“Making the European Green Deal strong and real: Harnessing the power of community-led initiatives and local governments”
ECOLISE’s main policy event took place on 7 November 2023 at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in Brussels. Co-organized by ICLEI Europe -Local Governments for Sustainability- and the EESC, the event was an informal follow-up to the Beyond Growth Conference (European Parliament, Brussels, May 2023) from a grassroots and local government perspective.
ECOLISE -the European network of community-led initiatives on climate change and sustainability – called on EU policy makers to support a swift localisation of a strong and ambitious European Green Deal, harnessing the power of grassroots initiatives. ECOLISE also urged policy makers to make sure that citizens have a choice to live sustainably, which is a human right. These are two of seven key policy demands in ECOLISE’s Time For Collective Action Manifesto, launched on the event. We invite your organization to become a content partner of the manifesto.
Around 500 European policy makers, community-led initiatives, scientists and civil society organisations took part of ECOLISE´s annual policy event. Half a year before the next European Parliament elections, ECOLISE made a strong call to translate the Green Deal into local action through enabling policies that will both contribute to increasing its ambition, while empowering citizens to act for sustainability collectively. ECOLISE also announced the launch of a Europe-wide advocacy campaign in 2024, leading up to the European elections.
“Communities need strong environmental laws to thrive. I was quite shocked when I learned that there is no overarching plan to localize the European Green Deal”, said Nina Klein, ECOLISE’s Policy Lead, at the event in Brussels. This gap, she explained, was the spark for a one year consultation process that has led to the “10 theses on transformative community-led local development policies”. More than 400 contributors from 130 organisations, including around 40 process partners have participated in these deep conversations since September 2022. The Time for collective action Manifesto is an outcome of this process.
The great potential of communities and citizens for achieving the European Green Deal remains largely untapped, as underlined by a recent IPCC report. “Having the right policies, infrastructure and technology in place to enable changes of lifestyles and behaviour can result in a 40-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050” said Felix Creutzig, (Coordinating Lead Author of the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report, Chapter 5).
Sophia Silverton from ICLEI Europe remarked “the local level is a flashpoint, where broad sustainability policies intersect with people’s lives”. She underlined the potential for civil society and local governments to collaborate and unleash socially grounded transformations that respond to everyday concerns.
The discussion built up on the Beyond Growth Conference of May. Its main initiator, Philippe Lamberts, Member of the European Parliament and Co-president of the Greens/European Free Alliance, underlined the political relevance for people to have the right to have a choice to live sustainably, and explained the need for both top-down and bottom-up initiatives to push the European Green Deal forward. Commenting on the ECOLISE Manifesto which advocates for a changed economy focussed on care for people and the planet, Lamberts said: “The current economic model, which is based on growth, is seen as something that has no alternative. And this is dangerous”.
Community-led initiatives as laboratories for social innovation
The Green Deal needs further ambition, offering alternatives to economic growth in the form of diverse localised wellbeing economies, as Amelie Krug from ECOLISE pointed out. Initiatives such as the Irish Wellbeing Economy Hub, co-founded by Cultivate, already show practical solutions which are waiting for implementation, as Oscar Mooney explained.
The upcoming European elections will be a make or break moment for the European Green Deal, and support by communities is key. Erika Zárate of Resilience Earth shared insights from the Garrotxa region in Spain and pointed out that involvement of citizens and participatory democracy can overcome political divisions and create strong shared visions of territorial development. This is an experience shared by Marie Hélène Pillot, member of the community-led initiative Colibri (France) and coordinator of the “Territories of experimentation” which connects local stakeholders in deliberative processes.
It is thus crucial for citizens and local governments to have a say in shaping European policies such as the European Green Deal, and in localising them, adapting them to the specifics of each place -an ECOLISE Manifesto demand shared by all panelists, including Tom Meeuws, deputy mayor of Antwerp (BE) and Sabrina Dekker (IR) from the Campaigners Lighthouse City (an EU-funded project) and member of the Council of Dublin, Ireland. Both cities – Antwerp and Dublin – are participating in the “100 climate neutral Cities” mission by the EU.
Anastasiya Volkova (UA) shared her experience coordinating the Green Road Project from the Global Ecovillage Network, which started hosting refugees only days after Russia had started the war against Ukraine. Over 300 refugees have decided to stay at the ecovillages at least until the war is over. She emphasized the importance of the international strong network for the success of the project: “We had friends in many countries and they helped because they knew us and they trusted us”. Christian Jonet of the Liège Food Belt (BE), an initiative inspired by the Transition Network, agreed on the importance of strong relationships as the fertile soil for social innovation and cohesion.
