For a European Project for Peace, Democracy, and the Climate
Laurence TubianaDirector of the European Climate Foundation (ECF), Founder of IDDRI
The most sweltering temperature in 120,000 years 1 . A devastating invasion that has been redefining the European space for the past 18 months as Russia now brings its threats to Poland’s doorstep. From arms to energy, Ukraine and the climate crisis dominate the European Union’s day-to-day and are reshaping the political landscape.
Taken together, these challenges will shape the new face of European peace.
For the Ukrainian people, as well as for our shared European aspirations, we must start working today on the idea of peace, not only as a utopian ideal but as an urgent necessity. Rising tensions and the amplification of war messaging have turned our societies upside down. Now, more than ever, is the time to reflect on and debate peace, to define its contours and build a movement for peace, climate, and democracy.
While Ukraine must preserve its territorial integrity, true peace will be achieved through a project of European consolidation and expansion. It must resonate far beyond the geographical limits of Europe.
This war cannot be summed up as a fight for territory: it is intrinsically linked to energy challenges, fossil resources, and the climate imperative. We are at a historic turning point, when the idea of a Europe that is peaceful and the pillar of a liberal order has been weakened. Consequently, Ukraine’s reconstruction within Europe and the end of fossil fuel use are intertwined. Post-fossil Europe must anchor energy and climate peace at the core of its ambitions.
This vision arises from a critical obstacle: today, European dependencies are being used as weapons. Europe is unavoidably emerging from an era when it depended simultaneously on the United States for its military security, China for its supply chains, and Russia for its gas, oil, and coal. These basic assumptions of European security have been shattered. It is therefore necessary to revisit our European security concepts and lay new foundations.
As Spinoza said, “Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.” 2 To make the transition from security to peace, our political and diplomatic models must be revised. If this vision is to be supported by creating human and climate security, it is, in a sense, a new Monnet Project: the new project of European democratic and ecological peace that must — urgently — be set into motion.
By redefining peace as not simply the absence of conflict but as the preservation of our planet and the well-being of its inhabitants, the European peace project offers a vision. This direction offers European citizens a raison d’être, leading them to a new status quo where the post-fossil era will not just be an ecological necessity, but also a new foundation for social healing and future prosperity.
The Green Deal — made possible by the last European elections —will perhaps face its greatest challenge next year. Can we both secure our gains in the event of an electoral setback while continuing to encourage all our citizens to want a Europe that is climate-friendly, clean, and at peace?
One thing is certain: the weak showings of the far-right in Spain this summer show that the climate skepticism fully embraced by Vox, which promoted “drought as opportunity” 3 , never carries as much weight at the ballot box as we may think. Even if doubt and denial remain roadblocks within institutions and in day-to-day politics, progressive forces must capitalize on this more nuanced observation, and offer a positive vision that would enable us to emerge from the current crises from the top down. This is the hope outlined here.
In the shadow of fossil fuels, a new Monnet Plan?
From Ukrainian reconstruction to the European Political Community, a new Monnet Plan is taking shape in the shadow of fossil fuels. The Monnet Plan, established in the aftermath of World War II, recognized even then the role of energy (coal) in reconstruction and European peace. By mutualizing resources — including coal and steel — between nations who were once enemies, the plan’s aim was to prevent any future conflict by making war “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible”, as Robert Schuman’s declarations stated in 1950. 4
Today, in the midst of another type of crisis, the problem presents itself differently. To shift from a narrow vision of security to a more complete notion of peace, it is essential to forge a new project that goes beyond access to and control of resources, and is less rooted in the idea of sovereignty and centralization.
Renewables can free us from this model, and the reconstruction of Ukraine is already showing this. A return to its pre-war status quo, steeped in fossil fuels, was completely unthinkable. Such a model would not only compromise its sovereignty, but would also alienate potential investors for a cohesive, modern vision of a reconstruction project. For a real recovery to take place, a paradigm shift was essential.
Collaborative initiatives, such as the German-Ukrainian partnership 5 , are rapidly installing solar panels on essential Ukrainian infrastructure. The green energy grid — with sun and wind at its heart — not only promises a sustainable future, but also offers immediate relief from today’s challenges by decentralizing Ukraine’s energy system and already making it more resilient against Russian strikes.
Ukraine’s green renaissance is already under way. Solar energy, for example, is actively strengthening the health sector. Confronted with Russian assaults on hospitals, which cut some off from electricity, certain NGOs have begun to install solar panels on these buildings, providing them with reliable, economical, and ecological energy. After being destroyed by a missile strike, Horenka Hospital, near Kiev, was brought back to life thanks to green technologies. 6
From Horenka to the entire country: such a vision requires the collective effort of the European community. It calls on European nations to support and finance renewable energies at the necessary scale throughout the entire country, including through concessional loans and insurance mechanisms to secure the volume of investment required.
