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.
One of the central themes of the conference is the need for a strong connection between local and European levels of governance, including binding local plans for socio-ecological transformation. The planetary crisis we face is complex, unpredictable, and multi-faceted, often referred to as a “wicked problem” that requires a collaborative effort to solve. ECOLISE, the European network of community-led initiatives for sustainability and climate action, argues that no single actor can solve this problem alone, and humanity must work together, learn from each other, and work towards shared goals.
Place-based measures cannot be exclusive or inward-looking; they need the support of appropriate enabling mechanisms from higher levels of governance (regional, national, EU, global) as well as connection and collaboration via translocal networks of locally rooted initiatives. Therefore, we need strong connections across supranational, national, regional, and local/village levels, with each level using to the fullest its range of integration with other levels.
The bioregional focus is considered the optimum scale for collaboration and action in creating post-growth alternatives through transformative social innovation. Bioregions are human scale, large enough to form a viable basis for economic organization, small enough to ensure feedbacks are both visible and meaningful. Collaboration among diverse local initiatives at the bioregional scale leads to the emergence of ‘commons ecologies’ – self-organized provisioning systems rooted in the distinctive ecological, social, and cultural features of the place. The bioregional focus is neither exclusive nor inward-looking but relies on collaboration, mutual learning, and partnership through translocal networks among place-based initiatives in different locations.
However, community-led initiatives (CLIs) often lack the capacity for such translocal collaboration, and they often face barriers stemming from unfavourable legal and social conditions at local and higher levels. Practitioners operating at the local level have identified key barriers to ambitious and appropriate action at different levels of governance, including regulations that contradict the aims of the European Green Deal, subsidies spent on environmentally damaging industries, lack of support for participatory governance towards sustainable regional development, appropriation of power, lack of systemic approaches and long-term thinking, and responses that are rather restricted to technological innovations, instead of social innovations.
ECOLISE calls for:
- Strong multi-level governance alongside autonomous local spaces for experimentation and socio-ecological innovation (see below).
- Legally binding targets, and translating the European Green Deal to national and local levels, is one of the best ways to ensure that CLIs can thrive locally. This means that the EGD’s principal goals – especially the Climate and Nature Restoration Law – should be a guiding principle for binding bioregional plans including smart targets at local authority levels, taking into account national plans ( e.g. National Energy and Climate Plans), but also international agreements such as the Paris Agreement, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the key science-policy interfaces, IPCC on climate change, and IPBES on biodiversity.
- We call on the EU to work towards establishing demand-side (consumption-based) contributions as well as plans for localisation as an obligatory criterion within national contributions (e.g. National Energy & Climate Plans, but also Nature Restoration Plans etc) towards the EU (EU Climate Law, Nature Restoration Law). Demand side factors include behaviour change, lifestyle change and social change as crucial parts of transformative change in policies. Localisation as an obligatory criterion supports multi-level governance and a strong focus on community-led initiatives.
- CLIs to be recognised as autonomous actors with a large scope for experimentation, innovation and collective action in finding place-based pathways toward socio-ecological transformation. This includes support for CLIs as key actors in the multi-level governance and multi-stakeholder process, acknowledging the crucial role of collective action and CLIs.
- The EU to adopt bioregional approaches in their policies such as territorial/ rural and urban development, which link rural and urban areas with natural characteristics into bioregional “functional areas”.
We call for strengthened multi-level governance overall across EU, national and local levels.
At the EU level, we call for:
- A socially just implementation of the Paris Agreement, policy coherence with the European Green Deal, support for participatory policy-making and local level policy implementation through amplifying grassroots initiatives through financial support for mobilisation, networking, coordination and sharing of knowledge and best practices of community-led initiatives and Local Action Groups. Moreover, adequate funds for reparations towards countries in the Global South need to be established and a holistic sense of “development” needs to guide multi-governance approaches overall (see thesis 8).
At the national level, we call for:
- Legal support and funding for local-level implementation of the European Green Deal, as well as the support of community-led initiatives overall, e.g. community-building activities within the national LEADER/CLLD networks. The LEADER/ CLLD approach needs to be established across the EU’s member states, thereby overcoming the urban-rural divide.
At the local/regional level, we call for:
- Support from EU and national levels in the establishment of transition plans which transfer the goals of international political agreements (e.g. SDGs, UNFCCC) to the local level by means of participatory and deliberative democracy. LAGs within the LEADER/CLLD programme are ideally placed as governance institutions for this matter, in cooperation with community-led initiatives. Local development strategies need to reflect the principles of social justice, inclusivity, and sustainable development and set out specific measures within the areas of food, forests, energy, transport, water, education, and consumption- with biodiversity, climate and pollution as transversal topics and goals. Impact measurement among LAGs needs to go beyond economic indicators to measure both social and ecological impacts. Local authorities need to build trust and engagement with local populations. Collective (commons-based) ownership should also be supported by municipalities, who need to provide access to land and building permits for community-led initiatives working towards sustainable development.
The link to the European Green Deal
There is not yet a blueprint for how to implement the European Green Deal at local levels, and how to follow up and implement binding regulations such as the Climate Law or the expected Nature Restoration Law at national, regional and local / village levels. Initiatives such as the European Climate Pact and the Rural Pact are good examples of initiatives which aim to reach local levels and citizens, but they are just a starting point and are neither enshrined in legislation nor adequately funded. Recent initiatives such as the Conference on the Future of Europe also highlight the fact that the EU bodies such as the European Commission and the European Parliament are aware of a need for more participatory approaches.
Beyond Growth and towards multi-level governance
The Beyond Growth 2023 Conference is an essential multi-stakeholder event that promotes sustainable prosperity policies and challenges conventional policy-making. The proposition for multi-level governance with a bioregional focus is critical to overcoming barriers and promoting a sustainable, post-growth future. This requires enabling mechanisms from higher levels of governance to support place-based initiatives and translocal networks, binding local plans for socio-ecological transformation, and collaboration among diverse local initiatives at the bioregional scale.
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