Energy transition must contribute to building a fairer world and reducing inequalities among citizens, in order to guarantee a dignified life for everyone and remove problems we have had for decades. This is one of the thoughts of the 10th Environmental Session: "Wind farms, nuclear power plants, blockchain technology... Energy and environment under debate", organized by the UB, Família Torres and the meteorologist and lecturer of Physics of the UB Tomàs Molina.
The session, held in the Aula Magna of the Historical Building of the UB on Monday, May 30, gathered twelve experts and about three-hundred attendees under a face-to-face and virtual format. Its aim, analysing the top energy model that responds to the climate emergency. The debate made it obvious that it is a shared intention, but that there are different models and sometimes these are opposite in the energy sector: with or without nuclear plants, with different distribution systems, with different proposals on how to manage the impact on the territory and respect for the environment, and so on.
Among the participants in the opening act were the rector of the UB, Joan Guàrdia; the president of Familia Torres, Miguel A. Torres, and the scientific director and chairperson of the Session, Tomàs Molina, lecturer at the Faculty of Physics of the UB.
While at the beginning the debate was about whether the energy transition was necessary, now it treats aspects related to its complexity, "creating debates that can become a reality", noted Molina. Miguel A. Torres remembered that, however, greenhouse gas emissions continue to break records, "a slope that will bring us own", he said. Also, Torres noted that "in general, politicians are afraid to make decisions for electoral interests, since citizens do not want to give up fossil fuels".
"We need a radical change of direction to stop consuming 100 million barrels of oil a day. Catalonia, in that sense, is at the bottom of Spain in the installation of renewables -noted Torres-, although a certain change in trend has been noticed". Moreover, he also said that Catalonia has the advantage of having nuclear energy, which allows it to maintain an electricity mix with a lower carbon footprint.
The Minister for Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, gave the opening conference: "La transició energètica: un projecte de país" under a video format. Ribera celebrated the ten editions of the Environmental Sessions and highlighted the environmental commitment of Familia Torres —promoter of the event—, and described it as "a model regarding the challenge we are facing". She also noted that Spain has "not only a great potential but also a great capacity" we should benefit from in order to overcome a challenge which usually brings difficult debates, but that has to be faced. The objective is to transform the prosperity and growth model working for equality to solve the urgent social problems, "a train Spain cannot miss", noted the minister.
A critical situation for the climate and the economy
Antonio Turiel, from the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM-CSIC), put emphasis on the problem of the dependence on oil, not only for the emissions but also the economic problem that can be caused by reaching the maximum extraction levels and a production drop. This process, which started in 2005, could rapidly accentuate. A similar situation is happening with uranium, the main fuel of nuclear power plants.
With this, the focus of the climate emergency is moving toward energy security, which could have harmful effects. The fact that many countries make the transition to renewable energies at the same time means there is an unbearable pressure for the industries that extract the raw materials used to create wind turbines, solar panels, electric batteries, etc. "The lack of materials is putting us at the limit of an unimaginable-proportion crisis and which can only be solved with a change of model", noted Turiel.
The roudtable "Energía verde y energías verdes transitorias en Cataluña, a debate" (Green energy and transient green energies in Catalonia, under debate) gathered the experts Sarai Sarroca, director of the Meteorological Service of Catalonia; José María Baldasano, doctor in Chemical Sciences of the UB and emeritus professor at the UB; Alfredo García, telecommunications engineer and scientific communicator, and Carles Riba, president of the Collective for a New Economic and Social Model (CMES). As part of the debate, the members stated that the current situation in Spain and the necessary change —as noted by Turiel— shouldn’t be only technological but also when it comes to consuming habits and lifestyle. Another idea of the roundtable revolved on the world we want in the future and how to reach it, and in that context, what role should nuclear plants play, a role some people propose as a useful crutch in an emergency case.
Social, environmental and economic challenges for the future
In the second part, Tomàs Molina commented on the results of the survey on topics treated in previous editions of the Environmental Session. According to the six-hundred surveys, most of the respondents are pessimist about the climate emergency problem, although they think there is a higher awareness when it comes to the environment. However, the perception of passivity remains and only half of the participants of the survey have installed renewable energy at home.
Sergi Cuadrat, managing director at ALLCOT Group, focused on the role of blockchains —a distributed ledger— in the decarbonization of the energy sector. These are "more than cryptocurrencies" and will try to join more sectors, such as strategies to solve environmental and climate problems.
"Blockchains can improve the management of the supply chain; promoting recycling; improving the access and efficiency of energy; following the fulfilment of the objectives of emission reduction; tracking donations and reducing bureaucracy of non-profit organizations; calculating fees in carbon and creating a reputation system for companies; raise awareness of the impact of sustainable practices, etc. Possibilities that can be useful for the change in energy and consumption models", noted Cuadrat.
Local problems in the energy model change
The roundtable "Retos económicos y sociales del nuevo modelo energético" (Economic and social challenges of the new energy model", included the participation of the experts Eduard de Ribot, representative of SOS Costa Brava; Tatiana Sibilia, from Extinction Rebellion; Jordi Martín, spokesperson for Comunidad Energética Local (CEL) in Caldes de Montbui, and Adrián Fernández, from Greenpeace Spain. The promotion of decentralized production and the rejection of large installations occupying big areas was the focus of the proposals to disassociate citizens from the energy oligopolies and empower them in the energy and political and social fields, both at a local level and regarding global change. Sibilia talked about the collapse paradigm using Einstein’s quote "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them", while Fernández highlighted the contradiction that there is not a kerosene tax but there is an electrcity tax for trains.
Energy ownership should be a public policy issue
Assumpta Farran, director-general for Energy at the Secretary of Climate Action of the Catalan Government, noted that "it has been hard to move, but we are moving: over the last years, the country has promoted directives and initiatives in this sense, considering a social change that brings energy generation to the local scale must take place at the same time". She also highlighted that "we need planning for accommodating renewable energies —a lot of them— and walk towards a distributed renewable energy model created according to the environmental and agricultural criteria, and based on the idea that energy ownership should be a public policy issue".
Carlota Martí, head of Media at the European Commission Representation in Barcelona, presented the conclusions of the 10th Environmental Session, stressing that climate change "is the European Commission’s top priority". Martí mentioned the directives and European objectives that marked clear goals and that can make emissions fall and economy grow, with the eye on being the first climate-neutral continent. The session closed with the words of Ernest Abadal, vice-rector assigned to the Rector and for Teaching and Research Staff of the UB; Miguel A. Torres, president of Familia Torres, and Tomàs Molina.
The 10th Environmental Session has been held as part of the Nature Week, from May 22 to June 5, an initiative promoted by the Network for the Conservation of Nature (XCN) to raise awareness on the importance of protecting the environment. UBtv.