‘The Low Carbon Transition Has Won The Hearts And Minds of Millions’

A view of the southern part of Bratislava and the Danube river. Photo: RossHelen /
A view of the southern part of Bratislava and the Danube river. Photo: RossHelen /

At a major conference about Europe’s low carbon economy, EU energy chief Maroš Šefčovič emphasised that sustainability has gone mainstream.

The former Slovak diplomat pointed out how what started as a pioneer grassroots movement has now won the “hearts and minds of millions across the world.”

“I am describing this cultural change to illustrate the historic momentum we are enjoying to act, collectively, and with highly ambitious targets,” he said.

Šefčovič, who’s remit as vice-president of the European Commission includes the integration of the continent’s energy systems, is one of the keynote speakers at the Transition to the Green Economy conference which is taking place in Bratislava, Slovakia, this week (6–7 September).

Seizing The Momentum

Referring to last week’s ratification of the Paris Agreement on climate change by the US and China, he said “We are now seizing the momentum and exploring all means” so the EU can help trigger the historic accord into implementation.

It is now widely recognised the green transition makes a “very strong business case,” he said, “companies and countries are competing over titles like sustainable, green, or circular economies.”

In 2016, businesses recognise the “huge economic gains” of investing in the emerging low carbon economy according to Šefčovič, pointing to “new sustainable business models, which provide better quality of living, better jobs, and a better environment for us live in.”

Popular Support

Popular support for climate action has probably never been so high, the commissioner said, “and many citizens rightly scrutinise their politicians on their levels of ambition.”

The younger generation is more aware of the “chain effects of our daily choices,” Šefčovič said. Consumers are willing to take responsibility by “preferring to shop local, bike to work, recycle their waste, produce their own energy,” according to Šefčovič.

The commissioner emphasised he used the word “preferring” because sustainable options are not always available to citizens, highlighting the business opportunities.

Šefčovič said the low carbon transition is triggering “imagination and sense of adventure.”

A Goldmine For Jobs

The commissioner said although still intimidating for some, the transition to a greener economy can be a “goldmine for jobs and growth.” He mentioned how some nine million Europeans already work in the low carbon energy industry – a number  Šefčovič says he expects to double by 2030.

“Make no mistake; this transformation is still disruptive, not in the sense of slowing down our economic output but in the sense of transforming, innovating and smartening it,” he said.

In addition to energy, industries such as waste and wastewater management and other activities linked to the protection of the environment are important job motors too, he stressed.

Taking on Silicon Valley

Šefčovič provided a number of examples, including a “giant on-shore wind farm” in Romania’s Danube delta, which is the largest in Europe with 240 turbines.

The Dutch city of Eindhoven is the world’s most inventive city, Šefčovič said, with “more patents per capita than anywhere else in the world.”

“Yes, that includes (…) Silicon Valley,” he stressed.

Šefčovič recently visited California, and mentioned that students showed him “solar cars and motorcycles which are already driving.”

In charge of the EU’s Energy Union project, Šefčovič takes a keen interest in how Europe’s power grids link up. He highlighted how Norway, with its many lakes and rivers, has half of Europe’s total hydropower capacity.

“On a day when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow within the EU market, we can receive energy from Norwegian lakes within a matter of seconds,” he said.

To keep the momentum of climate innovation and the low carbon transition going, Šefčovič says it is crucial we “get out of our comfort zones” to question our assumptions, and to experiment with alternatives.

Find out how Climate-KIC could help you get out of your comfort zone.

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