Building momentum for a mass climate mobilisation: reflections on a decade of ECOLISE

Ten years ago, on Europe Day, a small group of pioneers gathered in Brussels to share a vision: more widespread opportunities for engagement in local community-led initiatives were needed to catalyse a socially just transformation in Europe. This was the beginning of ECOLISE, the European network for community-led initiatives on climate change and sustainability. As we mark the 10th anniversary of this journey, we reflect on the evidence that suggests that without such a mobilisation, deeper and sustained climate action will not be possible.

Co-funders after registering ECOLISE as non-profit. Brussels, 2014.

In 2014, just before the Paris Agreement, there was hope that we could keep the global temperature rise to below 1.5°C. Today, we are dangerously close to crossing that threshold. Already in 2023, the global average temperature reached 1.45°C above the pre-industrial levels, the highest temperature ever recorded. Meanwhile, the frequency of extreme weather events is intensifying and communities across the globe are on the frontline.

The transformation we hoped for hasn’t materialised. Governments have fallen short in their commitments to climate action, which means the scale and pace of action now needed in terms of both mitigation and adaptation is significantly greater than it was 10 years ago. At the same time, however, public discontent with government responses to climate change is growing. Farmer protests, opposition to wind and solar farms, and resistance to environmental regulations all point to a deeper issue – people feel left out of the conversation.

In recent months, Europe has seen some of its biggest public demonstrations, both in favour of, and in opposition to more ambitious climate policy. How policy makers respond to this challenge is now critical. As pressure builds on both sides there is a danger of opting for quick-fixes. We need to find common ground and build a sense of shared ownership.

Now, more than ever, we need more inclusive democratic processes. We need to shift the conversation away from winners and losers towards a sense of shared ownership and responsibility, where the burdens and rewards are shared in a fair and transparent way. We need conversations in local communities and neighbourhoods that go beyond simply cutting emissions to envisioning a fair and sustainable society.

Over the past decade, ECOLISE has been at the centre of advocating for such a community-led approach in Europe. The ECOLISE network brings together thousands of communities that are already showcasing how we can live well within planetary boundaries by redesigning our food, energy, mobility systems and more.

Later in 2024, ECOLISE will launch the first phase of a new Regenerative Communities Fund, to support the further development of this Europe-wide ecosystem of communities and actors that are demonstrating what a fair and just transition can look like in every kind of community. It will also expand the training of Community Climate Coaches, who can convene and facilitate collective conversations and action in these communities.

In parallel, ECOLISE is facilitating a broader policy dialogue. It recently launched an advocacy campaign built around the Time for Collective Action Manifesto, the result of a co-creation process that ran during 2022 and 2023 involving over 900 people from 135 organisations. The Manifesto calls for transformational local development policies that puts communities at the heart of an ambitious European Green Deal.

The goal is that by 2030, 25% of the EU population will be engaged in community-led initiatives, but this can only be achieved with mainstream policy backing. As we approach the next European elections, let’s take this moment to rethink our approach to climate action. We need policy makers who are willing to listen, to engage, and to support the communities leading the way. It’s time for a new kind of democracy—one that embraces the energy and creativity of local communities to drive the climate transformation we so desperately need.

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