Climate activists are worried about seeing the fight against climate change definitively lost, against a backdrop of major geopolitical upheavals. But a major economic and energy shift has begun. A necessarily contrasting analysis.
Adélaïde Charlier, French-speaking coordinator of Youth for the Climate, symbolizes the fight against climate change, alongside Sweden’s Greta Thunberg and thousands of young people who have been mobilizing for years. Asked by Trends-Tendances, she does not hide her dismay about the reaction to the current planetary upheavals. “This major geopolitical crisis once again proves our dependence on fossil fuels, she underlines. decide on a partial embargo on Russian oil, more than 100 days after the start of the war in Ukraine, as well as its failure to take a similar step on gas. Behind brave words, decisions follow too little, too late. This idealistic 21-year-old woman points the finger at companies that still profit from fossil fuels. As well as guilty states. “In 2021, Belgium spent 1.6 billion euros on Russian oil and gas, indignant Adélaïde Charlier. Continuing to pay such amounts makes us complicit in war crimes.” Sighing, she also regrets that we continue to subsidize the use of gasoline, fuel oil and gas. In the eyes of these young people who have been mobilizing for years to fight, the climate is indeed the collateral victim of the war. “It’s not as if this conflict in Ukraine dates back to yesterday, it started eight years ago, before exploding definitively with the direct intervention of Russia, underlines Adélaïde Charlier. But we can’t to make decisions, we are blocked, both at the level of the private sector and the political world.” The relatively unnoticed release of the latest report from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), eclipsed by the outbreak of war at the end of February, is not just a symbol in his eyes. “It’s starting to be very complicated to accept that things aren’t moving fast enough when young people and citizens have been mobilizing for so many years,” she said. on the environment in Stockholm in 1972. Nearly 30 years before I was born, we already knew about the problem and we have done practically nothing since… It’s not only disappointing, it’s unacceptable!” Of course, recognizes the activist, the crisis offers opportunities. Massive investments are being made to move away from our energy independence from Russia – the RePowerEU plan promises more than 210 billion euros to make this happen. “But the only thing that really gives us hope, continues Adélaïde Charlier, is that we see more and more citizens taking action, abandoning their cars, changing their way of life… Unfortunately, we are talking about ‘a global problem and it’s not enough. The CO2 emissions curve keeps climbing.” The feeling of young people for the climate echoes the cry from the heart of François Gemenne, at the beginning of May. By claiming that the fight against climate change is a lost cause, he caused a stir on the set of the television program C Ce soir, on France 5. “For me, it’s dead since the release of the third report of the Giec on April 4, which tells us that to achieve the objectives of the Paris agreements, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by 2030, said François Gemenne. another 1% or 1.5% per year.” This Belgian environmental researcher at ULiège and Sciences Po Paris, editor of the Giec in his spare time, has become a media barometer in France of this major challenge for humanity. Its bitterness is indicative of a fight that seems doomed to failure for its fiercest militants. Faced with cumulative crises, the world is struggling to really choose its priorities, even if public investments have never been so massive since the Second World War. For the climate, François Gemenne cited as an example the year 2020, “the only one in which we found ourselves on a trajectory compatible with what would have to be done to achieve these objectives” since “the bulk of economic activity was paralyzed” and that “we were largely confined to our homes”. This shows the effort needed to bring the boat of the climate fight to port. The researcher added, referring to the geopolitical context disturbed by the war declared by Russia on Ukraine on February 24: “Today, to achieve this objective, we would have to reduce our coal consumption by 100%, our consumption of gas by 70% and our consumption of oil by 60%.When you see that despite the war in Ukraine, we are not even capable of deciding, in the name of the protection of the Ukrainians, on an embargo on Russian hydrocarbons , we must stop hiding our faces, we are not going to get there. The priority today is adaptation. Everything else is electoral marketing. The polemicist stormed after having experienced the bitterness of a failed electoral campaign for the French presidential election with the ecologist Yves Jadot, beaten sharply in the first round, before joining the Popular Union led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon. “It’s a world of