When bottom-up action takes its place at the table.
By rob hopkins 11th October 2016 Culture & Society
Last week I was in Brussels at the invitation of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). The EESC is an extraordinary group which is part of the EU institutions: it gives advice on policy issues and new legislation to the European Parliament, Council and Commission. On October 5th they held a day-long conference called ‘Designing the framework for bottom-up climate action’. The conference built on a recent ‘Opinion’ which they published, entitled ‘Coalition to deliver commitments of the Paris Agreement’. It’s a vital piece of work, and really worth a read.
Its basic premise is that the COP21 climate agreement “will be implemented and brought to life by civil society, not the COP negotiators”. It argues that what is needed is a “coalition of politics, administration and civil society”. It acknowledges the vital nature of what is happening at the community scale, but also notes that “scaling, imitation and expansion are absolutely vital”. Transition Network is mentioned as an example of best practice, and was invited to comment on early drafts of the Opinion.
The day, hosted at the building in Brussels that is home to various EU institutions, a place that, following Brexit, I must admit I stride into now with a sense of fondness, sadness and a degree of rage at those who so castigate the place. Anyway, I digress. Don’t get me started.
I was only able to stay for the morning, so I’ve written up about the morning will then hand over to Filipa Pimentel who will tell you about the afternoon.
About 100 people attended, from within the EESC and other EU institutions, NGOs, the community sector and others. The morning started with Mr Lutz Ribbe, who introduced the event and welcomed everyone, as well as setting the frame for the day. Then Mrs Elina Bardram, from DG Clima at the European Commission, talked about what was agreed in Paris and how important it is. She showed one graph showing how carbon emissions and economic growth could be decoupled, so that our emissions fall while our economies continue to grow. As you might imagine, I am somewhat sceptical about that idea.
I spoke next, quoting from the ‘Opinion’ and giving examples of what it talks about from across the Transition movement. I also used some bits of the recent ‘Creating Good City Economies in the UK’ report which offers some great insights about what it could look like when top-down meets bottom-up and the two work together to enable more resilient local economies.
What was wonderful then was, unlike many other events I have been to in the EU institutions, that was all the speakers out of the way. No more speakers. As you might already be starting to expect, Transitioners from Brussels had been involved in designing the event, working with the EESC to bring some new facilitation approaches to the event.
So first we went into World Cafe discussion, which took place in two rounds. The first one looked at what climate strategies non-state and sub-national actors are carrying out, and what strategies they would ideally carry out if conditions allowed them to. People worked in groups coming up with ideas, and then shared their three key ones with the rest of the group.
Then people swapped round, got into different permutations and looked at what are the existing barriers for local climate action, again, reporting back at the end of the session. After the break, the discussion was based around Open Space, with a lovely, efficient process of identifying discussion topics, allocating tables, and then getting the discussions underway. Subjects included:
- Designing a new education system
- The role of ambassadors
- The People Factor: changing mentalities
- The lack of an enabling national legal framework
- Financial aspects
- Connecting the local level to institutions
- EU policy landscape
After a good time for discussion, each group fed back its key insights to the wider group. It was wonderful to see such an event facilitated in this way, and it feeling entirely natural. Sadly I then had to dash off in order to catch the train taking me south. So at this point I will hand on to Filipa to continue the story.
[So, Filipa reporting, now!]
In the afternoon there was a change of format again: from that of an unconventional Open Space to a more conference-like event, although it was still quite interactive. The title of the session was ‘From showcasing local climate action to designing the right framework’ and I was really glad to see that the small, local scale was given a good place to shine really bright.
There were 3 inspiring local projects from Brussels in the first part of the session: the local Transition initiative 1000BXL, started the presentation with this video. We heard then about a great project ‘Permafungi’ which made me think about the story Rob once told me about how the brewery he is involved with once made a mushroom beer; and, at last, the project BEES coop: Brussels Ecological, Economical Supermarket. For me, that was one of these moments that just confirm the reason why I work on Transition.
In the second part of the session, we heard the reactions, focused on policy framework, from Lutz Ribbe and Isabel Caño, members of the EESC and rapporteurs of the Opinion Rob mentioned above, a representative of the European Commission, DG Clima, a representative of the ministerial cabinet of the Brussels-capital region and the Director of the Corporate Climate Action at ECOFYS.
It was interesting to see the reactions of the people around: it was clear that most of the room was clearly inspired, but I was surprised by the expression of anger (I am not exaggerating) at one point, directed to the Transition initiative, as the person judged that the Transition way is not helping the necessary scaling-up – “you should plug-in the existing structures not reinventing the wheel”.
I am convinced that negative expression was very isolated and the counter-reaction was equally fascinating: among others, the voice that I heard louder explaining the essence of Transition was from the representative of the cabinet of the Minister of the Government of the Brussels-Capital region and I was truly touched by what the lady said. Heart-warming.
What else do I remember from the day? One thing that really stayed with me what the representative of the European Commission said about the day: “I am extremely surprised and impressed by this event. It was the first time in long time that I participated in such a productive and inspiring meeting, gathering diverse people working for the same purpose”. And from the person sitting by my side who I met for the first time that day I heard: “for once, that was not a lost day”. I agree.
A final thought and invitation
The rapporteur who wrote the Opinion is doing a call to all the people doing this kind of work on the ground in the EU to identify the barriers they encounter (it could be legislative or other like fiscal barriers, and so on). The plan is to send to the Parliament and Commission clear identification of the barriers to change. If any occur to you, post them as comments below and we will forward them. Thank you.