Renewable energies are the pillars of a modern economy, attracting international, public, and private capital and bringing Ukraine in line with its European counterparts. This is the transformation that the Ukrainian government and its people are waiting on Europe for. The foundations are laid; all that remains is for European partners to fully commit themselves. And if Ukraine’s ecological transition echoes its European ambitions, the same dynamic triggered by the invasion catalyzed a historic moment of European political redefinition.
The nascent European Political Community has demonstrated an appetite and imagination for this plan, along with a potential future eastern expansion of the EU. It is difficult to fathom the full scope of such a project. Ukraine would be the fifth largest member of the bloc, and the poorest. New members — including Ukraine as well as potentially Moldova, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia — would benefit from EU funds. More broadly, Ukraine’s accession would weigh heavily on the EU’s finances, particularly in the areas of CAP and regional spending, which together represent more than 60% of the seven-year EU budget. 7 The risks of a Europe moving at different speeds are very real, but its energy and climate dimension could become one of its driving forces.
Over the last few years, through Covid and the invasion, the Green Deal has shown at multiple turns its capacity for institutional and political mobilization. The supranational dimension of the EU’s climate policy contributed to stimulating the climate ambitions of 27 nations, and the EU’s climate policy proved to be more resilient than the policies of national governments: for now, governmental changes have not brought about any real changes in direction or serious questioning of climate laws.
This resilience also stems from an awareness in Brussels and most European capitals that European leadership is essential to meeting the objectives laid out in the Paris Agreement, even if the EU only represents about 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is because its carbon footprint represents 10% of the global carbon footprint, a third of which comes from imports.
This is also due to the fact that, as the largest single market in the democratic world, EU legislation and norms act as a global driver for climate action. Overall, and across the continent, today’s leaders have completely integrated the fact that the invasion of Ukraine also targets democratic Europe, and Europe transitioning to zero carbon development, as the implementation of the RePowerEU plan demonstrated.
Europe must therefore stay the course and pursue decarbonization independent of any geopolitical or geoeconomics turbulence. And if Europe has largely maintained a steady engagement in regards to climate action, we are approaching a turning point which requires greater vision of the necessary transition to a net-zero emission society.
Internal fractures are a threat to the European climate agenda
This resilience of Europe’s climate objectives also reflects the challenges they constantly face. Even as the Green Deal is entering the implementation phase at the national level, identifying the concrete shape of this Monnet Project is proving to be a difficult task. At the moment when I am writing these lines, in the relative calm of a political summer break, obstacles continue to arise: in early August, the Polish government filed an appeal with the EU Court of Justice against the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) and the ETS reforms. 8
At the same time, and following months of normalizing, the price of European liquified natural gas (LNG) saw a sudden increase of 40%, fueled by strikes at LNG installations in Australia and major maintenance projects on Norwegian infrastructure. We are therefore not out of harm’s way of a difficult winter. Europe seems to be on the right path to fill its storage capacity before it has to dip into its reserves this autumn, but the situation underscores the fragility of global energy markets and potential supply chain vulnerabilities, reminding us to what point fossil energy markets — even with stable and allied nations — are interconnected and susceptible to unforeseeable fluctuations. 9
How do we stay the course? The challenges taken together could be summarized in the following way: First, it is obvious that the creation of a post-fossil plan is not limited to energy production and fundamentally affects sectors such as finance, transportation, and industry. This relationship is complex and multidirectional and will require major investments as well as solid and steady political and public support in order to overcome the many concrete obstacles in Brussels and within member states.
Secondly, Europe’s search for other sources of fossil energies after the invasion has itself fueled instability and harmed Europe’s climate credibility. We must fully envision an alternative based on networks and investments in clean energy and green hydrogen production — particularly with close neighbors in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia — as an alternative to the current model of energy diplomacy based on gas and oil.
Finally, in a moment of global polycrisis, Europe has been even more rattled by energy price shocks, inflation, supply chain crises, socioeconomic inequalities and division, and the fear of democratic backsliding: all of which are potential barriers to decarbonization.
The European Commission’s 2023 Strategic Foresight Report also offers a sober assessment of the challenges ahead. In particular, it highlights that additional investments of more than €620 billion will be needed annually to meet Green Deal and RePowerEU objectives; this is in addition to the €578 billion the EU already plans to spend — at least 30% of its budget — on climate-related actions for the 2021-2027 period. 10
Within this context, the basis of a post-fossil peace must be reinforced by European societies, at a time when the often anti-European or anti-climate extreme right is on the rise. In order to counter hostile reactions and make climate action more resilient and diverse, ambitious climate policies must be based on citizen participation in ways that reflect public policies. It is through local mobilization and public discourse that the hold that climate deniers have on this debate can be fought. It is through efforts for a just transition that conservatism, which profits off the status quo (€4 trillion in revenue in 2022 for the oil and gas sector), can no longer invoke social justice and purchasing power.
