Movement or footnote to history? An experience report on how to join the Covenant of Mayors.
The idea is still as simple as galvanizing. Instead of waiting for central governments to set climate and energy goals, gathering towns and cities with already existing SEAPs seems to be much more promising, if you head to really change the energy landscape of Europe. So, it was indeed a very successful approach of the European Commission, when the CoM started in 2008. The number of signatory communities reached 1.000 already at the end of 2009. More and more countries got involved, even those like Georgia, Bosnia-Herzegovina or Ukraine with no realistic EU accession perspective. There was a time, when European mayors were in risk of being stigmatized, if their municipality did not yet sign and commit to an emission reduction target.
The CoM, represented by its office, became more professional. It was considered the spearhead of a growing movement to establish a bottom-up energy transition in Europe and beyond. A very good sign was to open the doors also for provinces, regions, metropolitan areas, groupings of local authorities. With this step, CoM welcomed also those smaller towns, whose administration was not able to achieve the process for its own.
This was also a good reason for all eight mayors of the “Energy working group Aller-Leine-Tal” to be happy. Since the mid-1990s, this region has elaborated a common energy strategy. The beginning was a LEADER project, which was mainly focused on tourism. All eight municipalities are located along the rivers Aller and Leine, which is a traditional tourism area, and joint forces to improve the tourism conditions. Quickly, the big renewable energy potential of the Aller-Leine-Tal (e.g. bioenergy and wind power) was also part of the cooperation and it became obvious that energy could generate an increase in regional income. A high-ranked steering committee was created to meet at least twice a year and several projects led to new renewable energy facilities and innovative citizen-driven financing concepts. Since 2007, the region took part in deENet´s project “100%-Renewable-Energy-Regions Germany” network and was one of the most active and innovative participants. Therefore it was also chosen to take the role of an experienced territory within the European project “100 RES”.
The international network of the Aller-Leine-Tal (ALT) was on a low level already existing before the project. Foreign delegations visited the region and from time to time, one of the “energy mayors” got the chance to represent the region outside Germany.
On this background, the project expectation for each participating region to join the CoM was highly appreciated. Some months after the project start in spring 2011, the ALT tried to adhere the CoM with option 2 (“provinces, regions, metropolitan areas, groupings”). Because of the obvious energy focus, the achievements, the long history of its cooperation and the existence of a SEAP-like energy study, nobody doubted that the CoM was the right institution to become part of. Rights and duties of a signature were clear and accepted, the membership in a renowned international network could be the cream topping on ALT´s energy cake.
Picture 1: ALT mayors after their second CoM adhesion signature in February 2014.
For CoM adhesion signature - official document, click here:http://100ee.deenet.org/fileadmin/redaktion/100ee/Bilder/100ee_Europa/2014_03_17_AdhesionForm_CoM_ALT.pdf
Unfortunately, it turned out the CoM is not as promising as it seems to be – at least for the ALT. The first adhesion was rejected in 2012 – and a second adhesion form was also rejected in 2014, although official statements implicated a revised approach towards joining regions.
It is not even the single fact of not being accepted that left the ALT´s mayors disappointed, it is the official reason of the CoM. We are not talking about a lack of renewable energy and emission reduction targets. Nor is it the lack of involvement of official representatives or a missing technical support. The only reason for the CoM not to accept the ALT is its geographical coverage. As seen in the picture below, the eight ALT municipalities are spread on three districts (Verden, Heidekreis, Celle), of which none is inside the consortium completely.
Picture 2: Location of the ALT distributed over three districts in Lower Saxony.
Against the background of the historical activity focus along the rivers, this geographical scope is not a surprise, but logical.
The CoM however is apparently not asking for history or well-established structure, it seems to be stuck in a bureaucratic procedure of inflexibility. If it really aims to be a movement for the whole continent, this behavior is contradictive. Taking into account the exclusion of declared and accepted energy regions with a vivid work rhythm like the ALT, signs rather indicate that the self-set target of the CoM is at risk. Instead of contributing to a real energy turnaround in Europe, it might end up as a failed approach, as a footnote to the history of climate policy.