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EU Climate and Energy policies at risk of ‘’la pensée unique’’

  • Posted on: 17 May 2016
  • By: Yamina SAHEB

I used to think that Western democracies protect their citizens from “la pensée unique” (a narrow and single way of thinking). My concerns relate to the “consensus” in the “energy efficiency community” about how the “Better Regulation Package” would impact negatively existing EU climate and energy policies. Our plethora of climate and energy instruments make me think of Jules Henri Poincaré’ s definition of science which states that “science is built with facts as a house is with stones, but a collection of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house”. Similarly, a collection of policy instruments and fragmented provisions cannot be an effective policy package. Merging some instruments, streamlining reporting, ensuring coherence, increasing transparency is not going to weaken energy efficiency. The reactions of the “energy efficiency community” to the “Better Regulation Package” made me realise that the vaccine against “la pensée unique” has yet to be invented. We urgently need an intellectual vaccine to protect European climate and energy policies from group-think and a false consensus phenomenon.

If you haven’t done it yet, I invite you to have a look at the stakeholders’ responses to the Commission’s consultation for the Energy Efficiency and Energy Performance of Building directives. Don’t waste your time trying to assess if what is proposed is good or bad; nor try to assess the ambition level of the proposals. Instead, just take a look at the main ideas (or rather idea) from each response and put them all together in a list. You will discover that almost all of the responses say the same thing, using the same words. One might initially think:  “great!” – there’s a consensus about what needs to be done and how to do it. But in reality, this consensus is a false one. In short, there is no critical evaluation of existing EU energy efficiency instruments based on facts and figures. The stakeholders’ consultation doesn’t bring in any dissenting voice. It appears that the desire for conformity and harmony is more desirable (and powerful) than seriously moving the EU climate and energy policies forward. Having a common goal, if any, should not lead to “la pensée unique”. Energy itself is what has fuelled the progress that we have experienced in Europe. Failure in our energy policies will inevitably lead to a failure in our democracies.  “La pensée unique” is very dangerous for our democracies. We all know what “la pensée unique” has historically brought to us in the 1930s, and how it still damages much of the developing world.

Often the recent Paris Climate Agreement and the Energy Union strategy are referred to in stakeholders’ responses. But only as a buzzword! I am afraid that stakeholders have not yet captured the revolutionary thinking introduced by these two guiding documents for the energy transition. And most likely the vast majority of policy officers at the EU or national levels have not yet captured it either. Let me be clear: to be below 2°C we need a deep cut in greenhouse gas emissions and such a deep cut in greenhouse gas emissions is only possible if there is a deep cut in energy consumption, and if the remaining rest of energy comes from renewable energy sources. Decarbonisation doesn’t work against energy efficiency, nor do renewables. They all drive in the same direction. What the Paris Climate Agreement brings to us is the ambition level –­ in reality, the driver – that was lacking for years—an ambition to push energy efficiency further. We should not forget that energy efficiency is not an end in it self. It is a means to an end. The final goal is to achieve various social, economic and environmental priorities in our societies.

Exiting centuries of using fossil fuels taken from below the ground and centralised energy systems is similar to getting out of years of dictatorships. It takes time and requires the courage to stand-up and say No to a “business as usual” narrow and single way of thinking, policies and technologies. The energy transition is a challenge not because the technologies for meeting the Paris commitment do not yet exist. Rather it’s because the energy transition requires each of us individually and collectively to accept being outside our comfort zones and this is what happens when we think differently. When early energy efficiency supporters/advocates avoid mentioning renewables or referring to decarbonisation (because decarbonisation makes energy efficiency weak and renewables compete with energy efficiency in unfair manner as they are supply side solution), it simply shows that these early supporters and advocates are locked in an out-dated silo mentality. In my opinion, these false oppositions should have never existed. My fear is not about some individuals being locked into their world, instead my fear is about Europe being locked into an energy system based on a pre-18th century thought process.

Energy policies cannot be based on dogma, beliefs and myths. They have to be based on scientific evidence which has to prove itself again and again. This is what the 18th century Enlightenment brought to us, ending many irrational behaviours. We should never forget, that we inherited a peaceful and prosperous Europe. Our duty is to at least pass on to the Millennials what was in trusted to us for safekeeping.


This column was published for the first time on May 17, 2016 on eceee