Francisco Guerreiro (P), Member of the European Parliament with the Greens/European Free Alliance, stressed the need to take these collective initiatives on board at EU level. “Communities show that change is possible. I would say that a lot of MEPs in the EU parliament don’t know about this reality –but they should”. Ilonka Marselis, energy expert and member of the editorial board of the ECOLISE Manifesto, underlined that this is why community-led initiatives need more support for lobbying and advocacy, especially on EU levels, as right now there is no level playing field for the voice of civil society to be heard, regarding the huge lobbying power of fossil fuel industries.
Please, download ECOLISE’s press release available in English, Spanish, French, German and Portuguese and share it with your media contacts for wider reach. Please also note ICLEI Europe’s press release.
Please find here the full programme including speakers of ECOLISE’s main policy event 2023 , as well as the presentation slides.
Watch the recap video (3:40 minutes)
(cf. speakers’ biographies in the full programme)
(in chronological order)
Mieke Elzenga, LiberTerra, ECOLISE Council Co-President – “We (at ECOLISE) recognize the ecological, socio-economic and political threat to defending life on planet Earth”.
Sophia Silverton, Expert ICLEI Europe Just Transition – “We know that cities and towns are very powerful forces for implementing European frameworks and we also know that they are under-resourced and unable to fulfill their potential”.
Peter Schmidt (BE), Member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), President of the NAT (Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment) Section – “The only thing which is working, and I know this as a trade unionist, is one element which brings the people really together: solidarity (…). We have to bring the society together”.
Philippe Lamberts (BE), Member of the European Parliament, Co-President of the Greens/European Free Alliance, Co-Organizer of the Beyond Growth Conference – “The way we are structuring the economy deprives economic actors of choice, so enabling choice means opening up for real alternatives to the economic system”.
Felix Creutzig (GER), Coordinating Lead Author of the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report Demand services and social aspects of mitigation – “End-use interventions can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40-70% in 2050”
Ilonka Marselis (NL), Expert at Energie Samen (Dutch energy cooperatives) – “I’ve seen time and again that the earlier you involve energy communities in making local policies for the energy transition, the more successful the projects are, the more spin-off benefits they have”.
Oscar Mooney (IR), Cultivate – Sustainable Ireland Co-operative & Just Transition Researcher – “With imagination comes the enactment of new systems, different types of innovation and things that really prioritize the well-being of our societies and our economy”.
Christian Jonet (BE), Liège Food Belt Coordinator – “Quality food comes with a higher price and that’s the problem we have to face in the future“.
Anastasiya Volkova (UA), Global Ecovillage Network Ukraine & Green Road projects coordinator – “What we did became possible thanks to the high solidarity of ecological communities and their ability to be sustainable and self-sufficient”.
Francisco Guerreiro (P), Member of the European Parliament, Greens / European Free Alliance – “We are in this political narrative that the only way to go is this one and you just have to adapt. These communities can show that it’s possible to change and that we all benefit from that change”.
Piroska Kállay (HU), EESC member of Group II (workers group) & President of the Permanent Group on Sustainable Food Systems – “The climate pact should enable and empower people to change systems”.
Tom Meeuws (BE), Deputy Mayor and Alderman in the city of Antwerp – “We are leaving people behind in the most awful way you can imagine”.
Andries Gryffroy (BE), Member of the Flemish Parliament, Member of the European Committee of the Regions (rapporteur: Opinion: Fostering the potential and synergies of EU Green Deal initiatives for regions and cities ) – “The lack of access to direct funding is a huge problem”.
Sabrina Dekker (IR), Climate Action Coordinator at Dublin City Council – “One of the challenges to our success is actually our national government not listening to us”.
Erika Zárate (ES), Co-founder of the Resilience Earth Cooperative – “Community-led initiatives are able to mobilize both public and political will in support of climate-neutral goals”.
Maria Serra Olivella, Youth Climate Activist, European Climate Pact Ambassador – “I do not want to have to work for companies that are against my future. I should be able to work and be able to be given opportunities that are in alignment with a better future for myself and for my generation”.
Watch the full-length video of the event (3:55:00 hours)