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One year on from a historic winter: Are we closer to solving our energy and climate crises?

8 months ago 43

Across Europe, citizens are protesting against a system that is not working and are calling on polluters to pay for the energy transition, write Nicolò Wojewoda and Chloé Mikolajczak.

By Nicolò Wojewoda, Europe Regional Director, 350.org, and Chloé Mikolajczak, Coordinator, Fossil Free Politics

After the warmest October on record for Europe, and in the aftermath of Storm Ciarán which has caused substantial damage in Ireland, the UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, a mild but wet winter has begun on our continent. The heating is coming on in many of our households – those who can afford it.

Last year we saw freezing homes and a warming planet with only one winner: fossil fuel corporations. It could not have been clearer: our outdated, fossil fuel-dominated energy system has failed us. Whilst Shell, BP, TotalEnergies, Chevron and ExxonMobil made over €200 billion in profits, our politicians left millions to pay the price through skyrocketing bills.

The current season shows many signs of being a different beast than last year’s historic winter crisis. Gas storage is at a record-high 99.5%, demand is down, and wholesale prices, although still extremely volatile, have tumbled compared to the same period in 2022.

And yet, for many working families across the continent, things haven’t changed for the better. Close to 10% of people in the European Union are facing stark choices between heating and eating.

And the lower gas prices have not resulted in lower electricity and heating bills. Instead, fossil fuel producers and utilities continue to announce multi-billion euro quarterly profits, as the world grapples with ever-increasing climate chaos as a direct consequence of their core business.

The same industry has poured vast amounts of money into influencing our decision-makers. New research shows oil companies actively lobbied and weakened social measures, including windfall taxes, at the national and European Union level last year, that would have helped millions during the energy crisis.

They also pushed for further fossil gas and oil lock-ins for decades to come whilst scaling back on their own climate commitments.

Last winter, the extraordinary policy interventions by the European Union in October 2022 have slowed down the deterioration of an already critical situation, with necessary measures to avoid even higher increases of energy bills.

But those interventions have come in a wider context in which governments have looked for short-term fixes that substitute one form of gas for another, without significantly addressing the fundamental volatility of an energy infrastructure based on fossil gas.

What could have been a moment to initiate a once-in-a-generation programme of household retrofitting and transitioning away from gas altogether, has been used to expand the network of LNG terminals planned across the continent, and secure gas deals in North America, Africa and the Middle East.

The repercussions of those choices are leading our region away from meeting its already insufficient climate targets and liberating itself from the risks and volatility of oil & gas consumption.

This is a political failure. Our governments have missed the mark.

Across Europe, however, people are rising up against a system that doesn’t work for our communities and are calling for polluters to pay up and get out of the way, reclaiming their money and power to fund the urgent energy transition we need.

As part of Power Up, a global month of action led by climate justice organisation 350.org with partners across the world, thousands of citizens have united to demand bolder, fairer climate solutions.

In Paris and across France, climate campaigners organised light parades to call on the government to tax the energy giant TotaEnergies’ superprofits to power up the fast and fair energy transition we need.

In Brussels, campaigners gathered in front of the EU Parliament to demand that big polluters pay for the energy transition. In Vienna, energy activists deployed banners calling for energy democracy.

In conflict-afflicted Kyiv, in front of the Energy Ministry, campaigners held banners saying “Clean Energy Saves Lives” and “Fossil Fuels Fund This War” and called for Ukraine’s recovery to include a full-scale transition to clean energy. (1)

In addition, over 100,000 called to remove polluters’ influence from our decision-making. 100 civil society and trade unions joined the People Over Polluters week of action in October to call for polluters out of politics and bring the real, resilient and socially just solutions in.

A European Parliament election is around the corner, and just like 2019 was the election of climate, this one must be the election of energy transition. To do that, an important step is to firewall fossil fuel companies’ influence on our decision-makers and to amplify the real, just and resilient solutions.

Europe’s energy systems should put people over profits and improve people’s lives, not plunge them into poverty.

Civil society must state unequivocally that this energy system doesn’t work for our people and communities. Every household, every family needs access to affordable electricity, sustainable energy and efficient heat.

Governments must shift the power and money away from fossil fuels to build an energy that is centred on our needs, rather than on corporate profits.

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