. The report from the Fijis mentioned the current ongoing struggles against the privatisation. In a way it would be comparable to the 1980s and 1990s. The discussion showed that the pressure to privatise the national energy systems is as strong as ever.

On Friday, December 7, we discussed “Energy Democracy: Reclaiming Energy to Social Ownership and Full Democratic Control” in a workshop. Susann Scherbarth from Friends of the Earth Europe (FoEE) gave the introduction. We had organised the seminar as a round table of trade unions and allies from the civil society. We as organisers believed that social movements, unions and left policy groups need to come together in support of the new pro-public reclaiming of the energy and climate policy. Only a pro-public approach can establish the need for radical transformation and put decarbonisation back on track. We invited others who shared our rejection of the investor- and market-based system for a discussion on what energy democracy means. We agreed on the following: the current system has failed us utterly. The next energy system must be one of solidarity and renewable energy.

One comrade from Nigeria explained that „the best of his people“ were killed by his own government. The multinational enterprises do no stop with the production of fossil fuel, instead they flare gas 24 hours a day next to the villages – this needs to be stopped immediately. We need to keep the oil in the soil. We know that this is not easy, and the only solution is that the energy system must be democratised.

One participant from Romania shared his thoughts about the development of the Rumanian energy system. He liked the format of the workshop and fact very much that trade unions and environmental NGOs would sit together in one room and discuss common problems. The social movements in Romania have been very successful in the last years in shutting down power plants, but what they have missed in the past is to create good relations to the trade unions. There is not enough good interaction between NGOs and trade unions. At the end of 2018 the subsidies to the coalmines in his region will be phased out. Therefore, two coal mines will shut down which is a serious problem for his region. The trade unions are right to fear the future developments. First, they need to see real economic development in the regions before they can sit down at the table to discuss the changes of the energy system. He discussed the history after the fall of the wall in the early 1990s. At that time there has been a collapse in the mining system in Rumania. From 80,000 miners there are only 4000 miners left. The government did not care and let the whole region fall into great poverty. The social and environmental movements must ask themselves why trade unions should trust them at all. What is really relevant for the environmental movements is to understand that the identity of whole regions is very often based on the production of coal.

One Belgium trade unionist discussed the case of his own country. In Belgium there are many citizens’ cooperatives, which would be a good starting point for cooperation between environmental movements and trade unions. One scientist from China was present at the meeting and discussed the question of ED from another point of view. In China the question of the transition of the energy system is discussed from a very different background. In China a lots of people want more autonomy, like in many other places. More autonomy in China actually means less state, not less market. Therefore, many people want a strengthening of the market system and they do care less about questions of democracy. A comrade from Kenya is working at an eco-feminist centre. A very big problem would be that you can no longer go to the city centres in the big agglomerations. The air quality would be so bad in the city centres that it has become a real health issue. The “language of ED” is not often used in Kenya but the “language of inequality” is a very big topic. The people are very poor and therefore they need the charcoal for cooking. Only the rich people can cook with gas or diesel in Kenya. Her country would have very big potentials in geo-thermal and photovoltaic energy production. But so far renewable energy production in Kenya has only dispossessed the indigenous people and led to the displacement of many. Private enterprises, the WTO and foreign governments are among the biggest investors in renewable energies in Kenya so far. We must understand that so far renewable energy in Kenya is as bad for the workers and the consumers as any other conventional energy source. Green jobs would not automatically be good and decent jobs! ED must therefore be discussed as part of a bigger social transformation. It must be part of a discussion on food and social justice and it must end patriarchal discourses.

Jean-Claude Simon from transform! europe discussed questions of financing the energy system change. We need to use 5 to 10% of the GDP for the next 20 to 30 years. But we do not only need public banks, which are not dominated by the international financial system, we need also democratic management structures inside the banking system.

Lyda Fernanda from Transnational Institute, Amsterdam, reminded us of the fact that not only the question of property is a big issue for the political left but also the question of how the management of social ownership is being pursued. We need institutions with access for the public and controlled by the public. The left in Latin America is arguing for a future energy system based on the following principles of:

1.       decentralisation,

2.       de-concentration,

3.       de-comodification and

4.       democratisation.

Furthermore, we must recognize however, that a just transition would not be possible without dismantling the patriarchy.

Daniel from TUCA explained the reality in Latin America. In the ears of many Argentinian people the idea that the Argentinian government would sit down with the trade unions to discuss common challenges would sound crazy – this would be impossible. In Latin America social dialogue would not exist. We need social participation of the workers. External pressure would help here, like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN or the COP negotiations.

Sean Sweeney from TUED reminded us that historically the states were producing the energy, as private enterprises couldn’t make money in this market segment. Community power would be a good idea, but we have to admit that community-based power, as it stands at the moment, is too small. Cooperatives in the energy sector would not grow fast enough – not even in Germany. The German government has opened the market via bidding processes. These processes open the door for the big capital. The growth of on-land wind farms and photovoltaic slowed down (investment from Cooperatives) while off-shore wind farms are being built (typical for big investors!). Most renewable energy is produced by public utilities not by citizens. The market system is not compatible with the Paris agreement this is even stated by liberal sources. We must discuss the challenges of the future energy system. We need to move power across continents. There will be no energy democracy without state owned enterprises.

We met many wonderful comrades and organisations from all around the world to stop here. transform! europe will continue working on energy democracy also in 2019. If you are interested in energy democracy please feel free to contact us: