There was a large GEN delegation present at the COP22 (short for Conference of the Parties, referring to the Climate Conference of the UNFCCC) with around 20 GEN activist from all the GEN regions (CASA, GENOA, GENNA, GEN Africa and GEN Europe). GEN had a booth in the Blue Zone (where the negotiating governments meet) and hosted 4 side events on topics such as Biochar, EmerGENcies, and water retention. Several MOU’s (Memorandum of Understanding) were signed and many valuable connections were established. GEN Europe’s representatives were Fanny van Hal and Alfonso Flaquer from the GEN Europe office and Macaco Tamerice (former President of GEN Europe) from Damanhur. The European delegates mingled at the COP market places and exchanged contacts with several entities with similar interests, such as the World Organisation of the Scout Movement, Moroccan development organisations and Universities.
One of the first impressions we had is that we saw the same language used in all the stands at the COP. Terms such as sustainability, renewable energy, bottom up approach and more are now widely used. One of the main achievements of the GEN network, is having developed a proper ‘language’ which permits us to communicate across the GEN regions. Wording such as Sustainability, resilience, alternative economy, solidary economy, energetic efficiency, self-sustainability, community empowerment, etc. are used by our network for a long time. Without doubt, these have now been adopted by the broader public, to a point that it is difficult to differentiate between a normal modern enterprise, and our network. As an example, the DANONE stand at the COP 22 used these same terms to describe its entrepreneurial activities. For this reason we think we should develop a new terminology to clearly differentiate, a terminology that describes one more step ahead our vision to what in reality is sustainability and how to reach it. The challenge presented by Robert Hall (current president of GEN Europe), who proposes that GEN members reach a 100% of renewable energy, will make our actions go beyond our status quo. This mission, and the great steps towards it that have already been taken are not to be compared to these multinational companies that have such a different approach to sustainability.
During international events of this scope, at the time of presenting ourselves as the network of ecovillages, we usually receive the same reaction: surprised faces and ignorance. Ecovillages were and still are unknown and often associated with a “bunch of hippies” that go live in the country side. This is why we believe that in would be interesting to introduce and use more the term Eco-Communities, which still defines our network and at the same time is easier to understand. The term community is now widely accepted, and seen as the essence of development: development through empowering communities. As GEN is shifting from being a network of intentional ecovillages, to a network of various types of communities (traditional, intentional, political communes, ecovillages and more) it has occurred to us that the term ecovillage might only describe a part of our members and that Eco-Communities would be more inclusive.
An important and powerful moment was also the Climate March, which was held alongside the COP 22 event. A strong presence from North and South African countries and South American indigenous tribes with their colourful banners, songs, instruments and smiles made the demonstration different from previous Climate Marches. Seeing people from all parts of the world, each with their story and pain of what climate change is causing to their communities, made a strong impression on us: feeling climate change so close, seeing it in people’s eyes. At the same time the demonstration was a very positive experience, as the demonstrators were so happy to share the moment of standing together and not feeling alone in the fight against climate change.
Last but not least, we feel the GEN network has the potential to work with, and support other organisations as well the other way around. The collaboration between ECOLISE and its consequent members is already such a step ahead. Nevertheless, there is a huge potential to actively promote and support the movement Rights of Nature and Earth Day, just as two examples of possible causes.
To conclude, the COP 22 in Marrakech was a success, and taught us many valuable lessons. Our intention for the COP 23, which will be held in Bonn, is to have a stronger presence of GEN-Europe. Combining our strengths of the whole GEN network, and also show how much is going on at a European level, which on the ground solutions are being developed, and contribute with our stone to the building of a climate resilient world.