“Planet, People, Care: It Spells Degrowth!” – A report from the Degrowth Assembly and Conference in Zagreb

The 9th International Degrowth Assembly and Conference took place from the 29th of August to the 1st of September in Zagreb, Croatia. Activists, scholars, CSO representatives and policy makers – largely from Europe – came together to discuss the latest research in the area of post-growth.

The 4th International Assembly: A Pre-Event for building a shared strategy and organisation

On the day before the conference started, members and representatives from groups/collective on the Degrowth Map,  as well as interested individuals that would like to support existing or create degrowth groups, met for the 4th International Degrowth Assembly on the 28th of August in Zagreb and online.  In the course of one day, a group of dedicated people from the organizing team as well as engaged participants, exchanged with each other on the history of the degrowth movement and potential common pathways forward.

The founding of the International Degrowth Network

The Assembly focused on a proposal prepared by the Open Degrowth Collective for a newly to be founded International Degrowth Network (IDN) .The main elements of the proposal for the founding of the IDN can be summarized as follows:

  1. Purpose and principle

The IDN is committed to question growth-based societies and calls for a “democratic reduction of material and energy use by high-income countries and wealthy individuals to enable a good life for all”. Some of its key values include anti-patriarchy & anti-colonialism; participatory decision making;  care, cooperation & non violence.

  1. Governance and decision-making rules

The IDNs major bodies should apply sociocratic governance principles, including those of consent, equivalence, continuous evolution, transparency, effectiveness and accountability.

  1. Structure

The IDN is structured into different types of circles, which each have 2 delegates to other circles that they are interlinked with. The general circle is in the center of the organisational diagram and is linked to the following circles:

  1. Research
  2. Activism
  3. Communications & Outreach
  4. Events
  5. Organising Circle
  6. Continental Circles

Throughout Monday, there were several group work sessions, during which participants were able to share their feedback on different aspects of the proposal,  such as on the concrete content and next steps that may be carried out by the different circles. Finally, at the end of the end, the assembly consented on the formation of the IDN, whereby the recommendations shared by the group will be now be carried on in the circles.

On Friday, the outcomes of the Assembly were then also presented at the Degrowth Conference during one of the non-academic sessions and participants were similarly invited to provide their perspectives on the circles and sign up to engage with them.

Potentials for collaboration between the IDN and ECOLISE

From an ECOLISE perspective, a few things that happened in relation to the IDN during those days are especially important to highlight and reflect upon further:

The formation of the International Degrowth Network is a crucial step towards a shared strategy for the advancement of a post-growth agenda.

As a network of community-led initiatives actively engaged in practices that promote so called “Nowtopias”; and showcase how to realize the downscaling of material footprints in high-income population groups through collective lifestyle changes, ECOLISE and it members have a crucial role to play in the Degrowth movement.

It therefore would make sense to reflect upon opportunities for mutual engagement and support amongst the IDN and ECOLISE. Emerging paths may include joining the IDN as a member organization and participating in the circles. Particularly relevant to the work of ECOLISE are the European circle, which intends to discuss a European political strategy, whereby the European Elections in 2024 were mentioned as a key opportunity at EU levels of politics. Furthermore, the newly formed practitioner circle would be especially aligned with the ECOLISE membership. Lastly, on the side of ECOLISE, engagement opportunities could be the current policy positioning process, as the arguments brought forward throughout the 10 theses advocacy campaign are also in favour of discourses that are facilitated in the context of Degrowth debates. Building alliances for a shared vision on the promotion of sustainability oriented community-led initiatives accross Europe is one of the main aims of the positioning process. The IDN may also be interested in joining as a process partner.

The 9th International Degrowth Conference

At the conference, which followed during the next 5 days, the conversations on justifications for and pathways towards a Degrowth agenda continued.

A very rich programme with altogether almost 300 sessions (!) covered a diversity of degrowth related topics, from the angle of research, through academic paper presentations, as well as from the angle of politics and society in panel discussions and workshops.

Some of the topics include Alternative economies, sufficiency, industrial transformations, EU policy, communities, commons, modelling degrowth scenarios, ecofeminism, food systems, political strategy, geopolitics, Global South, gender justice, health care, Youth, education, and overall visions and politcies for post-growth societies.

Tuesday evening: Opening Ceremony

On Tuesday, the conference was opened by the green-left government of Zagreb. Astonishingly, the mayor Tomislav Tomašević – a politician, activist, environmentalist and former researcher at Cambridge university, has been promoter of Degrowth for a long time.

He even dreamt about bringing the conference to Zagreb one day – but, as he shared during his opening speech: He would have never believed that he himself would become the mayor of Zagreb one day and would thereby help to realize this dream through local government support of the conference in the city.

The keynote lecture of the opening ceremony was held by Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, an Environmental Scientist who is one of the Vice-Chairs of the IPCC and was a Coordinating Lead Author in two of its Assessment Reports. She highlighted, that the different scenarios laid out by the IPCC therefore involve large concerns regarding the actual feasibility, and the major social justice implications that would result from a lack of achieving them. Consequently, she highly encouraged more research to be invested into how Degrowth-based scenarios may be realized.

A glimpse of personal highlights of the following days

As the programme was so large and so many sessions were held in parallel, me, as well as the of the participants, only got a glimpse of what was overall discussed throughout the conference. However, I still would like to share some of my personal highlights of the sessions that covered topics that I was particularly interested in.

Community-led approaches

Many research papers focused on community-led initiatives as agents of the degrowth movement. The papers covered initiatives such as Local currencies; community-based agriculture projects, the Agroecology movement in Cuba, ecovillages, and the Transition Movement.

A case study on ECOLISE

In one of the sessions, a Master Thesis on “How can degrowth actors engage in policy dialogue with growth-enhancing policy institutions. A case study  of the European network ECOLISE” was presented by Barbara Klobucaric, who had been supervised by Ana Margarida Esteves.

Her findings, based on a document assessment from 2014-203, include that ECOLISE helps to represent the bottom-up level of the degrowth movement at the the European Union and both engages in disruption and conciliation tactics to achieve structural coupling. Conciliation thereby revolves around facilitating dialogue and respectful engagement with policy-makers by addressing common needs and demonstrating alignment in helping to reach policy goals.

The Global Tapestry of Alternatives

Representatives of the Global Tapestry of Alternatives, as network of actors that propose resistance and responses to capitalism, state domination, patriarchy, racism and colonialism, presented their history, values, and vision for building a critical mass for macro-change.

The diversity of approaches that are represented by the GTA accross the world are also outlined in the “Pluriverse: Post-Development Dictionary”.

Political agenda

Many sessions also revolved around political strategies for realizing a post-growth agenda. Just a few of them included:

Keynote Lecture by Roland Ngam centred around the destructive and exploitative relationships between Europe and Africa, with neo-colonial dynamics still influencing the political and societal developments and climate collapse detrimentally harming the population already. He made a compelling case for the freeing of African states from their oppressors pointed to the responsibility that Europe has to take in this regard.

– Julia Steinberger presented the “REAL. A Post Growth Deal” project as a collaborative, EU funded research initiative that will focus on identifying post-growth policies at the European Level.

– Vincent Liegey facilitated an interactive session to discuss the main obstacles and perspectives for degrowth policy with reference to different publications, such as a systematic academic synthesis paper on degrowth policy proposals by Nick Fitzpatrick, Timothee Parrique and Ines Cosme.

– In a Panel Discussion between different Members of the European Parliament, the Croatian Parliament and University lecturers on “Post-growth Pluriverse(s) in Policy Spehere(s): European Green Deal and Beyond”, an exchange on the requirements of a post-growth agenda at European Levels was facilitated. Philippe Lamberts, who co-organized the Beyond Growth Conference in the European Parliament, hereby acknowledged that the huge social inequalities between Europe and the rest of the world need to be overcome and that the concrete shape of a just and European Green Deal needs to be proposed by the citizens.

Outlook and next steps

To close this article, I would like to point to the next Degrowth Conference, which will take place in Pontevedra, Spain from June 18-21st in 2024. As this year’s call for contributions was due in the beginning of the year, people who would like to present something at next year’s conference or otherwise help in the organisation, should start planning for this soon.

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