EU governments must do more to involve their citizens in climate planning

The European Commission is currently preparing its recommendations for the draft national energy and climate plans (NECPs) of the 28 EU Member States. The NECPs are pivotal in driving European countries’ low-carbon transition for decades to come. It seems evident that stakeholders and the public should have a strong say in shaping such important plans, but have they had the opportunity to do so?

LIFE PlanUp tracks the NECP process in its focus countries Romania, Poland, Hungary, Italy and Spain.

Alongside the quality of the plans, the project also looks at the public participation dimension: have there been early and effective opportunities for stakeholders and the public to contribute to the design of the NECPs?

Our assessment found that in all five countries, governments fell short of providing adequate public participation opportunities in the run-up to the submission of the draft plans to the EU Commission.

In Romania, the government provided a 10-day public consultation on the draft plan before it was submitted to the EU Commission, giving respondents this short time-frame to send written comments to the Ministry of Energy. According to the government, it included stakeholders’ input in the draft plan. However, it does not provide detailed information on which comments were integrated to what extent in the draft NECP.

In Poland, there was no possibility for the public and stakeholders to have a say on the draft plan before it was sent to the EU Commission.

The same was the case for the Italian draft NECP, although, in Italy, local and regional authorities received general information on the guidelines of the draft plan before it was submitted. However, the local and regional authorities were not provided with a real opportunity to react to it.

In Spain, only a few stakeholders had the chance to shape the draft NECP. At a round-table discussion in Madrid, organised by PlanUp on 21 February, the Ministry for the Ecological Transition (MITECO) stated that it had held informal consultations with energy utilities before submitting the draft plan to the Commission.

Finally, in Hungary, the government reached out to a selected group of stakeholders in the elaboration of its draft plan.  According to the Ministry of Innovation and Technology, a dedicated questionnaire on the draft NECP was sent to 130 stakeholders in August 2018 with one month time to respond.  Industry associations, research bodies, NGOs, associations of municipalities, the association of county councils, the capital Budapest as well as other stakeholders were solicited by the government for this informal consultation. However, the public could not participate in this process.

Furthermore, according to civil society organisations and local authorities, the questionnaire only included general information about the NECP and not the full draft. The government has also not given any feedback about the extent to which stakeholders’ replies to the questionnaire were then included in the draft NECP submitted to the EU Commission.

Still time to improve

While there were insufficient opportunities for public participation in the five focus countries for the draft NECPs, there is still time for these countries to do better.

It is thus important that when finalising the energy and climate plans, governments ensure strong participation of the public and stakeholders, in particular, local and regional authorities and civil society organisations.

The European Commission is expected to publish its NECP recommendations by the end of June, which leaves plenty of time for governments to rework and improve their plans before their final version is due by the end of 2019. A broad consultation with the public, coupled with multi-level energy and climate dialogue with all stakeholders, will be key to ensure that the plans obtain a high level of public ownership and support.