On 9 December the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) awarded prizes to five non-profit organisations and associations whose creative and inspiring climate projects promote a just and green transition towards a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy.
The EUR 50 000 prize was shared among five winning projects. The Belgian association Grandparents for the Climate took home the first prize of EUR 14 000. The other four associations each received EUR 9 000.
The four runners-up ranked in the following order: the Spanish association Engineers Without Borders Catalonia, the Romanian association Workshop without Borders, the Slovenian urban planning studio Prostorož, and the network of Estonian NGOs Estonian Green Movement/Estonian Fund for Nature and the Estonian Environmental Law Centre.
At the award ceremony held online and in Brussels, EESC President Christa Schweng congratulated the five winners and all candidates who applied: "The projects we received demonstrate value and creativity in a variety of areas linked to climate. We firmly believe that projects like these will help achieve climate neutrality and a just transition. As a strong supporter of the European Green Deal, the EESC is deeply convinced that it is necessary to place citizens and businesses at the centre of the green transition and to make sure that nobody is left behind."
EESC Vice-President for Communication, Cillian Lohan, said: "To tackle climate change, we need the active participation of all parts of society. And we need to shift from consultation and top-down engagement towards a model of co-design, co-creation and empowerment. Positive stories such as the projects of our winners show this co-design and co-creation. They also engage people and organisations. This wealth of ideas gives us faith that the battle against climate change is far from lost."
2021 CIVIL SOCIETY PRIZE WINNERS
This year's winner is an association of grandparents from Belgium's Flanders region. Grootouders voor het Klimaat (Grandparents for the Climate) say they are trying to leave a better, more sustainable world for their grandchildren. With their campaign Our Savings for their Future, the association encourages some 2.4 million Belgian grandparents to redirect their savings, which amount to an estimated EUR 910 billion in assets, to more sustainable projects.
The campaign is also directed at the financial sector and the government, encouraging sustainable behaviour from investors and institutions and calling for their shift toward sustainable finance. They also promote financial literacy among students. The association wants to emphasise the vital role that older people can play in climate action.
Accepting the prize, Grootouders voor het Klimaat spokesperson Guy De Koninck said: "It is an honour for us to receive the prize with four other amazing projects. We are concerned about the planet. We heard the cries of the youth and we joined their marches for the future. If money makes the world go round, the world is now spinning in the wrong direction. We need to turn it around and that is the goal of our campaign. The money we have can make the change and this is the message we have been sending to governments, banks and our fellow grandparents. Winning the prize is an important moral and financial support for our campaign."
Second prize went to Spain's 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 is fighting for climate justice based on human rights. They include those suffering energy poverty in ongoing debates on climate emergencies and aim to empower disadvantaged people to exercise their fundamental right to have access to basic utilities.
The Romanian association Ateliere Fara Frontiere (Workshop Without Borders) went home with third prize. Their educlick project tackles social injustice and raises awareness of the advantages of the circular economy. The association employs marginalised people to refurbish waste electrical and electronic equipment. They then donate the equipment to schools in disadvantaged areas, and to organisations working with vulnerable children.
Fourth place went to the Slovenian urban planning studio Prostorož, which has mobilised residents of the Slovenian capital Ljubljana to act against the effects of climate change in their town – one of the fastest-warming cities in the world. Their Hot Spots project invited people to pinpoint the city's hottest locations on a digital map, receiving a huge amount of feedback about what needs to be done to avoid overheating.
Fifth prize was awarded to the network of Estonian NGOs Estonian Green Movement/Estonian Fund for Nature and the Estonian Environmental Law Centre, which is fighting to change perceptions about renewable energy in a country with one of the biggest carbon footprints in the EU. They created a platform for dialogue between all sides on 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.
ABOUT THE CIVIL SOCIETY PRIZE 2021
This year's theme Climate Action attracted dozens of candidates from 24 countries. A wide range of projects were submitted, highlighting innovative approaches that civil society organisations and individuals are taking to tackle the climate emergency.
The prize showcased the critical role played by the grassroots level to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, as pledged by the EU under the European Green Deal. The EESC hopes its prize will encourage civil society to help make local economies greener, and to keep changing norms, behaviours and systems that led us to the brink of the climate crisis.
The Civil Society Prize is awarded for "excellence in civil society initiatives". Each year, the prize covers a different aspect of the EESC's work. The theme in 2019 was gender equality and women's empowerment. In 2020, the EESC launched a one-off Civil Solidarity Prize dedicated to the fight against COVID-19.
Further details about the Civil Society Prize 2021 are available here. (ll)