A reflection about leadership tools for the battle against climate change in the electricity sector

by Ioana Bejan, Romania (in Denmark), ELP 2015
Written on July 21, 2015.

“Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.” (http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis, Summary for policymakers)

Renewable energy sources continue to expand their shares globally. Yet 80% of total energy consumption still comes from fossil fuel combustion http://www.iea.org/topics/climatechange/. There are encouraging developments globally especially due to recent innovations and cost decrease for solar and wind power technologies.

I arrived confident at UC Berkeley few weeks ago. After all, I am studying in Denmark and working in Germany. Both Denmark and Germany have set ambitious targets both in terms of GHG reduction and renewable energy deployment and statistically, both countries are on the right path to achieve their goals.

Without any doubt, the energy transition in Germany serves as an important test case for the rest of the world. However, part of the success in statistics is overshadowed by the increasing dissatisfaction in some communities, where onshore wind farms have been built.

In the second week of the ELP I found myself challenged by Dr. Ernesto Sirolli’s speech: “you shouldn’t go where you are not wanted.” I was intrigued because I never doubted that climate change is a serious threat and that renewable energy deployment should have priority. Can we afford to wait for communities to ask for clean electricity?

The answer to my question came during Susan Carpenter’s lectures on Collaborative Leadership for Sustainable Change. A key component is often missing from project planning. It is not enough to identify project sites and give incentives to the private sector to develop the projects. In order to accept change, the community has to be integrated in the process.

A collaborative process involves all major stakeholders, is context specific and focuses on participants’ interests rather than their positions. Participants show mutual respect, educating each other about the problem and the leadership is committed and facilitative. Decisions should be made in consensus as opposed to voting. Following these key principles, stakeholders will own the process and the solution. It is therefore critical that not only public and private actors, but also community representatives are involved in the process and decide for themselves whether a project is acceptable or not. Using a collaborative approach requires that more time be allocated in planning renewable energy projects. However, sustainable local practices create acceptance and avoid future tensions.

This is the most important lesson that I will take with me from the ELP. I strongly believe that in the case of renewable energy deployment, local solutions solve global problems.