Poland is an excellent example of this tension. Even while attacking the CBAM and ETS reforms in relation to its energy system, which is still highly dependent on coal, the invasion of Ukraine has nevertheless radically transformed the perception of danger related to fossil fuel dependence and has produced a promising increase in investments for new clean energy infrastructure. 11 This is an inflection point.
In Poland, as elsewhere, a large number of obstacles to this investment in infrastructure should be lifted at the national level, and national energy and climate plans, as well as national spatial plans for renewable energies recommended by the Commission, currently being developed through 2024, will be major concerns if society wants to address today’s challenges.
Preventing energy poverty and tackling social justice problems head on rather than as an ex-post remedy, must be the guiding principles for a political vision that is both sufficiently inclusive and up to the challenge. A concrete example: the European objective of quadrupling the installation of heat pumps by 2030 (compared with 2022) must be underpinned by considerations of equity and justice, to ensure that less affluent households have access.
This summer, the fierce political debate in the United Kingdom around the introduction of ultra low emissions zones also demonstrated how automobiles will once again, and will always be, a powerful tool in the hands of populist movements to derail the climate agenda 12 despite the fact that renewable energies are proving to be increasingly affordable. From the Yellow Vests in 2018 to the hostile reaction in Germany in 2023 against bans on gas heating 13 , which threaten to spread to European policy as a whole, these are well-known dynamics and should be better anticipated.
In order to achieve the ecological transition at the European level, it is essential to adopt a decentralized approach and to closely involve local authorities and civil society. Initiatives such as Eurocities 14 , which includes together more than 200 European cities and 130 million citizens, show the way. By giving priority to the citizen and the local level, institutions can move beyond a purely transactional logic, in which the EU is seen only as a source of subsidies, to rebuild a shared vision of Europe’s common destiny.
The war in Ukraine has already allowed progress to be made in this area — as Poland has shown. Other Central European countries, such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia, have demonstrated successful integration after an initially mixed start.
Involving citizens and local authorities is therefore crucial to developing concrete ecological transition initiatives adapted to the realities of each territory. This bottom-up approach is essential. Nevertheless, it must be part of a coherent, voluntary European framework. Indeed, the global geopolitical context is forcing Europe to radically rethink its industrial and energy strategy.
Linking industrial, trade, diplomatic and climate policies
The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in the United States has transformed the climate, trade, diplomatic and geopolitical debate. The invasion of Ukraine is happening against a backdrop of instability and tension between the United States and China. The growing emphasis on investment policy and increased protectionism is redefining global economic rules in real time. The previous principles of globalization and free trade have been replaced by a new status quo, whether one sees this as a “new Washington consensus” or something else.
The recent adoption of the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States presents the EU with new competitive challenges. This means massive investment in renewable energies, clean infrastructure and green supply chains. This is the only way for Europe to successfully achieve its ecological transition and preserve its strategic autonomy. It is no longer just a question of decarbonization, but of the paths that are vital to Europe’s industrial security and competitiveness.
The European Union’s response through the Net-Zero Industry Act (NZIA) and the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA) are a start. More broadly, we will see an ongoing quest for the right balance between protectionism and free trade, interventionism and liberalization, centralization and national solutions, regulatory consistency and bureaucratic simplification. It’s a tremendous challenge.
On the international stage, Europe’s role has been complicated by the Russian invasion, which is sometimes perceived in the wider world as a European problem, or as the West stirring up global turmoil. The 2022 European “gas rush” in Africa to replace Russian gas has prompted accusations of hypocrisy and unfairness, particularly from the countries of the Global South. Europe’s increased isolation from emerging economies — if left unaddressed — could have negative consequences for the international climate agenda, especially at a time when confidence has been eroded.
U.S.-China tensions are complicating the situation. Europe must define its own role outside of the ‘Thucydides trap’ and continue discussions to preserve the political space necessary for climate action. In order to achieve this, Europe should develop a more sophisticated dialogue on how its decisions — for example, the EU’s deforestation-free supply chain law or the CBAM — will impact its international partners.
European climate and energy diplomacy must focus on aligning interests with key international partners, integrating issues such as trade, investment, liability and regulation, as well as the joint development of sustainable supply chains for transition minerals and energies such as hydrogen.
