COP27: nothing about us without us
This year the UN Climate Conference took place from 6 November to 18 November in Sharm El-Sheikh Egypt. REScoop.eu was represented at COP27 by Chris Vrettos a team member of Electra Energy Cooperative, a Greek social cooperative that supports the energy democracy movement in Greece and South-East Europe, and one of REScoop.eu’s members.
Blog post by Chris Vrettos, Electra
Where is the space for citizens in all of this?
Representing a people-powered movement in an environmental conference held in an exclusive gated desert resort, hosted by an autocratic government with more than 60,000 political prisoners, was definitely a conflicting moment. “Unease” and “I don’t feel like there’s space for me here”, is how some young activists described the situation of walking through a conference venue packed with secret police and fossil fuel lobbyists. And indeed, walking through the myriad of country pavilions, not least those by petrostates and autocracies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (next year’s COP28 hosts), one couldn’t help but ask: Where is the space for citizens in all of this? And in the flurry of signatures between the EU and countries like Namibia and Kazakhstan for just transition energy partnerships, raw materials, hydrogen or even offshore wind, I repeat: What policies are in place to make sure that these processes are transparent and inclusive?
The community energy movement at COP
Let’s take a moment to self-congratulate. The citizen energy movement has deeply taken root in Europe. From Spain to Germany, EU countries hosted a series of side events over the course of the two-week conference dedicated to the role of citizens in the democratic energy transition. “Keep up the great work”, French and Danish delegates told me with a smile, as I left some REScoop.eu flyers in their pavilions. And it doesn’t stop there: “decentralised, community-based renewables” was proposed as an element to be included in the COP27’s official cover text, as well as in the negotiated text of the Mitigation Work Programme (it didn’t make it in there in the end, but even the proposal counts). And this is all thanks to the tireless work of many activists, communities, and groups of citizens across Europe who work hard every day to make sure that the renewable energy transition won’t just regurgitate the old world order of centralised, unequal energy systems, but with a green ribbon. Instead, our collective efforts help to usher in a new socioeconomic paradigm, beyond the pursuit of private profit accumulation. One that prioritizes social and community wellbeing, and environmental sustainability. Yet, much work remains to be done.
Building coalitions for climate and social justice
I had the luck to attend a series of meetings with EU decision makers together with various members of the international Climate Action Network (CAN). Conversing with this group of interdisciplinary and intersectional activists representing a range of socio-ecological issues (from nature conservation to food systems transformations), it dawned on me how the community energy movement is still quite a siloed one. There are many reasons to justify why we, community energy practitioners are still focused primarily on our own fights: we are a nascent movement, facing an uphill battle of entrenched interests, with few resources and institutional support. Not despite of, but because of these reasons we need to start building these intersectional coalitions for climate and social justice. Only by pooling our resources and strategies together with feminist, housing, LGBTQIA+, refugee rights, and climate justice organisations, can we truly broaden our membership base, and amplify our voices to enact transformative, popular change.
The revolutionary potential of emancipation
Building on the same line of thought, this reaching out across the isle must also focus on activists, organisations and communities of the Global South. From Israel and Egypt to Azerbaijan and Senegal, the EU’s scramble for gas following Russia’s war, has triggered a wave of fossil investments globally. At the same time, hydrogen touted as the new panacea in international climate fora like COP27, is driving multibillion cross-country deals. How can we reach out to frontline communities who are resisting this new infrastructure and face displacement or repression? Can we help them articulate alternative visions of energy security and sufficiency through decentralised, community-based solutions? What can we learn from them regarding the complicity of EU institutions (not least banks and corporations), in driving these neocolonial extractivist patterns? Especially in autocratic regimes, fossil infrastructure is an articulation of power. Power through dependency, power through resource accumulation, power through the physical control of space. This is especially where local energy sovereignty embodies the revolutionary potential of emancipation.
Uniting our voices
This year’s COP27 was dominated by discussions around climate finance. From coordinated calls by countries across the world (Barbados, Colombia, Brazil to name a few) to overhaul the global financial architecture, to broader calls for debt justice and loss and damage financing, COP27 took aim at the roots of the problem. Countries might have agreed to set up a global Loss and Damage finance facility, which marks a huge political milestone, but the devilish details of who pays, how much, and who benefits and how, remain to be resolved through follow up discussions until 2024. It’s our role, as a community energy movement, to unite our voices with those of the broader climate justice movement, and to popularize our movement as a cross-cutting solution for mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage. And it’s also our role to amplify the voices of our imprisoned brothers, like Alaa Abd El-Fattah in Egypt, and of our murdered environmental defender sisters, like Berta Cáceres in Honduras. From resisting destructive top-down energy projects, to showing up in international climate conferences, the community energy movement is perfectly poised to keep reminding the world: Nothing about us, without us.