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European Sustainable Energy Week
News article12 June 2023European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency

Out with the old, in with the bold: the road to autonomy is through sustainability

By Bertrand Piccard, Chairman of the Solar Impulse Foundation.

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In June, European ministers will submit updates to their National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs). This is a message to them from associations representing the renewables and energy efficiency industries in Europe. In support of them, Bertrand Piccard, explorer and founder of Solar Impulse foundation, argues that pioneering action is vital for a successful energy transition.  

A few weeks ago, following his trip to China, President Macron of France spoke of the importance of European strategic autonomy. Though unrelated, it came a few weeks after a report[1] that showed European countries lagging behind China and the United States in all critical technology sectors that were identified, indicating that there was catching up to do in this area. However, there is one domain where Europe can truly lead: energy policy. 

After years of being a priority that no one actually did anything about, it is finally entering the realm of real, hard and consequential politics. Europe has been central to this shift, thanks to efforts like the European Green Deal, the Climate Border Adjustment Mechanism and the Fit for 55 legislative proposals. 

But now is the time to consolidate those bold initial steps and put in place an enabling environment that will allow policy and ambition to align. Because while innovation matters, if you do not create the conditions to drive the uptake of those innovations, then it matters a lot less. Europe should focus on being the leader in the uptake of climate solutions. 

For Ministers and decision makers across Europe, the next opportunity to do so is this June when they must submit updates to National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs). 

That is why 20 industrial associations from the cleantech sector have come together to propose 146 recommendations to help Member States reach their goals to deploy renewable energies and increase energy efficiency. 

We come from different sectors, but many of the recommendations apply broadly. Our objective is to try and cut through the noise, to help decision makers recognise how they too can grasp this opportunity and use the ecological transition to be a springboard to greater autonomy and prosperity. 

This moment should also mark a shift in the narrative of the ecological transition; the technologies available to us now mean that it should be recognised for what it is; exciting and laden with potential for economic growth and improved quality of life, and not seen as a burdensome or demanding sacrifice. 

However, the opportunity needs to be seized, as there is a risk of squandering all the early good work through indecision. 


Take the surprising last-minute opposition from the German government regarding the ban on the post-2035 sale of combustion engine vehicles as a case in point, and compare that with the action taken by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set emissions limits and massively drive up adoption of electric vehicles by 2032.[2

This is designing policy actually aligned to a government’s climate objectives. 

Backpedalling like that shown in Germany is exactly the kind of hesitancy that allows other governments to steal a march on you. But if you stick to your bold decisions, reaching the objective you had set out with at the start, it will give you vastly more space to manoeuvre in the future. 

Consider the conflict in Ukraine and the subsequent energy crisis, or the decision by OPEC+ to cut oil production at a time when inflation was just starting to get under control. You can see these sorts of crises coming. Yet had Europe done more in the last decade to decouple emissions growth from economic growth, it would have decoupled its fate from actors that do not share its strategic interests.  

There is no better opportunity to change that dynamic than the clean energy transition. Yes, it offers a better quality of life to citizens, more jobs, and a more vibrant economy, but it also weakens the cards held by Europe’s competitors and allows it to act as a counterbalance in an increasingly complex and competitive political environment. 


As Frans Timmermans and I wrote at the start of the pandemic, “clean technologies are a massive economic and industrial opportunity [for] a brighter future [rather] than going back to a fossil-fuel based economy riven with uncertainty and unpredictability.”[3] 

When Solar Impulse Foundation set out to find 1,000 financially viable solutions to protect the environment, we did not know how prescient this activity would be. They represent far more than just technologies; collectively, they afford us the opportunity to make different strategic choices. By producing our own clean energy, being more efficient, building smarter, re-using now-wasted resources – a new world of choices opens up. And all this while contributing to economic growth. 

This is the kind of strategic intelligence that Europe needs to harness to take its place as the pre-eminent global player in the ecological transition – to achieve its strategic autonomy. That is why it must build on the progress of recent years and act decisively, starting this summer with Member States submitting their energy and climate plans. 


About the author:

Psychiatrist and explorer, Bertrand Piccard made history by accomplishing two aeronautical firsts – flying around the world non-stop in a balloon, and more recently in a solar-powered airplane plane without fuel. Pioneer in his way to consider ecology through the lens of profitability, he began working in the early 2000s to promote renewable energies and clean technologies. As Chairman of the Solar Impulse Foundation, he has succeeded in his mission to select 1000 profitable solutions to protect the environment and support clean growth. 

This text is supported by Euroheat & Power, the European Geothermal Energy Council, the European Solar Thermal Electricity Association (ESTELA), Ocean Energy Europe and SolarPower Europe in the framework of the Solar Impulse Foundation work on National Energy and Climate Plans. More information: HERE.  

Disclaimer: This article is a contribution from a partner. All rights reserved.
Neither the European Commission nor any person acting on behalf of the Commission is responsible for the use that might be made of the information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) only and should not be considered as representative of the European Commission’s official position.

[1] The Guardian, March 2, 2023, China leading US in technology race in all but a few fields, thinktank finds

[2] The Verge, 10 April, 2023. The end is nigh for gas powered cars  

[3] Euractiv, 16 April, 2020. Which world do we want after Covid 19? 


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