Mayor of Ghent: Climate targets ‘almost impossible’ to meet without cities and regions

Mayor of Ghent Daniël Termont [Committee of the Regions]

As the European Commission gets ready to come up with a climate strategy for 2050 and ongoing energy talks approach the finish line, Mayor of Ghent Daniël Termont told EURACTIV that cities and regions should not be relegated to a mere consultation role in this crucial planning phase.

Daniël Termont is president of EUROCITIES, the current mayor of Ghent and is a member of the board of the Covenant of Mayors.

He responded to questions from EURACTIV energy and environment reporter Sam Morgan.

How important are ongoing talks on energy policy to leaders at local and regional level?

They are very important, as the EU is setting the framework as a response to the Paris Agreement. The local and regional levels assisted by frameworks like the Covenant of Mayors, have committed to working towards a 40% emissions reduction by 2030 and are also united by a common vision to decarbonise their territories by 2050.

Some cities of the EUROCITIES network have gone beyond these commitments and are far more ambitious than their national member states by developing strategies to become carbon neutral as early as 2025. Current talks are crucial to deliver this ambition by setting long term targets, it gives a very important signal to stakeholders and established long term market stability which is required for the right level of investment to take place.

This is the reason why the EU should be looking to set decarbonisation strategies and targets for 2050. The earlier we set the direction of travel the faster we will start walking the path and the more cost-effective it will be.

The European Commission is due to come out with its 2050 climate strategy at the end of this year or early next year. What role can cities and regions play in this long-term planning?

Cities and regions are integral to the delivery of short, medium and long-term climate strategys. It’s cities and regions who are leading the way on efficient emissions reduction across member states, through their roles in land-use planning, new developments, building energy renovation, transport and circular economy. Without the active, regular and structured participation of cities and regions, climate targets will be almost impossible to achieve.

This is why we should be widely represented in the development of the 2050 strategy and implementation beyond, not just one voice in an ad hoc large consultation event. Subnational governments are the best places to explore the different local scenarios towards 2050 and its consequences, therefore an early involvement in the process will pay back in the future.

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Energy Union Governance is often overlooked in favour of the more high-profile renewables and energy efficiency files but a crucial part on dialogue platforms will be under discussion this week. Why do you think this aspect should be mandatory in the final legislation?

Indeed, this Thursday negotiations will take place and part of this will touch on plans proposed by the European Parliament to establish “Multilevel Climate and Energy Dialogue Platforms”. We support these plans but many member states do not appear to be so much in favour.

We believe it should be mandatory to include the local level, not least because it would give greater legitimacy to national action plans on delivering the Paris Agreement if it includes feedback, and make achieving these goals more possible.

Local administrations have the knowledge and experience to manage the energy transition by working together with stakeholders and citizens. The governance proposal, if correctly negotiated, has the potential to ensure member states plan and report on climate and energy after 2020 and are made accountable, rather than just being a rubber-stamping exercise.

Cities and regions want to be part of this planning process, and considering that 75% of the EU’s population lives in urban areas, if member states are unwilling to engage in a permanent dialogue it’s unlikely that the planning and actions will be fit for purpose.

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National energy plans are still pending across Europe. How involved are leaders like yourself in helping central governments do their ‘homework’?  

Local leaders like myself have been showcasing through leadership that decarbonisation efforts are needed, possible, and, most importantly, feasible. We have mobilised more than 7,000 cities and local authorities to take action, which will hopefully demonstrate to central governments that a higher level of ambitions and commitment is possible. But again, I want to reiterate that it is important we are involved in the drafting of the national plans. In Flanders, we are aware of the fact that the plan is being drafted, but we have so far not been asked to give any input.

What are your thoughts on Belgium’s latest energy plan, including the nuclear phase-out and pledge to increase offshore wind significantly?

A nuclear phase-out in the short term is absolutely needed, but unfortunately, the government is still blowing hot and cold about it. They will state that a decision on nuclear phase-out has been made but in reality they are driving with the handbrake on. We still have to see how robust this decision is in the end.

The current situation, where a lot of our energy is being provided through nuclear, is preventing the breakthrough of renewable energy while this is absolutely needed if we want to reach our short-term and long-term climate goals.

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The energy plan could be a step in the right direction to a decarbonised society in 2050, but I am lacking a sense of urgency.

The increase of offshore wind is a good development, but certain conditions need to be respected. The government should put more effort on the further deployment of other renewable technologies as well as onshore wind.

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How is Ghent contributing to the energy transition?

Important in our energy transition is that the focus on energy efficiency remains very high, combined with local and sustainable renewable energy production through wind, solar and renewable heat.

Not only do we invest in local renewable energy ourselves, we take our role as facilitator for local renewable energy projects very seriously. We are constantly looking for opportunities to support innovative projects such as Neighbourhood Power where the local energy cooperative aims to create a collective solar panel project in a specific district of our town in which low income families are involved as well.

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