The concept of economic growth has been at the forefront of policy-making for decades, with governments and organizations striving to increase GDP and improve economic performance. However, in recent years, there has been a growing recognition that economic growth alone cannot address the challenges of social inequality, environmental degradation, and resource depletion. This is where the concept of “Beyond Growth” comes in.
The Beyond Growth Conference, to be held at the European Parliament from May 15-17, is a multi-stakeholder event that aims to promote sustainable prosperity policies that go beyond the traditional focus on economic growth. The conference is focused on building a post-growth future-fit EU that balances economic development, social well-being, and planetary boundaries. The aim is to challenge conventional policy-making and shift towards beyond-growth indicators that are more in line with long-term sustainable development goals. This approach is increasingly gaining traction, particularly in the context of the urgent need to address the planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and other forms of environmental degradation.
The conference comes at a critical time when the latest IPCC synthesis report (March 2023) has highlighted the need for policy change and collective grassroots action to address the planetary crisis (Summary for Policymakers, p. 34). The report states that regulatory and economic instruments could support deep emissions reductions if scaled up and applied more widely, but this requires policy change and collective grassroots action at all levels.
Community-led initiatives (CLIs) have an essential role to play in bringing about the transformation of European society, but they cannot do it alone. CLIs often lack a shared political vision, and political apathy or distancing from mainstream politics is prevalent. This represents a barrier when it comes to advocating for systemic change and engaging in deliberative democratic practices with political stakeholders.
To address the planetary crisis, CLIs need to engage with politics and policies on all levels. EU legislation influences about 80% of national legislation, especially in the area of environmental legislation. Therefore, CLIs must engage with EU politics and policies, such as the European Green Deal. This requires active political engagement at the EU level, and ECOLISE was initiated as a common platform for policy advocacy at the EU level on the part of national and international networks of local initiatives.
CLIs are actively fostering collaborations with local governments through strategic actions such as the Municipalities in Transition Project, which uses inclusive governance approaches such as sociocracy to foster collaborative partnerships between local government and community initiatives. However, attempts to legitimise and deepen grassroots action through local government often become counterproductive, creating regulatory pressures and bureaucratic requirements that are hard to sustain, and may be in conflict with fundamental values and goals.
Some CLIs have taken the further step of direct involvement in local government. For example, the community housing initiative Barcelona em Comú was elected to the city council, in turn sparking the Fearless Cities movement of municipal authorities, and with it new potential for transformative change beyond the local scale.
ECOLISE, the European network of community-led initiatives for sustainability and climate action, was initiated, among other things, as a common platform for policy advocacy at the EU level on the part of national and international networks of local initiatives, recognising both the need for active political engagement at that level and the tensions and challenges that such engagement entails
ECOLISE calls for:
- Policymakers involved in the European Green Deal to rebuild lost trust caused by neoliberal politics in the past (e.g. Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)) through coherent policies, a systemic approach (doing away with siloes) and ensuring a multi-governance, multi-sectoral approach, bottom-up approach (local-global).
- Communities to be at the centre of participative democracy and of initiatives such as the EU Climate Pact, Rural Pact and Conference on the Future of Europe, establishing participatory budgeting, citizen councils etc in line with the findings of the latest IPCC synthesis report (March 2023, summary for policymakers, p. 34)
- Greater political support for CLIs to improve access to alternative lifestyles (such as through commons, access to land, housing, resources etc.), using concepts like LEADER/CLLD and smart village as leverage points.
- Lowering the thresholds in order for people to be able to engage politically e.g. through a shorter work week, basic income, tax incentivisation for care work which includes political activities, etc.
The link to the European Green Deal
The EGD offers the potential of a paradigm shift, yet is currently facing a backlash, also due to the energy crisis caused by the Russian war against Ukraine. There is a clear need for support (and improvement) of the EGD by citizens, and initiatives such as the European Climate Pact, the Rural Pact or the Conference on the Future of Europe show that the European Commission acknowledges this.
Beyond Growth and towards active political engagement
The Beyond Growth 2023 Conference is a significant event that seeks to bring together stakeholders to discuss sustainable prosperity policies for a post-growth future-fit EU. To address the planetary crisis, CLIs must engage with politics and policies on all levels, including active political engagement at the EU level. The conference provides a platform for high-level discussions, which can lead to new policy contract proposals and a shift towards beyond-growth indicators. It is an opportunity for all stakeholders to come together, challenge conventional policy-making, and work towards a sustainable future for all.
The Beyond Growth Conference, taking place from May 15-17, 2023, is set to bring together experts, activists, and practitioners from around the world to discuss the urgent need for transformative change in our societies.
The conference has several mutually reinforcing goals, including:
- discussing the significance of economic growth as a policy goal
- shifting the discourse towards future-oriented economic policymaking
- shaping the EU’s path to a more resilient economic agenda
- creating real policy impact with new proposals to establish a new social, economic, and environmental contract, and creating new and unusual alliances between a great diversity of stakeholders