EU negotiators must secure a role for cities and regions in the final international agreement to cap global warming by no more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels, otherwise the UN Climate Change Conference will be a failure, the President of the Committee of the Regions exclusively told euractiv.com.
Markku Markkula is President of the Committee of the Regions (COR).
He spoke to EURACTIV Deputy News Editor James Crisp before today’s (14 October) plenary session of the COR.
What influence can the Committee of the Regions have on the fight against climate change?
We can do a lot. The key starting point is how we have learned from the ongoing global negotiations. The action is with the cities, with the regions. Local partnerships with industry and with experts are key. Influencing city decision-makers, influencing latest developments is the name of the game. We’ve discussed a lot in Europe about smart cities, now if we integrate that with “cleantech”, it means that urban planning can actively make a difference.
We’re moving towards an integrated model where different regions can use different sources of energy. It’s about testing, developing, and it needs to be the cities taking this concrete action, together with industry and with people as their attitudes change towards sustainability. If and when the cities can mobilise the people, people making their own investments, such as buying their apartments or building their houses, to use new energy sources or heating, then that can bring real results but that has to be coupled with initiatives such as mobility in public transport.
There can be tension between cities and national governments. We’ve seen that with cuts to solar and wind in the UK, for example.
Sure. But the pressure for these changes is not only coming from citizens but also from cities. We have a strong voice from them to direct the national governments to do the right thing. What is true is that city and regional decision-makers can go deeper into issues and seek out new technology and processes more easily. Action at a local level is encouraged. How to use EU funding in a more effective manner is extremely important. Sharing ownership of new ideas and technology and then providing those people with money gets results.
Does the COR talk primarily to national governments or to EU policymakers?
We have two major targets: first is the EU itself, so that they can realise what can be done and what we see are the priorities. We need more ambition. The COR wants a zero-carbon power system by 2050 but we support mostly what the EU has implemented, through the COP21. Our other target is our priority, it is our members, 350 members coming from the regions. It is a strong instrument. We have a strong relationship with the Commission.
What would constitute success in Paris and how would you react to an unsuccessful agreement?
For the first time ever, we have four EU reps in the EU delegation in Paris. This gives us influence. Not just to go there and listen, but to contribute to the delegation. We rely on the role of cities and local authorities. That’s the message we’ll be taking forward. Make changes at a local level, be the leaders. This needs to be the way forward for Europe. We need to show that we are committed to these changes. In Paris there has to be a clear reference to the role of the local and regional authorities. It must be set out very clearly in the final text, not just in Europe, but in the developing countries as well.
And if it doesn’t, can we expect to make your displeasure known? Perhaps in another interview with EURACTIV?
There is a perception that the COR doesn’t actually drive a lot of concrete action.
We need to be ready to react to Paris and to move onto the implementation. That is why the cities and regions are so important, because they are the ones implementing and developing these measures and showing that these models are realistic. This week we are having the Covenant of Mayors sign our policy declaration about how to move on. This is a big step, because there are already thousands of cities that have taken this step.
What are the biggest barriers to be overcome in the regional fight against climate change?
The challenge is to change approaches to the use of raw materials in power production, by addressing companies and the public sector. Changing attitudes is still the primary focus. This is the biggest barrier. We need to learn more from good practices in use and measure the impact. Creating markets, especially for cleantech, and mobilising this technology is a priority. Regional considerations, what is the best approach for individual areas, has to be addressed as well.
There is a perception that this Commission prioritises business over the environment. Is this true?
I don’t think this is true. During the crisis, both the economic and the migration, the issues we are talking about have been put on the back-burner by the media. It needs to be readdressed, because these are long term considerations.
If Europe was working properly, there wouldn’t be these crises..
Yes, but we need to create jobs for growth. Climate change is a global issue though. But there is only a certain amount of money to go round, if it’s invested in tackling climate change, then it can’t be invested somewhere else. It’s a balancing act.
A transition to a low carbon economy will cost jobs, as well as create them.
It’s changing at different speeds in different member states. That is why pioneering regions, cities at the forefront of testing new models and ideas are so important. Regional change can, of course, happen more slowly in certain areas than in others. Strong investment will lead to job creation and growth.
On climate change, is the COR divided among member state lines in the same way as the Council and Parliament.
To a certain extent yes. Our members are elected locally, so they have to have local support. Of course, that means that people have to be made more aware of the issues at stake here, which Paris will go some way toward achieving, through its exposure in the media.