Regions and cities are often the driving force behind climate action. Annabelle Jaeger told EURACTIV France that protecting nature directly benefits local authorities, as it keeps them attractive and helps them meet their climate commitments.
Annabelle Jaeger is a French Green party regional councillor for Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and a member of the Environment Commission of the Committee of the Regions. She is also the author of a draft opinion on the COP 21 that will be put to the vote in the Committee of the Regions on Wednesday 14 October.
In your draft opinion for the Committee of the Regions you call on the EU to step up its efforts and increase its national contribution (INDC) to aim for zero emissions by 2050. Is this really possible?
It is an ambitious position that has real support from the Committee of the Regions. We would not propose this if it was not possible. If we, as local authorities, can do this, then Europe as a whole can do it too.
We had already voted on this before the EU’s proposals for the COP 21, and received a very large majority.
Is there a consensus on these questions within the Committee of the Regions?
Of course this opinion still has to be adopted, and I have already received amendments from the Right, questioning the rapid revision of the EU’s COP 21 contribution and the objective of zero carbon by 2050, for example. Long-term commitments like this tend to meet with more resistance from some people, who want to see bigger commitments from all developed countries before pushing Europe to be more ambitious.
But I am not just labouring the point here; there is a real urgency to act. All the scientists are now saying we will not keep the temperature rise below +2°C. Now is the time to sound the alarm.
Do you see differences in the level of commitment to climate issues shown by local authorities depending on where they are located?
We have a lot of towns today in the Southern countries, in Italy and Spain for example, that are really engaging and driving change. That is not to say that nothing is happening in the North, but it is maybe on a different scale.
Good practices are shared between local authorities, and many of these authorities are certainly carried by the collective dynamic. The regions that have really caught the bug are pulling the global movement forward.
The Covenant of Mayors committed to local sustainable energy is an initiative that has taken off above all in the South. This is a formidable European movement, but it is not the only one, and the European Commission should keep this in mind. What we lack is a real map of who does what, and where. Nobody is keeping track of this at a European level.
How is it possible to identify all the climate initiatives undertaken by Europe’s local authorities?
The issue is complicated by the fact that commitments are not all made for the same time periods, and they are often made and measured using different methods. We have a real transparency problem at a European level, due to differences in how the various commitments are assessed. We need a common system of evaluation.
The UNFCCC tried to do just that for the COP 21, with a platform dedicated to non-state actors.
This is a good idea for sharing good practices. It’s a start, but we do not give ourselves the means to include everything. It is just another tool. But it troubles me because we should be harmonising. We need a reference platform.
What do you do for the climate in your region, the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA)?
We have a climate and energy policy called AGIR + (Act +). It was launched in 2010 and aims to support all sorts of local initiatives. We organise meetings and networks of experts. And we provide people to help local councils analyse their energy efficiency. We also give out prizes to reward the best initiatives. And finally, we provide direct financial support: we have established an electrical operator which can choose whether or not to co-finance particular projects.
The PACA region has been identified as a biodiversity hotspot…
We have the richest, but also the most threatened biodiversity in mainland France. There is enormous pressure on nature here, from the climate, urbanisation and pollution. As a result, we have worked very hard to get biodiversity recognised in other policies and in spatial planning.
What does this mean in reality?
We need to think about how urban areas can have a minimal impact on biodiversity. Urbanisation is the greatest threat. So the solution is to create passages and organise ecological continuity and coherence. Species have to be able to move from one biodiversity reservoir to another, otherwise they disappear. Climate change also holds species back from moving.
Is this not too restrictive for local development?
It is about not putting up barriers; it is not a question of stopping everything. The lessons we have learned have been positive: we build passages under motorways and railways. There is now also a strong appetite among residents of built-up areas to re-discover this link with nature, to find nature in the city.
In Lyon, since the quays have been turned into pedestrian areas, the statistics show that people feel less need to leave the city on a Friday night. So transport emissions are lower. The cities that embrace this dynamic are getting a long way ahead!