As green industries require critical materials from Africa, Asia and Latin America — sectors often dominated by China — Europe’s vision of a new, green industrial revolution must set itself apart by establishing a new kind of diplomacy with regard to raw materials, as well as trade rules guaranteeing sustainable extraction and respect for human rights. Europe can also learn from its global partners, by integrating their views and best practices into the development of new standards. Several African and Latin American countries that export materials critical to the industrial transition are considering their own transition away from fossil fuels. Europe must commit itself to responding to these initiatives, by breaking with the extractivist model and working out with them a new model of “global” social contract. By joining forces with Europe, exporter countries must capitalize on their resources by extending their value chains, thereby retaining a greater share of added value and developing co-investments.
The Green Deal remains the world’s most comprehensive climate plan. The European economy is separating growth from carbon emissions. Despite pandemic and war, Europe is staying the course on climate.
Although the gas lobby has won some battles, Europe’s clean energy transition is moving forward, and will not retreat. As Ursula von der Leyen recently pointed out, Europe has now produced more electricity from the sun and wind than from oil and gas for the first time in its history. While emissions continued to increase worldwide in 2022, the European Union was able to reduce emissions by 2.5% despite the turmoil. 15
Europe is already showing the way towards a post-fossil peace.
While Europe has committed, through the Green Deal and substantial budgets, to playing a leading role in the fight against climate change, it has yet to translate this commitment into concrete action, particularly in financial terms. Despite undeniable progress in decarbonizing its economy, many challenges remain to fully align European and global financial flows with the resilient, low-carbon trajectory, in accordance with the Paris Agreement. The context of monetary and fiscal restraint makes this task even more daunting.
However, there are ways of mobilizing the financing needed for green infrastructure and filling the regulatory gaps that fuel public distrust: strengthening dedicated European channels, combating greenwashing, and harmonizing public tools with climate objectives. Europe also has a key role to play in reshaping the international financial structure and securing the means for a low-carbon transition in the countries of the Global South.
The challenge is to translate Europe’s political and economic commitment to climate change — climate funding of €23 billion in 2021 and official development assistance of €67 billion in 2020 — into an effective and sustainable cooperation agenda on climate and development.
Though resilient, Europe’s climate objectives are constantly facing obstacles, from challenges — including legal ones — to the Green Deal to the volatility of fossil fuel prices.
In order to stay on course towards decarbonization, Europe must make massive investments beyond the energy sector, develop real alternatives to fossil fuels based on renewables, and overcome the socio-economic divides that have been exacerbated by the current polycrisis and that risk halting progress.
Europe can lay the foundations for post- fossil peace by building a society around socially just climate objectives. Faced with geopolitical and economic challenges, and the transformative impact of the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States, Europe must continue to be a climate leader by developing a green industrialization strategy based on international partnerships for sustainable and equitable supply chains in order to restore trust and ensure a just transition on a global scale.
But in order to fully assume this leadership role, Europe’s partners are looking for investments more than anything else, a promise that is difficult to keep given current circumstances. To echo a point already made in these pages, this vision of post-fossil peace will inevitably require a different conception of investment and debt, and a conception of green investment that puts our climate debt ahead of our financial debt, in order to truly serve future generations.
- July 2023 Is Hottest Month Ever Recorded on Earth, Scientific American, July 27, 2023.
- Theologico-political treatise.
- How Climate Change Is Fueling The Rise Of Spain’s Far Right, Politico, April 27, 2022.
- Schuman declaration May 1950.
- Ukraine and Germany launch joint project to equip critical infrastructure with renewable energy sources, Ukraine Government Portal, May 23, 2023.
- Building Ukrainian resilience: the green reconstruction of Horenka hospital, Green Peace, February 8, 2023.
- The ‘monumental consequences’ of Ukraine joining the EU, Financial Times, August 6, 2023.
- Poland Challenges EU Carbon Border Tax In Court (1), Bloomberg Tax, August 10, 2023.
- European gas prices jumped nearly 40% on Australia supply fears — and analysts expect further rises, CNBC, August 10, 2023.
- 2023 Strategic Foresight Report Sustainability and people’s wellbeing at the heart of Europe’s Open Strategic Autonomy, European Commission, July 6, 2023.
- Poland’s renewables capacity growing but coal still dominates – report, Euractiv, May 14, 2023.
- London’s expanding clean air zone sparks economy-vs-environment fight, Reuters, July 3, 2023.
- Thermal turnaround: German government settles dispute over heating law, Politico, June 13, 2023.
- Speech by President von der Leyen at the Beyond Growth Conference in the European Parliament, European Commission, May 15, 2023.
Laurence Tubiana, For a European Project for Peace, Democracy, and the Climate, Jan 2024,
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