The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), together with ECOLISE, the European network for community-led initiatives on climate change and sustainability, and the Committee of the Regions (CoR), held the conference on "Civil Society and Municipalities: building sustainability through collaboration" on 20 September. It took place as part of the 2nd European Day of Sustainable Communities.
“Europeans have become aware that we need to move away from ‘business as usual’ and it is a gratifying fact that thousands of communities are mobilising around innovative social, economic and environmental projects that promote resilience and sustainability, and connect communities with their natural and operational environment. .This change would not be possible without the many grassroots movements that have triggered serious rethinking at the municipal level. But we need to do much more; we need to redefine our economic models,” said the president of the EESC's Sustainable Development Observatory, Peter Schmidt, in his opening remarks.
Citizen and community-led action on climate change and sustainability is the backbone of change towards a sustainable economy and the achievement of the 2030 sustainable development goals and the Paris Agreement on climate. In order to inspire and promote collaboration between municipalities and people on the ground, the conference showcased examples of successful cooperation between local authorities and civil society grassroots projects.
“Local and regional authorities and non-state actors across the EU are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint, going well beyond the EU targets agreed for 2020. Their role and contributions in the context of national goals must be recognised in global climate governance. Promoting locally determined contributions to meet the Paris Climate Agreement will help empower people and communities to achieve the transition to a low-carbon society,” said Andrew Cooper, the CoR rapporteur on 'Climate governance after 2020: a European and global perspective – a contribution to the UNFCCC COP24'.
However, as the participants at the conference revealed, these collaborative projects, despite having proven their value as essential contributors to a greener and more sustainable future, still do not get proper recognition or funding, and face many hurdles during implementation.
Ana Huertas Francisco, vice-president of ECOLISE and coordinator of Municipalities in Transition, an international project inspired by the Transition Towns movement, encouraged participants to seek how to increase the resilience and sustainability of their lifestyles. “We know that social, environmental and cultural change is not easy. We also know from our experience and research that peer support, the sharing of experiences and connection between people tackling similar challenges, can make an important difference for success. Thus we are delighted to be part of this wider conversation on collaboration for change.”
In her conclusions, Brenda King, Member of the Employers' Group in the EESC underlined that the EESC strongly believed that community-led action on sustainability was key to implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
“It is essential to align the objectives of EU policies with the needs of local actions,” Ms King emphasised. “We have already called for the European Dialogue of Non-State Climate Action to strengthen and increase the scope and scale of European-based non-state climate action and we invite the European Commission to work closely with us in proposing a blueprint for an EU framework enabling climate action by non-state and subnational actors." Finally, she warned that "without action by citizens, communities, municipalities, businesses and other groups of civil society we will simply not be able to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement."