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European sustainability experts discuss climate challenges in Madrid 

Political leaders and representatives from the fields of politics, business, civil society, and research discussed key sustainability issues at stake for EU policy ahead of next year’s European elections. 

The Think2030 Dialogue – Spain brought together a large pan-European community in Madrid on 16 November during the event co-organised by the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3), the Institute for European Environmental Policy and the Elcano Royal Institute, in collaboration with the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

During each period of the Presidency of the European Union Council, the multistakeholder platform Think2030 organises an event in the country to discuss the priorities of the Presidency to address climate challenges. At the event, the General Director of the Spanish Climate Change Office Valvanera Ulargui and the current Third Vice President and Minister for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge Teresa Ribera (with a video statement),  highlighted key actions to promote ambitious global action on climate and the environment such as the reindustrialisation of the EU, progress in the ecological transition and environmental adaptation or promoting greater social and economic justice.  

“It is necessary to keep this conversation open to obtain a greater understanding of how to achieve the transformations that are being promoted by the Spanish Presidency of the EU” declared the Third Vice President. Ms Ribera also suggested being much more “effective and efficient” in recycling and reusing all precious materials, referring to the importance of the circular economy in the coming years. 

During the Think2030 Dialogue, three thematic Science for policy panels with European sustainability experts looked at a) the geopolitical role of the EU in moving towards climate neutrality, b)  the different ways to achieve a just ecological transition based on the Spanish experience, c) the importance of science for the development of inclusive public policies. 

The first panel session focused on the external dimension of the European Green Deal, the trade agreements that are being negotiated (e.g. EU-Mercosur), and the decarbonisation policies of other emitting countries (such as the Inflation Reduction Law. in the US)and some key policies at the European level, such as REPowerEU and the Green Deal Industrial Plan. Sebastian Oberthür, a representative of the Brussels School of Governance & Center for Climate Change, stated that “the EU must remain the driving force of a coalition of high ambitions and build bridges to shape and refine the ‘guiding star’.” On the other hand, Gonzalo Escribano, Director of the Energy and Climate Change Programme at the Elcano Royal Institute, pointed out the importance of Latin America in its sustainable development policies, the potential for mutual learning between this continent and the EU, as well as its role in proposing a cooperative, fair, decarbonised economic model. and economically competitive. 

The just energy transition was one of the principal axes of the debate.  In the round table dedicated to this topic, participants reflected on the design of just transition policies in Europe and the experiences learned in Spain, especially in the coal sector. Laura Martín, director of the Spanish Just Transition Institute, highlighted some of the main transformation projects that are being developed from the Agreement for a Just Transition after the closure of different coal plants in our territory. “Great work has been done in Spain demonstrating that a just transition is possible, but we cannot stop because there are many jobs and lives at stake. It all comes down to anticipation. “Let’s be quick and not lose this great opportunity”, Manuel Riera, from UGT Spanish Union, also noted. The debate touched upon other crucial issues such as the possible uses of the European Social Fund, at a time when a significant part of citizens are reluctant to some policies due to their possible social impacts, such as tax on diesel in France or the new regulation of heat pumps in Germany, while using those experiences to understand which priorities the incoming Belgian Presidency should focus on, as highlighted by Matthijs Van Marcke from the Cabinet of the Belgian federal Minister for Climate, Environment, Sustainable Development and the Green Deal. 

Finally, the third panel explored the need to link science and decision-making by policymakers. To this end, different scientific leaders presented their experiences in the interaction between science and public policies. Martijn Pakker from IEEP highlighted the need to build common narratives between science and the rest of the community to advance the ecological transition. Myles Allen, Professor at the University of Oxford and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),  underlined the role that citizens must play in this process. “Involving the public in the conversation is always the right way. Decisions that are ‘good’ in theory turn out to be bad in practice when society does not participate in the process.”, he said. Moderated by Frank McGovern, JPI Climate Vice Chair for the Equinox Process, the other speakers (Elena Lopéz Gunn, Member of the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change (ESABCC), Etienne Hannon (Belgium Climate Center) and Nadia Pinardi (European Knowledge Hub on Sea Level Rise, Samantha Burgess, Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S)), contributed with their experiences on using their data and research to engage with policymakers.  

To close the event, the Director of BC3, María José Sanz, indicated the need to increase spaces for understanding, dialogue, trust and respect between the different social agents for the ecological transition. Likewise, she highlighted that citizenship is an indispensable vehicle for mobilisation and change, indicating that “citizen knowledge must be placed on the same level as academic and political knowledge.” The event concluded with the intervention of Luc Bas, Director of the Belgian Climate & Environment Risk Assessment Center, who pointed out that to achieve the necessary climate objectives fairly, we need to “redistribute material wealth” within a general framework of reduced consumption. “We need to look beyond greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen the EU’s resilience through greater investment in adaptation,” he stressed. Finally, he made a brief analysis of some of the challenges of the next Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU, which, due to the upcoming European elections in 2024, will mark the end of this institutional cycle. 

You can re-watch the event here