The Citizen’s Climate Convention, an unprecedented democratic effort

Daniel Alonso Viña – Paris on trial

In the center, student from Paris.  To his left, a man who works in construction outside of Paris

In the center, student from Paris. To his left, a man who works in construction outside of Paris

This body represents a pressure point for all of Europe. If they have managed to meet the demands of the French, focused on the need for an apolitical instrument that accurately represents their concerns, then the rest of the countries can too. And we should? I can’t help wondering what would be the result of something similar in Spain. It would be difficult in the current context, since popular support to curb climate change, although numerous, does not measure up to the French reality. The feeling of imminent danger of the young French cannot be compared with that of the Spanish. For them, the urgency is as real as a fire that burns the forests and kills the fauna that lives there; therefore, the human being must take this seriously and act quickly. In this spirit of urgency and decisiveness, President Emmanuel Macron introduced a series of regulations to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Among them were certain taxes and restrictions that, to the bewilderment of many, made French society explode into the air.

Daniel Alonso ViñaDaniel Alonso Viña

Daniel Alonso Viña

The “gilets jaunes” revealed a silent part of the French people, who had remained neutral while the ecological youngsters protested, surely thinking that, in any case, it would not affect them. When they realized that they would be precisely the most affected by the new government regulations, they went out en masse to conquer the streets of the capital. The protests reflected an anger that went far beyond eliminating simple measures; it reflected a general fed-up in French society with a policy that had ignored them for years, that had forgotten to create a prosperous France for all its inhabitants and not just for a few ecologist Parisians. That, at least, seemed to be the sentiment of the massive and violent protests that took place for months. Most ordinary Frenchmen were unwilling to allow themselves to be ruled by the Parisian middle class, whose sole and most urgent task was climate change while they rotted under a range of problems that politicians did not even imagine.

This strong reaction from the population was a before and after in the Macron government. Partly traumatized by the vigor of the Protestants, and partly because he had to seek a political solution to solve the pressing problems of citizenship, the president went on a tour throughout France. His goal was to meet people on the street, with ordinary and diverse jobs who were trying to earn a living and prosper and give their children a better future than the one they had. Thus, he would go from one sports center to another organizing small rallies, in which he met with the people of the town or the city, and there people with all kinds of beliefs and political preferences met. He would ask them questions, talk to them, and write down all their requests.

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One of the main results of these talks was the Citizen’s Climate Convention. This body brings together a group of 150 French people whose task is to propose the necessary standards for, by 2030, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere by 40%. These measures must conform to the principle of social justice, which proclaims that no particular group should be particularly harmed or benefited after the application of these norms. The French chosen to form this assembly come from all parts of the country, and were chosen at random, through French telephone numbers. One weekend each month, they meet to discuss proposed measures, as well as to discuss new ideas that can help achieve the emissions reduction target.

During the first months, the exercise was much more educational than active creation, that is, various professionals from ecology and the environment gave classes and lectures in which they explained to the participants how everything works. In addition, professionals from other fields such as legal and legislative accompany them on weekends and help them with proposals. They work in groups near the parliament, and truly moving images emerge from these meetings. For example, it is encouraging to see a 17-year-old boy from central Paris, and a 50-year-old man who works in the fields, discuss how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without harming anyone.

In the summer of 2020, 149 measures were presented to Parliament, which were reviewed by the president and are still pending application. In recent months, however, there have been some conflicts. At first, Macron’s impulse was clear and direct, all the measures coming out of the convention would be approved by parliament. Over time, however, the discourse has weakened, until the convention delivered its measures. So Macron took the liberty of removing some and choosing only part of others, which caused some rejection among the French population, including the people who had worked at the convention. On the other hand, it is also true that a good part of the measures have been accepted for processing, so the balance remains positive. In the coming years we will have the opportunity to observe the development of the proposed measures, as well as the Convention and other democratic attempts. This, at least partially, has been a success, and has succeeded in showing that a more participatory democracy is still possible, even in the heavily bureaucratized and rigid states that proliferate in Europe.

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As for Spain, I would not know what to say. A democratic effort of this magnitude seems complicated at the moment. Some may think that it is even unnecessary, given that our democratic model allows four or five parties to contest power directly in a single election. In this way, the Spanish population is not limited to only two discourses between which it must choose between the bad and the less bad. The result is an unstable democracy, but with an image of parliamentary representation more in line with the Spanish society of the moment. Therefore, perhaps we do not need more democracy, but rather learn to manage the one we have with a head. Although I will not be the one who rejects the attempt to create a citizens’ convention for the climate by any party. I think that in practice there is perfection, and although the result is not the best, trying is always necessary in these turbulent times.

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