2nd Citizen’s Agora of European Parliament - Report

16/6/2008 CITIZENS’ AGORA, European Parliament, Brussels Report by Mike Robinson, Chair of  Stop Climate Chaos Scotland  As a representative of SCVO and as Chair of the   largest civil society climate change coalition in   Europe (Stop Climate Chaos Scotland) I had the   pleasure of attending the European Parliament’s   second Citizen’s Agora in Brussels.
  It’s a big event, 500 representatives from across the 27   member states taking over the political chamber; as   much about hearing the views of civil society direct   as it is about convincing civil society of the value of   the European institutions.    But they were taking it   very seriously.    Hans Gert Pottering, President of   the European Parliament, introduced the President of   the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barosso, as   well as various vice-presidents of the EC and EU, the   Secretary General of the European Chambers of   Commerce and the leaders of the EU Environment   Council, European Consumer Council and the EEA.
  The inaugural Agora last year was about the future of   Europe.   This, the second, was about the largest issue   facing Europe – climate change.   
  Jose Manuel Barosso opened proceedings with some   powerful rhetoric : “There is no choice but to act   now… and our credibility rests on our ability to   deliver… The EU is bought into our 20-20-20 targets –   20% greenhouse gas cuts, 20% renewable energy and   20% energy efficiencies by 2020.”    This set an   uncompromising tone for the series of plenary   presentations.
  Speakers came from the US, the World Health   organisation and throughout the European   parliament and I was awakened to a new language.     Europe loves its new words, introducing phrases   which become commonplace, such as additionality,   peripherality, biodiversity etc etc.   The first   unfamiliar phrase to me which is clearly an accepted   European norm is Civil Society Organisations (CSOs   rather than NGOs) perhaps many of you are more   familiar with this terminology than I am.     But the   second which formed a backdrop to a significant   proportion of the debate was the concept that we are   actually entering the Third Industrial Revolution.      Most specifically this reflects a need to develop micro   generation and distributed more localised energy,   trading and power, but this was provocative stuff.      Globalisation was on the wain we were told.    Oil   was running out and, peak oil aside, we couldn’t   afford to burn what fossil fuels we already know   about, let alone find and burn more.   Wow.    As if   that wasn’t enough, Jacqueline McGlade, Head of the   European Environment Agency wanted to adopt a   350ppm limit on atmospheric greenhouse gas   emissions, as suggested by NASA’s James Hansen.      They are currently 10-20% higher than this level and   increasing, so this is a powerful statement.
  American key-note speaker Jeremy Rifkin wanted the   climate debate to be framed in the huge positive   opportunity for local, distributed jobs through local   energy generation, smart grids and energy   efficiencies and less on the limits and penalties for   non-compliance.   In fact he thinks the success of a   Kyoto replacement agreement hinges on it next year   in Copenhagen.    As he stated, we need to reframe   the argument positively:
  “Do you want to be investing in businesses at the sunset of   the second industrial revolution or fuelling enterprises at   the dawn of the third?”
  He didn’t underplay the issue mind you and all the   speakers were very clear – we have 6-9 years to really   put action in place and start cutting greenhouse gases   or we will have missed our chance.
  He dismissed nuclear as an expensive, dangerous   distraction; with an unsustainable demand for water   resources; dismissed carbon capture as over   expensive and flawed; pinned huge hope in a future   within a hydrogen economy; and underlined the   importance of civil society in ‘telling the story’; but   the one piece of information he stated that stood out   for me was an analysis of end-use energy   consumption.    According to Rifkin, the largest use of   energy is through construction, heating and use of   buildings.   The third biggest user of greenhouse   gases was our use of transport.    But nestled between   them, as second largest cause of emissions, was meat.      Yes meat.   The eating, shipping, growth, feed stuffs   and land use for meat.    I am aware that meat is   incredibly inefficient in its use of protein (you have to   feed cattle ten times more protein than you get when   you eat it), and it uses seven times more land and five   times more water than vegetables, but I had never   heard it stated so bluntly as this, or as centrally   implicated in climate change.
  It was difficult to be in Brussels and not consider the   UK profile there.    In my experience the UK has   probably the highest concern in the world for wildlife   conservation and environmental issues, yet many of   the main environmental gains that have been   delivered in the UK have stemmed from Europe and   European legislation.    Yet, even with the backdrop   of Ireland voting no, the UK seems the most   vociferously anti-European of any of the member   states.   The UK seem to come bottom of every league   table, only the UK had delegates whose only desire   was to spoil the meeting and it is so often the UK that   blocks change, vetoes legislation or opts out of   everything.    I don’t think everything about Europe   is good, but I don’t buy the cheap journalism which   does it a disservice by exaggerating the negatives   about the shape of fruit or banning of ha’pennies or   some such nonsense and misses the point that we   seem to be uniquely and disappointingly always the   last and least reluctant to buy into everything.    True   to form, two UK delegates did everything they could   to spoil the entire Agora but they were fortunately so   outnumbered that they became an irrelevance and   democracy was able to flow.
  I was reminded of our scorn for Europe and our   disingenuous news reporting of international issues   through one piece of unrelated good news I   discovered whilst I was there, when I was privileged   enough to have lunch with a lobbyist from G-Cap.      At long last the UN Declaration of Human Rights for   indigenous people had finally been approved at the   end of last year, after years of UK opposition.    The   UK, yes that’s right, our Government, a beacon of   democracy (along with the USA, Australia, New   Zealand and Canada) had for years refused to sign a   UN declaration on human rights!    How proud does   that make you feel?
  And then we were onto the business in hand.   The   meeting opened up to comments and debate from the   500 representatives and it was finally our turn to   speak and discuss climate change.    The key themes   discussed revolved around economics, resources,   techniques and education.
  What was most distinct about the discussion from   civil society was the injection of concern, care and   passion into the debate, the huge consensus to take   immediate action and a strong desire to focus on   equity and taking responsibility.    The EU had   identified the need to act, but highlighted the need to   retain international competitiveness and resource   security and forgot to mention quality of life, equal   opportunity and remediation of poverty.    It was the   CSOs who also moved the debate into how we can   and should help the developing nations.     The key   headline ask that arose from civil society was a   demand for the EU to increase its targets from 20% to   30% by 2020.   It will be interesting to see if the EU   take it on and perhaps a test of how seriously they   take this whole engagement directly with their   citizens.
  As Rifkin pointed out, the newly expanded EU is   now the world’s wealthiest market, but unlike the US   it’s definition of a European dream involves more   than simply money – it seeks to improve the human   condition and reduce poverty and inequality.
  My over riding thought is, that if we are indeed, as   the EU stated, at the dawn of a new industrial   revolution and Europe has a unique set of values   which are not reflected in pure free market   capitalism, then why are we using an economic   philosophy from the first industrial revolution, why   do we slavishly follow the US into ever more   unrestrained capitalism and why do we only count   everything in GDP, which has for decades been seen   as an inadequate, partisan and an extremely narrow   definition of success.    We need a new economic   philosophy for this new dawn, a form of moderated   capitalism which properly accounts for the damage   we do socially and to ecosystems, nature and the   biosphere.    GDP is our ultimate measure of national   wealth, yet it ignores two thirds of the things we   value.   Isn’t it time we brought it up to date?