Annual environmental policy conference at SciencesPo on energy transition and energy saving

The first annual environmental policy conference at SciencesPo on 30 October, 2013, in partnership with Rexel, addressed the issues of energy transition and energy saving at the local level. Following an eight-month national discussion on energy transition, the event allowed participants (businesses, civil society organizations, local governments, international organizations, states) to consider a whole host of topics, such as: What will happen in the aftermath of the national discussion and what role will businesses and local communities be expected to play? Why does the energy saving issue remain unresolved and why do commentators and professionals disagree? What are the ways and means for local players of moving from theory into practice? The conference consisted of three roundtables:

  • Energy transition and energy saving : an academic perspective with Didier Pourquery, editor at Le Monde – Philippe Baret, doctor in agricultural sciences – Gaëtan Brisepierre, independant sociologist – Damien Demailly, head of the New Prosperity programme at IDDRI (Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations at SciencesPo)
  • Local energy transition and saving initiatives with Andréas Rudinger, climate and energy policy researcher at IDDRI- Jean-Luc Daubaire, deputy mayor of Rennes – Michel Leclercq, vice-president of the Wind power in Pays de Vilaine Association – Jean-Philippe Puig, CEO of Sofiprotéol – Joe Spiegel, deputy chairman of the Mulhouse urban area

  • Which public policies to foster energy transition at the local level? with Michel Colombier, scientific director at IDDRI- Nicolas Garnier, executive director of Amorce – Gérard Magnin, creator and head of the EnergyCities network – Majdouline Sbaï, vice-president of the Nord Regional Council – Gaël Virlouvet, executive director of France Nature Environnement

National discussion taken over at local level

By way of introduction to the conference, Laurence Tubiana, director of the Sustainable Development Centre at SciencesPo Paris and facilitator of the national discussion on energy transition, put an emphasis on what has been and can be achieved at the local level.

“The increasing involvement of local communities in the discussion on energy transition illustrates the changes French society is going through. Productive local debates stand in sharp contrast to stalemate and impasse in Paris.”

The national discussion on energy transition featured 2,000 local debates nationwide. According to Mrs Tubiana, local governments are capable of implementing practical measures, in spite of decision-making difficulties at the national level.

What appears impossible in Paris seems to have already started across the country, both in rural and urban areas. For example, the link between economy growth and energy consumption was a problematic issue in Paris while it was obvious in many regions. Similarly, the 80% carbon emission reduction target is fully integrated to many regional climate change action plans, while some in Paris still question its relevance. Finally, across the country, halving energy use is considered an obvious way of de-carbonizing our economy, except in Paris, where it is deemed impossible.” Mrs Tubiana concluded that “our institutions no longer represent society. There is a wide gap between reality on the ground and the way decision-makers in the capital perceive it”.

Energy transition, a collective undertaking

Michel Colombier, member of the expert panel on energy transition and co-moderator of the conference, insisted that a collective endeavour is necessary: “The energy transition should not be considered a sum of individual efforts and constraints but rather a collective undertaking embodied by local communities with a thirst for change”. Behavioural changes as well as technical innovation are at the core of the energy transition; changes are global and will soon involve every one of us. “Our society needs a wide range of services relying on energy. Behaviours are obviously shifting, so what matters is to understand society’s rising expectations and to adapt the energy transition effort to those changes”. According to Michel Colombier, energy transition must be in sync with global societal changes and evolving aspirations in terms of services.

Achieving both efficiency and saving through behavioural changes

By way of conclusion, Daniel Boy, research manager at Cevipof (SciencesPo), pinpointed the connection between the terms “saving” and “efficiency”. “The word “saving” should not be used on its own, it should be associated with the much more positive idea of efficiency; our goal is to show that efficiency and saving go hand in hand with each other”. The rise of technical innovations necessary to implement the energy transition must coincide with a shift in collective behaviours. “Technology alone does not cut it unless behaviours adapt to it. What is the point of high-tech buildings if the people living in them are not taught new behaviours? Imposing technology on people in a top-down fashion will not work, as users must accept it and adapt to it”. While technology must thus be complemented by saving-oriented behaviours, the reverse is also true, as “an economy based on sharing requires information and communication technology”. Technique must go hand in hand with people’s beliefs: this way democracy is not an obstacle to energy efficiency, but quite on the contrary a prerequisite for it. In other words, a meaningful energy transition process must involve users so they can make new technology and behaviours theirs.

Local and individual initiatives taken over at national and global levels

Too often the energy transition neglected the local and individual levels, with a sole focus on national measures, like during the Grenelle Environnement (a multi-party debate in France on environmental issues). Local actions, however, will be a crucial part of it, and the national level could take inspiration from them. As Laurence Tubiana put it as the conference was coming to a close, “it is all about thinking globally and acting locally: the changes at hand can only be understood by acknowledging that the local and global levels are intertwined. The cities which have put so much effort in reducing greenhouse gas emissions haven’t done so to preserve local interests but to serve a larger cause, because they share a common vision of the future”. The lesson to learn is that far from being insignificant, local and individual achievements are truly at the heart of the unfolding energy transition.

For more information:

The conference video is available on SciencesPo’s Sustainable Development Centre website.

Bookmark and Share

About admin