Cities, democracy and energy sovereignty: global challenges, local responses

Publication date:
Daniel Chavez, Research fellow, Transnational Institute

Climate change poses a threat that is increasingly evident and dramatic. At the opening of the last Conference of the Parties (COP24) in Katowice, Poland, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres expressed the urgency clearly: “We are in deep trouble”, he said “we are collectively still moving too slowly – and even in the wrong direction” (UN, 2018). The good news is that, particularly at municipal level, some governments recognise the global challenge, are moving in the right direction and have accepted that responses to climate change must also aim to extend social justice, deepen sovereignty and radicalise democracy. In July 2018, Barcelona Energia – the Catalan capital’s new metropolitan electricity distributor – began operating. By creating the largest public renewable energy company in Spain, Barcelona City Council has enabled the city to unplug itself from the electrical oligopoly. This new municipal operator intends to contribute to changing the “energy model” as part of “a far-reaching strategy that involves recovering energy sovereignty by promoting public and citizen energy production, democratising access to it and managing it as a public service”.  As well as supplying the municipality’s official buildings, facilities, street lighting and traffic lights, from January 2019 the new public company can have thousands of the city’s residents as customers.