"The fight against climate change can only be won with a strong citizens' involvement"

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The EESC calls for a coalition between civil society and authorities at all levels

The Paris Agreement is rightly seen as a milestone in the fight against climate change as it is the first such convention to be legally binding under international law.  Europe played no minor role in putting the necessary pressure to clinch this deal. But the 177 signatures of heads of states and governments alone won't be enough. Now it is time for Europe to take the lead again and implementing the necessary policies. This, however, will only be successful with the full involvement of European citizens.

Civil Society – The untapped potential for climate change

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has adopted an opinion - Coalition to deliver the commitments of the Paris Agreement - where it particularly looks into how to better include civil society in the implementation of the Paris Agreement. "Only when civil society's potential in terms of climate protection measures is fully released will the world have a chance to keep global warming within the agreed 2°C ", says Lutz Ribbe, rapporteur of the opinion. "The energy sector in particular offers huge opportunities for citizens to produce their own green energy at far lower costs than they have to pay now".

In this context, the EESC denounces the fact that the external costs of fossil fuels are still not fully internalised, which means that carbon still has no "correct" pricing, and this turns out to be an insurmountable obstacle. 

Cooperation between authorities and civil society is a precondition

"It is red tape that deters many people from realising their own projects. Another barrier is access to finance. This needs to change", said Mr. Ribbe, calling for a new form of cooperation between civil society, local and regional authorities, national governments and the EU - a kind of multilevel governance coalition which should breathe new life into the "think global, act local"-principle.

This coalition should

  • show what civil society actors are planning and can carry out;
  • identify the obstacles they are facing and remove them;
  • tell the success stories in order to motivate others;
  • explain how to make things work by specifying key conditions; and, last but not least,
  • develop a policy framework that puts in place the conditions required for action.

A bottom-up approach needs to be applied

"We need a 'bottom-up'-framework for climate action", said Isabel Caño Aguilar, co-rapporteur of the opinion, "and we have to make sure that those engaged in this framework remain part of the social system. Social dialogue and collective bargaining between employers’ organisations and trade unions must therefore create this framework for new professions and new ways of working, including training for new skills for the new jobs." The EESC is convinced that with a robust framework, which respects workers' rights, a just transition is possible and a different form of growth in modified economic structures achievable. The loss of jobs in some sectors will be somewhat compensated by the development of the concept of "prosumption" (producing and consuming), and the division of labour will be more strongly organised along the lines of community structures. This opens up huge potential for social innovation, which is indispensable for an ambitious climate policy. This new economic model is not utopian but scalable, as can already be seen today in numerous, mainly locally organised, climate initiatives.

The EESC has already started to build this coalition in cooperation with the Committee of the Regions, Comité 21 in France and other partners. Several events are planned for the coming months including a high-level conference on Designing the framework for bottom-up climate action, which will take place in Brussels on 5 October.