How can community initiatives be enabled to bring about a more inclusive and democratic European Green Deal?

22 February 2024

How can community initiatives be enabled to bring about a more inclusive and democratic European Green Deal?

In recent years, the discourse around sustainable energy systems has increasingly emphasised the importance of citizen engagement and participation. In an expert seminar held at ICLEI Europe Brussels Office and co-organised by the Jacques Delors Institute, various speakers exchanged on innovative and tangible solutions that could help mainstream social inclusion and citizen participation in the energy transition.

In her introduction, the event moderator Maria Santos (Community Energy & Renewables Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe) gave some context elements regarding the interconnected challenges of climate change, energy poverty, and social inequality. She stressed the need for a fundamental shift in how we approach climate issues and societal disparities. While solutions exist, rooted in both scientific knowledge and social awareness, they require political will, citizen engagement, and a reimagining of societal norms.

Karin Thalberg and Klervi Kerneïs, Research Fellows in EU Energy Policy at Jacques Delors Institute, detailed the learnings from two practical experiences regarding citizen participation in the energy transition: the Horizon 2020 projects Sun4All and EnergyPROSPECTS. These inspiring examples of community-driven projects illustrate the transformative potential of grassroots action. Energy cooperatives reinvesting in local communities and initiatives addressing energy poverty through education and solidarity funds showcase the tangible impact of community-led approaches.

The ensuing panel discussion involved a wide range of expert speakers on the topic: Dora Biondani, Senior Project Coordinator at Energy Poverty Advisory Hub, Francisco Guerreiro, Member of the European Parliament (Greens/EFA), Máirtín Ó Méalóid, General Manager at the Energy Communities Tipperary Cooperative and Heleen Schockaert, Project Manager at REScoop.

In their discussions, they emphasised the importance of citizen participation in driving sustainable change, from grassroots movements to community-led energy projects. Empowering citizens is seen as essential for impactful initiatives, with inclusive decision-making and democratised energy governance being key. However, community-driven efforts face challenges incl. a still often lacking framework for financial and regulatory support. To overcome these obstacles, maintaining a bottom-up approach, fostering good governance, and prioritising community ownership are crucial. Collaboration, advocacy for policy changes, and amplification of community voices are identified as critical strategies. Supportive frameworks for community energy are needed, now more than ever.

The recording of the event is available here.

Image (Jacques Delors Institute)

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This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement N°101032239.