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1.11.2012 | Four days, three workshops, hundred participants, thirteen European countries represented, thirty-five presentations. These are the figures for Energyscapes, the event on renewable energy, landscapes and civil participation that was held in Bonn (Germany) from October the 27th to the 30th.
The meeting was organised by CivilScape together with “Bund Heimat und Umwelt” and in cooperation with the CivilScape members “Deutscher Rat für Landespflege”, “Rheinischer Verein fur Denkmalpflege und Landschaftsschutz” and “Bundesverband Beruflicher Naturschutz”. Moreover, the event had the support of the Europe for Citizen Programme of the European Union together with the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation with the funding of the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.
The conference was introduced by two preparatory activities: on the 27th the implementation of the European Landscape Convention (ELC) in different countries was discussed during a workshop held at the Siebengebirgsmuseum in Köningswinter. On the 28th a field trip was organized for visiting several examples of energy landscapes in the Bonn-Cologne region and for discussing the spatial impact of energy production and distribution. In just a matter of few kilometres the participants experienced a real time-capsule journey: from an gigantic open cast lignite pit to a brand new wind farm, from high-tech power plans to a 18th-century water driven hammer-mill, from billionaire multinational companies to a small scale wood-chip-fuelled power station.
On the 29th, the conference was opened by the CivilScape’s president, Inge Gotzmann, by the president of BHU, Herlind Gundelach and by the welcoming speech of Axel Voss, member of the European Parliament for the constituency Mittelrhein, who briefly introduced the key-topics of the meeting. “According to the European Union’s target for 2020, the proportion of final energy consumption from renewable sources has to be increased to 20% at the same time that greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced by 20%. But the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is posing new challenges to our countries” Mr. Voss said. “Energy production is shifting from centralised, highly efficient power plans to a more decentralised, weather-dependent, wide-scattered array of energy sources and this is going to have an enormous impact on the way we transport and store energy that will therefore change the elements of our cultural landscape”.
Maguelonne Dejeant-Pons, head of the Council of Europe’s Cultural Heritage, Landscape and Spatial Planning Division, gave instead an overview about how the ELC can be used both in assessing new guidelines for spatial planning in times of energy transition and in strengthening civil society participation. Quoting the final document of the 2009 Council of Europe’s Workshop of Workshops (“Landscape driven forces”, Malmö, Sweden 2009) Dejeant-Pons underlined how the end of the fossil fuels era will inevitably create new landscapes and therefore it will force us “to change our perception, to rethink the use of the territory” but it also will create the need “of understanding how energy landscapes of the past were created”.
From Scotland to Cyprus, from Portugal to Macedonia, from Sweden to Italy, from the Netherland to Germany and everywhere in between. The thirty-five speakers at the Bonn conference contributed to the discussion with an impressive, highly interesting array of studies, experiences, approaches and insights. A miscellaneous of stories about how the growth of renewable energy production is shaping – and sometimes shaking – the European cultural landscapes and how the participation of citizens in the planning processes is still a controversial matter in many countries. The majority of cases brought to the attention of the audience were about the impact of wind turbines and solar panels but the competition between food and biofuels production were also highlighted in the debate. Several peculiar regional projects (for instance the transition from one lignite-fired power plant to solar fields in the Macedonian province of Bertola) were presented side by side with a transcontinental initiative for a new distribution grid that should include 3500 km new lines linking Northern Europe to Middle East and the Sahara desert.
Good examples in which the implementation of the ELC had really contribute to mitigate conflicts between residents and authorities were described together with cases where any form of civil participation are still considered by planners and decision-makers as an intolerable annoyance.
The idea that the transition to renewable energy should be seen more as a step back in the past instead of a leap into the future it was also taken into discussion. The exploitation of wood, wind, water or biomasses for energy supply has been a constant throughout human history and it has been responsible for the creation of many of the landscapes we are now so use to. Many times in history the balance within energy consumption and production has been close to collapse and the conflicts, even wars, that has emerged have so much in common to those ones we are going to face in the third millennium.
In the last conference day, the results that emerged from two parallel workshops on best practice examples from civil society in Europe seemed to indicate a common trend: As at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, with the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy Europe is facing a new era of dramatic, intensive changes that once again are transforming the landscapes. These changes appear to citizens mostly as imposed by economical interests rather then inspired by ecological or social needs. Everywhere in Europe the conflict between residents at one side and decision-makers at the other, seems to have similar reasons: citizens do not see local benefits for using renewable energy, they feared the impact of the new infrastructures on tourism or agriculture, they feel themselves excluded by the planning process, they think the new plants are inefficient.
Giving the situation above, here are some of the proposals that emerged from the closing debate.
During the next weeks the results of this conference will be discussed in a number of workshops in Austria, Czech Republic, Italy, Scotland and Sweden. We will keep you informed.
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