Beyond Growth 2023 Conference – What’s in it for community-led initiatives?

The Beyond Growth 2023 Conference aligns with several of the ten theses of ECOLISE:

  • The need for systemic and transformative approaches to sustainability, which the conference aims to promote by discussing and co-creating policies for sustainable prosperity in Europe.
  • The need to move away from the harmful focus on economic growth as the sole basis for development, which the conference seeks to challenge by redefining societal goals across the board.
  • The importance of involving diverse stakeholders, including policymakers, academia, social partners, and civil society organisations, which the conference aims to do to foster discussion across institutional boundaries and with European citizens.

We hope to see many actors of Community-led initiatives join this conference to make it a success!

Goals of the conference & their alignment with ECOLISE’s 10 Theses Towards Transformative Community-Led Local Development Policies

  • Discuss the significance of economic growth as a policy goal and deconstruct underlying assumptions of GDP being the only mean to achieve economic policy objectives.
  • Shift the discourse towards future-oriented economic policymaking and the benefits of beyond-growth indicators for a well-being European economy.
  • Shape the EU’s path to a more resilient economic agenda in line with the European Green Deal objectives and the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Create real policy impact with new proposals to establish a new social, economic and environmental contract.
  • Create new and unusual alliances between a great diversity of stakeholders.

Thesis 3 “Why is it important to acknowledge extractive economic systems – and the prioritisation of growth and GDP – as the root cause of the planetary crisis?” fully aligns with these goals. We argue that “economic growth has reached its limits in terms of providing benefits to human well-being and environmental sustainability.” This implies that economic growth, as measured by GDP, is not enough to ensure human well-being and environmental sustainability. Therefore, it is necessary to question the assumption that economic growth should be the sole focus of economic policy.

By challenging the assumption that GDP growth is the only way to achieve economic policy objectives, policymakers and stakeholders can explore alternative measures of economic progress, such as well-being indicators, social and environmental sustainability metrics, and resource efficiency indicators. This can lead to more balanced and holistic policy-making, which considers not only economic growth but also the well-being of citizens and the planet.

Thesis 7 proposes the need for a strong connection between local and European levels of governance, including binding local plans for socio-ecological transformation. This emphasizes the importance of multi-level governance and the recognition of the role of local initiatives in promoting sustainable development. Additionally, Thesis 7 suggests that the establishment of bioregional approaches in policies such as territorial and urban development can support the connection between rural and urban areas and enable the emergence of self-organised provisioning systems rooted in the distinctive ecological, social, and cultural features of each place.

Finally, we argue that Community-led initiatives offer valuable perspectives and visions of transitions towards a good life. Many CLIs have a holistic sense of sustainable development, consistent with the more widely held notion of “living a good life within planetary boundaries”2. The ecovillage design mandala and map of regeneration, for example, combine social, ecological, economic and cultural (worldview) aspects, along with an integrative perspective that combines the four. Permaculture is rooted in three overlapping ethics of Earth Care, People Care and Fair Shares, realised through design processes that treat nature as both the primary source of inspiration and main collaborating partner. The Transition movement makes such thinking the basis for radical revisioning and revitalisation of local communities, rooted in principles such as inclusivity, social justice and free sharing of knowledge and ideas. Nurturing relationships – among humans, but also between humans and their natural environments – is central to all such CLI activity, transformative social innovations rooted in co-creation, mutual inspiration, and empowerment, through both local and translocal collaboration.

The link to the European Green Deal 

The EU is working towards the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, yet without an overall prioritisation of a healthy biosphere, and including SDG 8 with its demand for sustained economic growth. Arguably, the European Green Deal is the main instrument for implementing the 2030 Agenda – and the EU’s new definition of “sustainable development” in itself. The EU has started to mainstream this notion of sustainable development into all its policies, including local development policies within Europe. One example: The Rural Pact and its goals as part of the Long Term Vision for rural areas embrace a holistic notion of sustainable development, with social, economic and environmental aspects. Yet the vision and its action plan lack the prioritisation of a healthy biosphere as a prerequisite for all human activities (see thesis 2), as well as a strong notion of intergenerational and social justice. Also, rural development is still funded and defined as part of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which still places “competitive agriculture” as its priority. The EGD’s Farm to Fork strategy with its focus on sustainable food systems is meant as a corrective to the CAP, yet it is currently blocked mainly due to vested interests from agro-industries. Leading NGOs such as the EEB are warning that the new CAP (starting in 2023) will not deliver on the EGD.

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