The five finalists for the EESC Civil Society Prize 2021 revealed

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is this year rewarding outstanding climate projects that demonstrate the commitment of civil society to a just and green transition

Non-profit organisations and associations from Belgium, Estonia, Romania, Slovenia and Spain are among the five nominees for this year's EESC Civil Society Prize, which is dedicated to climate action. Their entries were chosen from among dozens of outstanding climate projects from 24 EU Member States.

The award ceremony will be held on 9 December during the EESC plenary session in Brussels, when the final ranking will be revealed. The total prize money of EUR 50 000 will be shared among the five nominees. The winner of the first prize will walk away with EUR 14 000 and the four runners-up will each receive EUR 9 000.

The EESC has received a wide range of creative and innovative entries, testifying to the huge enthusiasm of civil society for playing an active part in making climate neutrality a reality, which the EU has pledged to achieve by 2050 under the European Green Deal.

The five nominees, are, in alphabetical order:

Associació Catalana Enginyeria Sense Fronteres (Engineers Without Borders Catalonia)At a time when 11% of Spanish households are struggling with energy poverty, this Catalan association fights for climate justice based on human rights. It aims to empower disadvantaged people to exercise their fundamental right to access basic utilities. To include the energy poor into ongoing debates on climate emergency, the association organises assemblies where they can speak out about their own situation, change social perceptions and can also move from feeling like victims to being key actors of change.

Ateliere Fara Frontiere (Workshop Without Borders)With its educlick project, this Romanian association both tackles social injustice and raises awareness of the advantages of the circular economy. It collects waste electrical and electronic equipment and refurbishes it in its workshops, which employ marginalised people such as Roma, former drug addicts, the homeless and victims of violence. Refurbished computers and other equipment are then donated to schools from rural and disadvantaged areas, NGOs and public institutions working with vulnerable children.

Estonian Green Movement / Estonian Fund for Nature / Estonian Environmental Law Centre The Estonian NGO network is fighting to change perceptions about renewable energy in the country, which has one of the biggest carbon footprints in the EU. Its project is focused on communicating about energy transition in north-east Estonia, where the oil-shale industry will have to be phased out, which has not been met with much enthusiasm. The project created a platform for a dialogue between all sides, including the government. It has also raised awareness of climate issues among the public and launched a nationwide petition calling for climate neutrality.  

Grootouders voor het Klimaat (Grandparents for the Climate)This association of grandparents from Belgium's Flanders region says it is trying to leave a better, more sustainable world to their grandchildren with the help of their savings. Its campaign Our Savings for their Future encourages Belgian grandparents to redirect their savings to more sustainable projects. The campaign is also directed at the financial sector and the government, calling on them to promote sustainable finance. The campaign wants to emphasise the vital role that older people can play in climate action.

Prostorož - This non-profit urban-planning studio has mobilised residents to improve living conditions in the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, which is becoming one of the fastest warming cities in the world. Its Hot Spots project invited people to pinpoint Ljubljana's hottest locations on a digital map, receiving huge feedback and many clear ideas about what needs to be done to avoid overheating. Prostorož presented the proposals for cooling measures to the city's authorities, prompting them to act.

Commenting on the theme of the prize, EESC Vice-President for Communication, Cillian Lohan, said: Climate change is a shared challenge and only by working together can we rise to it. Let us use what we have learned from the COVID-19 crisis and use the recovery as an opportunity to tackle the climate crisis. We still have time to avert some of the worst consequences and to prepare for what is to come.

Mr Lohan praised the creativity of the projects submitted for the prize: Positive stories are key to engaging people and organisations in the climate journey, giving them faith that the battle is far from lost. The outstanding examples of civil society engagement highlighted by our prize demonstrate beyond any doubt that there is a will to bring about change, a wealth of ideas among our fellow citizens and the expertise to make it a reality.

The EESC launched the prize in April to showcase the importance of the bottom-up approach in climate action and the need to involve all parts of society in it. The Committee hopes that through its prize, it can inspire people to become part of the solution and encourage them to change the systems, norms and behaviours that have led us to the brink of the climate crisis.

The prize, now in its 12th year, is awarded to individuals and non-profit organisations for excellence in civil society initiatives. A different theme is chosen each year, covering an important area of the EESC's work. The prize money and the recognition they receive should help the winners to scale up their projects and provide further help in the community.

In 2020, the EESC replaced its Civil Society Prize with a one-off Civil Solidarity Prize, which was dedicated to the fight against COVID-19. With that award, the EESC paid tribute to civil society organisations, individuals and private companies from each Member State for having shown exceptional solidarity and civic responsibility in the battle against the pandemic and its terrible consequences. In 2019, the Civil Society Prize celebrated gender equality and women's empowerment.

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