High-Level Workshop on Living in a Low-Carbon Society

One of the grand challenges that the world will have to face in the coming decades is the transition to a Low-Carbon Society. Although today the governance and economic issue of the debate have taken priority, the role of the individual citizens will play an important role in the transition to a Low-Carbon Society.

In recognition of the complexities of this issue and the vastness of the subject, Atomium – European Institute for Science, Media and Democracy organised the writing of this report and the High-Level Workshop on Living in a Low-Carbon Society (HLW) to stimulate new insights and ideas from bringing together leading thinkers from university, industry, media and policy makers to discuss on the real issues and barriers of this debate.

A strong belief in the importance of sustainable collaborations, open communication and inclusion brings these actors together to create a non-partisan setting where all stakeholders share their knowledge in order to create a whole picture that is bigger and clearer than the sum of the individual contributions.

This report and the HLW want to create a comprehensive, intrasectoral and interdisciplinary forum in order to create a credible and realistic medium for the public at large to access and understand the complexities of the debate; to outline the challenges, the possible solutions and innovative ways of implementing these.

We want to thank all the people involved in the effort of writing this Report. Valuable contributions have been made by Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Lund University, the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU (Ministry for Climate and Energy), Bayer, Shell, Siemens, Zero Emissions Platform, CIUDEN and the European Climate Foundation. The writing of the report was coordinated by Hans Bruyninckx (KUL), Miguel Buñuel (UAM), Lars Nilsson (Lund University) and Erika Widegren (Atomium) with written contributions from Global Utmaning, Johannes Stripple (Lund University), Matthew Paterson (University of Ottawa), Antonella Battaglini (Renewables-Grid Initiative), Ron van Erck (European Commission), Jan Coen van Elburg (RESHARE) and Sander van den Burg (Wageningen University).

Please find below the main outcomes of the HLW:

1- What is the role played by public acceptance in the transition to a low-carbon society? How should our Knowledge Systems transform to better inform society about the challenges and their role for the building of tomorrow?

    a. Develop policies and technologies to stimulate informational governance. This is based on the fact that information to citizens, companies, institutions can stimulate behavioral change if provided at the correct moment and on issues that have a direct connection with motivation to change.
    b. The problem of low trust in public institutions and private companies can be improved through increased transparency and public accountability. The use of technologies, methods and communication about the evolution of the ‘carbon footprint’ of governments, companies and individuals can contribute to this.
    c. Stimulate the transition from (private) ownership models to service based models. Transport is a good example: we need to stimulate the thinking about a new mobility and transport system in which the car has a role to play; and obviously make that care as carbon neutral as possible (electric mobility). This example also illustrates the difference between societal system innovation and technological innovation
    d. The development of creative methodologies and instruments to involve citizens in participatory processes towards the low carbon society is central to create public acceptability.
    e. Develop and communicate positive yet realistic images and opportunities embedded in societal change towards a low carbon society.

2. Do citizens have a role to play in defining production and setting markets? How should the relationship between citizens and industry develop to create a more ideal market for the transition to a low-carbon society? In a globalised market, how can we get there?

A low carbon society demands massive investment in low carbon technologies. These become a positive step, with improved energy services at greater affordability, through innovation. Innovation comes about through several forces: from direct investment in RD&D by governments, universities and the private sector, and also through learning in the context of actual technology deployment. It disseminates through effective technology transfer, which includes issues of intellectual property rights. Policies therefore need to address all of these issues: generating innovation in the laboratory and the market scale, mobilizing investment in human and physical capital in the right direction, and diffusing innovation.

Investment responds to policy and regulatory coherence and certainty. The degree to which different policies can provide this is still a matter of uncertainty, and hence it is imperative to experiment with different policy options and instruments, observe their effectiveness, and learn from observation. These policies include the market mechanisms described in greater detail below, but also direct support mechanisms such as feed-in tariffs and quota systems.

Carbon taxation must be one of the key instruments to foster RD&D and innovation and mobilize investment. Carbon price must be predictable and sufficiently high for the private sector to perform that RD&D and do that investment. Therefore, the EU and the Member States should move forward towards carbon taxation.

Carbon taxation could be introduced at the EU level in addition to the ETS, although this faces the difficulty of having to overcome the unanimity rule at the Council.

An EU-wide carbon tax imposed to all sectors, including those exposed to international trade is feasible if the EU establishes border tax adjustments as to impose a tax on imports from countries without carbon taxes equivalent to the EU tax. The EU should ensure compliance with WTO rules.

Member states could take further steps to implement environmental tax reforms, where carbon taxation would be a key element. This reform should avoid negative social impacts, especially for lower income groups, to increase its political acceptance.

It is also imperative to remove environmental harmful subsidies. In particular, public funding should not be used to support high carbon practices any longer. Similarly, tax exemptions that are environmentally damaging should also be eliminated, such as those affecting aviation fossil fuels.

3. In a cyclical political system the needs and wants of the public are a key factor in setting policy objectives particularly in the long-term. How can this relationship be strengthened so as to develop into an organised civil society?

In cyclical political systems the needs and wants of the public are a key factor in setting policy objectives, particularly in the long term. I.e., how can long term goals be reconciled with short term priorities? This requires new governance approaches but suitable approaches are highly contextual. This said, one approach the government should consistently pursue is to mobilise and empower civil society to act. Higher capacity in civil society may counter instability caused by political cycles and instead foster virtuous cycles in transition governance.

To mobilise civil society there is an urgent need to re-frame the sustainability transition as primarily sharing of opportunities. Better quality of life is a cornerstone in this positive narrative.

Government can facilitate the process of re-framing through supporting and engaging with various arenas: educational institutions, religious organisation, local communities, etc.

>Public awareness and knowledge are crucial. Transparency in policy making would build trust and generate public awareness and engagement.
>Change in behaviour requires change in attitudes which requires knowledge. Various instruments can facilitate learning and empower consumers and businesses to act, but also build acceptance for future binding measures.
>A knowledgeable society will more readily accept the transition and its dynamic nature.
>Citizens-consumers when engaged in the process may not object to the transition taking place over 40-50 years as norms and values will change gradually (those not engaged may not notice).
>Some technical options involve very large investments that require trustworthy and stable investment frameworks. Other options are low-hanging fruits.
>A menu of governance options is needed in the scale from voluntary to coercive and society can focus and move on simple measures and issues that are non controversial.
>Sustainable development and stable investment frameworks require trust in processes, broad agreement, and trust in the resulting predictable and dynamically consistent policies.
– Examples may include the UK Climate Change Act, EU-ETS, and government loan guarantees
>Building trust requires the development and improvement of public arenas for capacity building and empowerment (of the governors and the governed). Governments should facilitate this process.
>Timely stakeholder engagement helps build political consensus and ensures broad buy-in to goals (often easy agreement) and implementation (distributional effects often hamper).
– But process is contingent on issue area
– Benefit sharing important for buy-in
– Public private partnerships to leverage funding and capacity (e.g. SET plan)– Risk sharing
>Delivery of clean energy policy packages needs safeguarded implementation, through e.g., citizen panels, commissions and ex-post evaluation. This would facilitate policy learning and evidence based policy development, as well ensure that actors stand by commitments.

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