infinite mediocrity, small arrangements, betrayal and incredible violence, underlined François Gemenne. I spent the whole campaign being insulted, attacked, threatened by the Insoumis. I come out of it completely crushed. I want nothing more to do with that world.” His conclusion, clear: “I have long believed that it could go through a kind of convinced and aware majority. I now think that if there is change, it will come from very determined minorities in municipalities, businesses or civil society. “. Professor at the Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management, Marek Hudon is more measured in his analysis. Appointed at the end of May to the co-chairmanship of the High Committee for a Just Transition by the Federal Minister for Climate, Zakia Khattabi (Ecolo), he underlines for Trends-Tendances how much the current geopolitical upheavals represent so much a worrying brake on the fight against the disruption what an opportunity to seize. In each of the elements of his reasoning, he points to as many reasons for hope as for concern because of the war in Ukraine. “We can of course regret the increase in energy prices, begins Marek Hudon, but this also constitutes an incentive for companies and households to invest even more in devices generating energy savings or in renewable productions. This could have a positive impact for the climate. The public authorities are investing massively with the recovery plans. When we talk about energy independence, it is a possible horizon for companies, but it also has an impact on supply chains. values.” This observation is shared by many companies: the importance of these investments is now obvious, while the duration of their amortization has greatly decreased. The downside is the back pressure on supply chains, shortages, skyrocketing raw material costs, all of which slow the pace at which these decisions are made. However, the stakes are of unprecedented magnitude: the IPCC report mentions the need to multiply financial flows by three to five to get out of it by 2030. “It’s gigantic”, summarizes Marek Hudon. “The war in Ukraine has an impact comparable to that of the covid epidemic, in other areas, continues Marek Hudon. This encourages the idea of returning to short circuits, of relocating industries … This does not happen. won’t materialize in the short term, but for the years to come, it’s a major game-changer.” This puts maximum pressure on the public authorities to facilitate procedures, simplify permit applications, encourage initiatives… “There is also a lot of cash and savings available, it is all the more interesting to mobilizing these means that inflation is high, adds the Solvay professor. The new taxonomy influences the investment capacities of companies, which realize the need to have a good ESG ranking to ensure long-term stability.” A downside, there too: the war also makes other investments a priority, particularly in terms of defence. But it marks a paradigm shift whose shock wave will be major. “We are in an increasingly uncertain world, with crises on top of crises, underlines Marek Hudon. This has an enormous cost, which cannot be avoided. The geopolitical impact is profound: rapprochement between Russia and China, uncertainties about India’s or Turkey’s positioning… This complicates the international cooperation needed to tackle the climate challenge. And Russia is not a neutral place in this regard. respect, because of its size, but also because of the issue of permafrost.” The stakes of the transition are not neutral either on the social level, with the economic pressure and the record inflation rates. “Our system can become fragile and break. I hope that we will not come to a time when we will have to choose between environmental and social issues. The objective of the High Committee that I co-chair is precisely to ensure this. And this will raise an important question, that of everyone’s contribution to this unprecedented societal effort.” The climate is indeed a victim of war. In the long term, however, it will perhaps reap the fruits of the European surge against Russia. In an opinion published in the New York Times on June 7, renowned columnist Thomas L. Friedman underlined how many surprises this conflict could cause, including for a Vladimir Putin thinking of conquering territory, enriching himself with high prices energy and restore Russia to past greatness. “In the short term, none of the European countries can do without Russian supplies,” writes Thomas L. Friedman. But if faced with a year or two of astronomical gas and oil prices, “you will see a massive shift in fund and industry investment in electric cars, energy efficiency, grids and long-term storage, which could detach markets from fossil fuels,” said Tom Burke, director of E3G, an international climate research group. The war in Ukraine is already prompting all countries and companies to strongly accelerate their plans to decarbonize. Is this the point of a follower of the Coué method? Or a light at the end of the tunnel?