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Climate justice means energy democracy

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No matter the outcome of COP21, London moves forward with campaign for local power, writes Adriana Swain.

As the 2015 UN climate talks in Paris enter their final days, a new campaign for energy democracy is launching this week across the channel. Switched On London is a new grassroots initiative that aims to put publicly-owned renewable energy on the political map for London in 2016.

Past years’ climate negotiations have left a wake of disillusionment, and this year's talks are beginning to look no different. Analysts are currently projecting the deal to allow for a stunningly unambitious 2.7 degree Celsius increase by the end of the century – over a full degree higher than what delegates from small islands say is necessary to preserve their homes. As sea levels continue rising, world leaders under-commit to targets, watering down agreements with false corporate solutions while systematically excluding the voices of civil society, indigenous populations and low income countries.

Beyond the conference, however, grassroots movements still hold the power to demand a transition to a more just and sustainable world. Switched On London confronts the issues arising from COP21 by insisting that no matter the outcome of climate negotiations, the power to push forward climate justice rests on the ground with local communities. Our view is that democratized public control of energy is a key pathway to climate justice. So, we’re calling on the Greater London Authority (GLA) – in collaboration with London boroughs – to set up is a new publicly-owned energy supply company that is democratically controlled by those who use and work in the energy supply directly.

The vision contrasts starkly to the current British dystopia where six giant companies control 90 percent of the country’s domestic energy share and supply to over 50 million businesses and domestic customers. The ‘Big Six’ energy companies have become infamous for their monopolistic tendencies, with steadily increasing prices for consumers alongside a 10-fold increase in profits since 2007. These trends continue despite one million Londoners living in fuel poverty.

As Switched On London goes live this week, the campaign is also revealing a secret partnership that has been established with one of the Big Six energy companies, RWE Npower, under London Mayor Boris Johnson’s supposedly new and innovative architecture for energy independence. The partnership establishes Greater London Authority as a License Lite energy supplier, allowing it to outsource locally produced energy to Npower – a company with a grim record of tax avoidance, extreme fossil fuels and terrible customer satisfaction.

Partnerships with the Big Six hold no promise for the clean, fair and democratic energy system we need. The alternative strategy behind Switched On London follows the logic of other successful public energy campaigns: removing the underlying motive of returning shareholder profits will bring down bills while facilitating the structural flexibility needed to reinvest in renewables. Following in the tracks of Germany’s impressive public and renewable energy transition, Nottingham and Bristol have already launched their own public energy suppliers. The first plan of action for Switched On London is to make energy democracy part of the debate in the 2016 London mayoral election. A series of participatory community forums and public meetings will be announced at the start of next year to begin the process of reclaiming local power. As London continues to lag behind in reaching its own climate targets, we hope to reverse this by creating a real alternative to the Big Six; an alternative that sees energy produced according to the needs of people, workers and the environment, not for profit.

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