A year riddled with curves on the road to ecological transition has just ended. When Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24, the war exposed our inconsistencies and contradictions and discovered two new enemies of the climate: retardism and speculation. All this, while evidence of climate change was accumulating around the world and it was verified how its chain effects generated a dangerous spiral of unsustainability.
Among the good news that 2022 has left, it is worth noting that knowledge about the consequences of the climate crisis is advancing considerably, and not only its biological repercussions are measured, but also health conditions, economic losses, and challenges for egalitarian societies and democracies. As numerous studies show, society is understanding that we depend on the biosphere, which means that our health, both individually and collectively, is linked to its health. This is what the European Union was aiming for when in December 2019 it announced the European Green Pact and then reaffirmed the Next Generation Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Program, which made the green economy one of its axes.
The invasion of Ukraine changed everything. Also the ecological transition plans. European societies suddenly discovered that much of their wealth, comfort, and well-being was owed to cheap energy from Russia. Putin put us in front of the mirror of our contradictions. In the reflected image, a dependent Europe that, despite being a pioneer in the fight against climate change, is paying the consequences for having delayed decisions on energy policy. So much so that at the outbreak of the war he barely managed to subsidize fossil fuels, replace Russian gas with gas from other sources without disgusting anyone, and even admit the hated fracking to guarantee your reservations. Renewable expansion plans were also accelerated, but they could hardly be deployed in time to cover the energy deficit caused by the war. A question went around Europe: why didn’t we do it before? The EU collided with the consequences of retardism, that new version of denialism that consists of delaying the essential changes even while knowing that the risk is increasing. After ten months, some of the most controversial measures have been withdrawn; others persist.
Where retardism triumphs year after year is in the climatic peaks. While the most vulnerable countries want to move quickly, others try to delay decisions because their status is threatened. The summit in Egypt was considered a defeat in the North, although the poor nations obtained the demanded compensation plan for losses and damages for which they had been working for more than a decade. The bad thing is that we start to get used to coming back from these appointments with a feeling of failure; The good thing is that this same “disappointment”, as Frans Timmermans described the summit, should serve as an incentive for Europe to do its homework. The climate battle will not be won at the COP; but without them, either.
Retardism is also found in water management. In the midst of the drought, none other than Doñana, deteriorated to the extreme by the extraction of water for tourism and agriculture, saw the approval of plans to regularize 1,461 hectares of irrigated land that exploit a thousand illegal wells. Those who had to stop the disaster chose to delay the moment of facing the truth: that all climate change scenarios draw less water availability and that uses have to adapt to it. There are also lights here, this time in the Mar Menor. After years of looking the other way, the plans put in place in the area represent important advances. A popular legislative initiative has even been approved to recognize legal status for the Mar Menor. A complex matter, which needs legal development, but which shows that it is being understood how important it is to protect the biosphere for the health of people and society; the rest belongs to the realm of fantasy.
If any example illustrates well what this retardism is, it is the still pending demolition of the Algarrobico hotel, a symbol of so many excesses, as the coordinating prosecutor for the Environment and Urban Planning, Antonio Vercher, explained in these pages a few days ago, or in the policies against pollution in Madrid and the metropolitan area of Barcelona, which have just received a sentence from the Court of Justice of the European Union for “systematically and continuously” failing to comply with the environmental pollution limits.
Fortunately, there are areas that are beginning to escape from this retardism. This year the protection of biodiversity seems to have been seriously addressed. Condemned to the background in the ranking of environmental concerns, 195 countries agreed at COP15 to try to reverse its irreversible loss. To this end, they promised that by 2030, 30% of the “terrestrial, continental and coastal and marine waters” would be “conserved and managed effectively through systems of protected areas”, a whole shock plan in terms of biodiversity. Too late? Let’s hope not.
The second great enemy of the climate that has burst into force is speculation and the bad practices of some companies in charge of deploying renewable energies. Undoubtedly they are a minority in the sector, but the movements that some of these companies, oblivious to environmental interest, are making in the development of renewables in macro-parks are becoming more and more vociferous. In some cases without reporting, in others giving false information or half truths, subjecting small municipalities to blackmail, merely interested in speculating with licenses and expectation businesses. It is, at least, bad practices; and in some cases, directly, corruption. These companies have seen in wind and solar energy the same chances of a hit that they saw before in the brick. Fortunately, I reiterate, they are a minority, but they cast shadows on the sector. For this reason, the Government has begun to move to avoid some of these speculative movements, suspending the processing of offline projects.
Wind and solar farms, key to accelerating the ecological transition, are necessary and urgent, so there is no room here for the retardation of delaying this deployment, alleging that self-consumption will be enough; it’s not like that. Precisely for this reason, it is essential to be extremely neat so that each operation has not only administrative and environmental guarantees, but also the so-called “social license”; that is, the agreement of the places where they are installed. Spinning fine lines, valuing each situation and with maximum transparency, participation and benefits for the territory, combining these facilities with self-consumption and energy communities. Only then will the necessary speed be achieved.
2023 should be the year of moving forward firmly, with speed and with ambition in the transition. Since you have to do it fast, you have to do it well. That involves more ambitious advances in reducing emissions, putting an end to fantasy hydraulic promises, rigorously applying the law, doing the sustainability accounts well, and curbing speculation and bad practices in the deployment of renewables. It is essential to combat the two new enemies of the climate that we met in 2022.
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