Domingo Jiménez Beltrán: “We have reached the climax for change”

Domingo Jiménez Beltrán: “We have reached the climax for change”

“Green recovery is the great opportunity for the EU”, says the former chief executive of the European Environment Agency

Domingo Jiménez Beltrán:

Domingo Jiménez Beltrán (Zaragoza, 1944) found his place in the world near the Mediterranean and on the Murcian coast. The one who was the first executive director of the European Environment Agency (EEA) wanted to put his ideas into practice on that farm in Águilas that has become an obligatory reference point for what he himself calls “connected self-sufficiency.”

Everything learned and experienced in the last two decades has now been transplanted into his new project, the Castillo de Chuecos Foundation, with the idea of turning a 500-hectare farm into something like “the Central Park of sustainability in the Mediterranean regions. “. From there, Jiménez Beltrán, industrial engineer and pioneer of air quality, water management and nature conservation policies in Spain, reviews the impact of the pandemic and the energy future to reach a conclusion: ” We have reached to the climax for change . “

QUESTION: Will the pandemic be a slowdown or a spur for the energy transition? Isn't there a risk of a reversal with the economic crisis?

ANSWER: Paraphrasing Einstein, we cannot get out of a situation with the same logic that led to it . Our way of producing, consuming and living is what has contributed to transform the events of nature into catastrophes. The 'cv' (coronavirus) and the 'cc' (climate change) have charged us with reason to undertake ambitious and urgent changes. We have reached what I call the climax for change. We cannot return to pre-pandemic 'normality', nor continue to be installed in short-termism. The way out of this crisis is green. Ecology does not have to be seen as an obstacle, but must necessarily be at the center of the new economy.

Q: There is a lot of talk about “green recovery”, but so far we have seen little action. As a former director of the EEA, what should be the role of the European Union?

A: The green recovery is the great opportunity for the EU to lead the necessary global change. There is purpose, shown in the 'Green Deal' ('European Green Deal'). There is a vision, as can be seen in the roadmaps for 2050. And there are community resources, which are doubled in the 2021-27 Multiannual Framework, to exceed two billion euros … But it is very important that the Recovery Plan be a Reconstruction Plan. And it is necessary to guarantee that the investments are as green as possible and environmentally sustainable, according to the new community regulation, to avoid 'greenwashing'. Member states are due to present their national plans before October 15. Will we be up to the task? We will know on that date.

Q: The European Commission this week announced the goal of reducing emissions by 55% by 2030. Is it really within our reach?

A: It is something that was already done with the marked lines. And the truth is that it is possible to aspire to more, to the 60% that the European Parliament demands. And this opportunity can be seized to promote a common energy and climate policy, just as there is a common agricultural policy. The objective would be to consolidate the EU as the first Red State in a modern version …

Q: You advocate a “disruptive” change in the energy sector. Is it viable in the midst of a crisis situation?

A: The energy and electricity sectors (to which the automotive sector is also added, with the emergence of the electric vehicle) want a slow and smooth transition, so that their toxic assets linked to the carbon economy are not devalued too quickly. They want to buy time to maintain their dominant position in the decarbonized economy, in the face of the distributed power facilitated by renewables and connected self-sufficiency at all levels. The most disruptive technology is photovoltaic , as it allows distributed, sustainable, accessible and safe energy. From a certain moment it has also become economically advantageous and empowering of citizens, in the face of energy oligopolies, true centers of power (well called “power stations” in English) and too close to governments.

Q: Explain to us in a few words “connected self-reliance”, that concept that you have been defending and putting into practice for years against all odds …

A: The development and dissemination of connected self-sufficiency I have worked together with Juan Requejo Liberal and we have both applied it individually as well. Let's say it is the alternative to the integrated system controlled by the electricity oligopolies … Thanks to renewable technologies, we can all aspire to generate equivalent energy for our consumption in our immediate surroundings. As far as possible, this should be undertaken in a connected way and with meshed systems, so that it is possible to have external contributions or to dump surpluses.

Q: And is the stigma that they put on self-consumption as a response “little solidarity” in front of the network still weighs?

A: Connected self-reliance is not only more sustainable, but also less vulnerable and more resilient than a centralized system. The coronavirus epidemic has shown the need for resilience of local communities for a desirable future, something that was already evident with the problem of climate change … Connected self-sufficiency allows precisely the creation of more resilient networks, with connected nodes and with diversified capacities. . A network should serve for collaboration, and not for domination and exploitation.

Q: Is this model valid beyond single-family homes? Can it be transplanted to cities and on a large scale?

A: Of course it is applicable to cities and neighborhoods. There are already cities of even a significant size like Copenhagen, whose zero emission plans from 2025 imply connected self-sufficiency from that date. For large cities, the intervention or planning must go through neighborhoods , which are units in many cases with their own socioeconomic entity.

Q: You insisted on putting your ideas into practice on your farm in Águilas (Murcia). To what extent have you achieved your dreams?

A: My idea shared with Ellin (my Norwegian partner) was neither more nor less than trying to live better and in a sustainable way, answering a very Murcian question: “Can this be done?”. What we wanted was to combine quality of life with the effective and efficient use of resources and under the always prevailing concept of connected self-sufficiency, something we achieved in 2002 and reinforced in 2008 with new photovoltaic panels and a wind generator. This allowed us to reach a net balance, so that we now produce more than we consume (including energy for a domestic desalination plant, which can convert up to 10,000 liters extracted from a beach well into drinking water). Most of the water we use to irrigate an orchard of almost one hectare, loaded with fruit trees (orange, lemon, fig, almond trees … and also mangoes, avocados and guava trees). So the answer to the Murcian question is: “It can be done.” Everyone could benefit from the advantages of connected self-reliance if we can organize ourselves.

Q: And now you go a step further with the Center for Sustainability in the Mediterranean Regions … How is the project going?

A: This is my stubbornness, the corporate management of the Chuecos de Arriba farm, in the heart of Sierra de la Almenara. It is a fairly large space, almost 500 hectares. One third is Mediterranean forest, there are Bronze Age settlements and a collapsed Arab fortress. We want to turn it into a demonstration center, with a pioneering solar irrigation project, with water from the Águilas desalination plant, by pumping energy from two photovoltaic plants and a storage tank. The idea is to preserve the natural channels, respect the ecosystem as much as possible and in any case introduce promising native crops (olive trees, carob trees, almond trees) and others more adapted to the rigors of climate change (aloe vera, moringa, argan). It will be managed by the Castillo de Chuecos Foundation and we are in the recruitment phase of “friends”, patrons and active protective partners. The essence of the project will be a campus, with the collaboration of the University of Murcia and the Polytechnic University of Cartagena, with the rehabilitation of the house-farm with maximum ecological criteria. The goal is to sow knowledge of the territory and share it, and incidentally promote a change in the management models of natural resources. Something like the Central Park of the Mediterranean.

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