“I have been talking about it – they did it”: The Third Industrial Revolution in Nord-Pas de Calais

The Nord-Pas de Calais region hosted a session at the Cities & Regions Pavilion – TAP2015 at COP21 on Tuesday 2 December.

The session presented the implementation and impacts of the Third Industrial Revolution in the Nord-Pas de Calais region of France. The Third Industrial Revolution, discussed primarily by American economist and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin, foresees the merger of communications technologies and renewable energy sources for a sustainable future. In this vision, a switch to clean energy production creates businesses and jobs, but also leads to a fundamental reordering of human relationships from hierarchical to lateral power, changing how we conduct business, govern society, educate our children and engage in civic life.

Guy Hannebique, facilitator and Deputy Director General of the Regional Council of Nord-Pas de Calais, opened the session by reminding the audience that the region had suffered heavily from the end of the coal mining industry in France in the 1980s. This evolution affected the life of the communities in a drastic way. However, Hannebique suggested that this shift explains why the Nord-Pas de Calais became a pioneer for sustainability in France, with the first wind turbines of the country and the first High Environmental Quality certification in 1995.

Mentalities subsequently began to evolve, and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) slowly lost some of its importance as a development indicator, in favor of the Human Development Index (HDI) for example. The Third Industrial Revolution is the concrete translation of this evolution. Overall, it took 20 years to move from recognition of the issue to decisions. However, as Jeremy Rifkin expressed in a video message, the transition is timely, as “government around the world cannot let humanity down.”

Claude Lenglet, Project Manager at the Regional Council of Nord-Pas de Calais, emphasized that the region’s transition was particularly striking given its industrial history. He reminded the audience that in order to produce the same wealth, the region needed to use 58% more energy.

This is where the region’s master plan came into play. Inspired by Jeremy Rifkin, developed in 2013 and implemented in 2014, the masterplan is the result of a bottom-up approach. It is built on Jeremy Rifkin’s five pillars: renewable energy, energy-producing buildings, energy storage, smart networks and mobility, and energy efficiency. In 2013 the plan included 25 projects; today, there are between 250 and 300. Lenglet flagged seven projects, including a new hospital located in Loos en Gohelle. The hospital aims to be energetically self-sufficient by 2050.

The Mayor of the City of Loos en Gohelle, Jean-Francois Caron, explained how his city is a perfect representation of the Third Industrial Revolution. Loos en Gohelle chose not to deny its past, including its coal mining and associated pollution. Instead, the city tried to reflect on its former identity. Without denying its specificity, the city tried to create a new path to development. It currently hosts a competitivity area called TEAM² (Technologies de l’Environnement Appliquées aux Matières et aux Matériaux), and more than 200 jobs were created in the area of sustainable development.

As Jeremy Rifkin commented: “I have been talking about that for 30 years, they did it”. In Nord-Pas de Calais, the Third Industrial Revolution is on its way.


Featured photo of Loos-en-Gohelle courtesy of Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick via Wikimedia Commons.

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