News December 17, 2018

The CFFactory - A microcosm of climate action

  • AUTHOR Sonja van Renssen
  • DATE 17 December 2018

What I learned on 28-29 November in Berlin is that one project, however humble on its own, can be transformative. The plan to build an 25-kilometre cycling path may not sound like much, but if it is part of a whole new way of thinking about mobility or even an entire city (as is the case in Bogotá), that one cycling path can catalyse far-reaching changes that affect everything from emissions to social cohesion to inhabitants’ happiness.

As heads of state and government prepared to meet in Katowice, Poland (COP24), to hammer out the next steps for the Paris Climate Agreement, city representatives and financiers met in Berlin to share expertise on creating more sustainable infrastructure in cities. The “factory" theme implied a hands-on approach to a production line-inspired agenda, with sessions progressing from project vision, scoping and preparation through to financing.

This was not the kind of conference where you sat at the back checking your emails. City representatives and finance experts worked side by side to better understand how to increase cities’ access to finance and get that translated into real, transformative projects. Whether it was cycling paths, zero-emission buses or urban waterways cleared of litter, the projects were rooted in visions of cities that are “humane”, “green” and “democratic”. We spoke about the value of public space, community and resilience.

What struck me was just how similar some of the arguments around climate action are, no matter where you are in the world. In Brussels, EU negotiators are working hard to finalise the EU’s Clean Energy Package, which will impose a new legislative framework for 2030. One of the big debates is what rights households have to produce and consume their own energy. In a session on energy projects in Berlin, there was a remarkably similar debate about whether net metering (selling surplus energy you generate e.g. through rooftop solar, to the grid) is allowed in the Philippines. Conclusion: in both cases, regulatory barriers are a problem.

City representatives and finance experts worked side by side to better understand how to increase cities’ access to finance and get that translated into real, transformative projects.
Speaker Profile_Sonja van Renssen
Sonya van Renssen Energy, Climate and Environment Journalist

Meanwhile, a representative from Durban emphasised that people’s biggest fear is that the energy transition will result in job losses. That debate is far from dead and buried in Europe too - just look at the emotion around a coal phase-out in Germany, or the switch to electric cars. The European Commission insists that its new 2050 strategy for a carbon-neutral Europe - which was published on 28 November in Brussels - is about jobs and growth as much as about emission reductions. As the EU-27 seeks to reinvent itself post-Brexit, the Commission wants climate and energy policy to drive prosperity, not populism.

The CFFactory stood out too for bringing to the table subjects that are less often broached. I have never been to a conference that had a workstream dedicated to cycling. Zero-emission vehicles are usually cars, not buses. And sadly, adaptation is seldom granted a hearing in the EU capital. The higher governance levels - national, European, global - are critical because they set the framework within which cities can act. Yet it was refreshing to see in Berlin just how much activity is bubbling away at the bottom. Cities are showing what’s possible. Perhaps CFF could facilitate vertical as well as horizonal exhange on projects and their impacts in future.

As a freelance climate, energy and environment journalist based in Brussels, I go to many, many conferences - some of them as the moderator. Nevertheless, this was without doubt one of the richest events I have attended. In terms of geography, age and gender. In terms of the dynamism, enthusiasm and willingness to work of its participants (thanks too, to the highly interactive format of many smaller working groups). And finally, in terms of its ability to create a community - it is rare and wonderful to end an event with that feeling of being part of a new family that may not meet again soon, but will be boisterous when it does.