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“France, Germany and Poland – the Weimar Triangle – on the path to a sustainable future: Civil society and science together for a transformation towards climate neutrality”
Logo Weimarer Dreieck, © Auswärtige Amt
Conclusions of the conference on 27 September 2022
Academics, scientists, researchers, research scholars and representatives of civil society from the Weimar Triangle countries exchanged and shared their experience and research results in the sphere of climate, energy and transdisciplinary research. With 80 active participants, the event laid firm foundations for future initiatives in this context.
How can the cooperation between science and civil society in France, Germany and Poland contribute to a sustainable future in Europe?
By Anke Herold, PhD, Dr. Sc. Bozena Ryszawska, PhD Justyna Orlowska and Phuc Vinh Nguyen.
Climate change is a huge challenge that requires us to change almost all of our daily habits and involves us all. It is an especially difficult task as we have a tight schedule for tackling this problem. This complex issue therefore calls for an interdisciplinary approach and cooperation with different stakeholders, including lawyers, sociologists, etc. Lectures about climate change and the green economy should be offered at the different faculties. Interdisciplinary cooperation can offer a wider understanding of climate impacts. In addition, it can also ensure that divergent perspectives, e.g. of women or persons with disabilities, are not overlooked in research as is currently the case in some studies, e.g. in health research regarding strokes. If one of the groups is excluded, then the picture is not complete and certain impacts on various groups will not be seen.
The EU cannot reach its climate targets if it does not involve those who are particularly affected by the transition. Furthermore, a successful transition in many sectors such as mobility and energy efficiency requires individual changes to behaviour.
The engagement of and dialogue with civil society is key to generating acceptance among citizens and avoiding the risk of widespread dissatisfaction (as was the case with the Yellow Vests protests in France). Science and society should shape the future together. With positive examples of cooperation between those two groups, acceptance for scientific proposals will be much greater. This has to include inputs and experiences from society, and citizens must be enabled to be co-creators of projects and not mere participants.
Scientific language is too complicated to be comprehended by non-scientists nowadays. To make science more accessible and understandable for citizens, scientists need to think about innovative methods of communication and approaches. They therefore need to adopt vocabulary that will be understandable for everybody.
Science is based and dependent on hierarchal structures. To make co-creation with citizens possible, a change of system, and also of mindset, is needed. Neoliberal structures treat citizens like consumers (reducing them to rational choice subjects), but it is important to treat them like citizens.
Collaborative projects between scientists and civil society need adequate funding and time resources in order to yield initial results. These resources are currently lacking. Funds are wasted due to too much distance between decision-makers and people on the ground. Moreover, it is important to involve local communities.
In recent years, we have been able to observe a number of examples of inclusion of civil society in the decision-making process. In France, a Citizens Convention for Climate with 150 randomly selected French citizens was initiated in response to the Yellow Vests protests. It came up with 150 proposals, four of which were chosen by the French Government. This generated strong momentum for a transdisciplinary approach in the field of climate and energy.
1. The role of the Weimar Triangle on the path to a sustainable future
The energy transition needs a long-term vision and strategy. The previous path to climate neutrality, which relied on cheap gas from Russia as a bridging technology, has failed. The EU must restart the discussion on new ways to achieve the energy transition. Due to higher prices for fossil fuels, which will persist until 2024 at least, there is an urgent need to accelerate the process of transformation. France, Germany and Poland, as three countries with different perspectives, diverse starting points and financial capabilities, form a complete picture that encompasses the climate ambitions on the one hand and the fears of Central and Eastern, but also Southern European countries and the other regions on the other. Poland, France and Germany together account for 40% of the EU population, and the three countries are among the five largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the EU. Together, they account for nearly half (about 45%) of EU emissions. With a strong dependence on coal in Poland and on nuclear in France without sufficient renewable energy sources and a failed energy strategy based on gas from Russia in Germany, the energy transition will be a major challenge in this part of Europe. At the same time, given the importance of the three countries for EU climate policy, trilateral cooperation in the format of the Weimar Triangle on climate and energy seems reasonable and could have a meaningful impact on progress made in policy, and ultimately reductions of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. Poland as an influential voice in Central and Eastern Europe and Germany and France as drivers of climate change in Western Europe should join forces and develop a joint plan for a swift transition. The necessary connection between an ambitious climate policy and a balanced social policy or protection mechanisms for regions and people in need could thus be made better than before. Cooperation between three major EU countries like France, Germany and Poland could trigger significant change at EU level. Therefore, climate cooperation in the form of Weimar Triangle could be a game changer in which the three countries combine their ideas and potentials. Cross-border cooperation such as French-German-Polish cooperation is essential for a successful energy transition.
2. Challenges and issues that could be addressed by different stakeholders from the Weimar Triangle countries – ideas from the four workshops chaired by Dr Mariola Zalewska (University of Warsaw), Dr Stefan Thomas (Wuppertal Institute), Dr Michael Pahle (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research) and Phuc-Vinh Nguyen (Jacques Delors Institute):
- A social consensus on the importance of climate action between citizens and stakeholders would help governments to change their approach to climate policy.
- Economic benefits and the reduction of local pollution are a potential motivating factor for taking action to reduce emissions.
- The real task is to minimise the number of people who suffer from economic loss rather than to ascertain how to help those who already benefit. The EU needs to guarantee a socially just transition.
- There is a general need for price stability, energy security and climate protection: current high energy prices and uncertainty are putting pressure on consumers and industry. Consultations with representatives from industry on how they can be supported are necessary. Stability is needed for investments while uncertainty might put the brakes on green investments. It is therefore important to create an environment with relative price stability in order to make investments possible. Accelerating the development of renewable energy sources would reduce the price of energy and fuel. Investments in the fossil fuel infrastructure are expensive and can slow down the acceleration and development of renewable energy sources. On the other hand, funding is needed for the transformation. With current energy prices, which are expected to increase by 50 percent on average in 2022, it is challenging to finance new renewable energy sources at the same time.
- ETS generates revenues for member states. The biggest challenge is the question of how to spend the ETS revenues effectively and high costs for the economy and citizens. . There is currently a trade-off between using these funds to finance green investments (long-term measures) vs. funding social compensation (short-term relief).
- Climate cooperation and increased interconnectivity between the EU member states would lead to lower energy costs and improved grid stability, as well as hedge against sudden loss of supply due to extreme weather or other events. Connecting Europe’s electricity systems will boost energy security.
- Construction of environmentally friendly buildings reduces the use of fossil fuels, and home insulation is one of the important steps for reducing energy consumption.
- The role of citizens councils in France, Germany and Poland and their cooperation with scientists and experts.
- The role of personal carbon footprints and the importance of individuals for systemic changes: human behavioural activities are one of the main sources of carbon emissions, which is why changes to sociocultural factors are also necessary. The importance of using communication methods that are accessible to all of civil society, such as films or practical tools, e.g. measuring energy consumption at home for children.
- Use of education (e.g. educational projects focusing on energy efficiency) to increase public understanding of carbon neutrality or campaigns and other awareness-raising measures regarding the impact of individual behaviour on reducing resource consumption can reduce end-use sector greenhouse gas emissions and improve human well-being. That is why behavioural science and behavioural changes are important for reaching the carbon neutrality target.