“Before Paris, before NDCs and SDGs, the tools for climate mitigation and adaptation have been in the hands, heads and hearts of communities for centuries.”
That’s how GEN’s advocacy director, Yvette Dzakpasu, closed Essential Climate Solutions, the GEN side event at the UN Climate Conference in Katowice.
It was a vital reminder of our power and possibility at an event that can often seem overwhelming in its scale.
For two weeks in December, thousands of delegates from 196 countries were thrashing out a deal on how to tackle the climate crisis. On the agenda was agreeing a ‘rule book’ for the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the global accord to keep carbon emissions ‘well below’ two degrees celsius.
In the corridors surrounding the official negotiations, thousands more NGO and civil society representatives jostled to bring voices from the grassroots to the halls of government power.
GEN Europe attended alongside our umbrella organisation GEN, and partners ECOLISE, as part of a small but growing group that aims to put community-led development on the map and make space in the discourse for discussion about and recognition of the vital contributions of non-state actors to climate action.
During the two weeks, we were able to spark conversations with dozens of curious stakeholders from across civil society, NGOs and government and amplify the vital work being done to regenerate the planet across our network - including showcasing ecovillage solutions at our side events and and presenting the Iberian Ecovillage Network’s pilot ecovillage development project to Spanish parliamentarians.
Besides events, meetings and observation, we were also thrilled to engage further with our global GEN colleagues and meet representatives of our newest national network, Ukraine (watch an interview with them here).
The big ideas
“Ambition” was the word on everyone’s lips at COP24: while for years civil societies have been issuing calls to faster and stronger action, the recent IPCC report on a 1.5 degree world - and its stark warning that we have just a dozen years to act - added renewed urgency to the talks, with mixed results.
A coalition of European countries came out for stronger ambition, and small island states and countries in the Global South were increasingly bold and vocal in their frustration on slow action on what constitutes an immediate and existential threat. Perhaps the most striking address came from teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, who articulated the frustration of the young and announced the arrival of a new generation of change-makers.
The opening of the political stage of the Talanoa Dialogue process - one inspired by community storytelling and dialogue that drew on the ideas and experiences of civil society from around the world - also provided a chance to take stock of community inputs into the process, though it remains to be seen what degree of action will be taken.
And some successes were the result of sustained momentum from civil society, such as the adoption of a platform for indigenous peoples and local communities that “will scale up consideration of the experiences of local communities and indigenous peoples with climate change and efforts to respond to it.”
However, due to blocker nations rejecting the welcoming of the IPCC’s report and conclusions; complex issues being kicked down the road to 2019’s conference; and a lack of ambition on climate finance, the results of of the negotiations were, as our ECOLISE colleagues have noted, a decidedly mixed bag.
The role of ecovillages
But while the negotiations may have been disappointing for those seeking real change and ambition at the international political level, we could argue that we are looking in the wrong place. From our vantage point at the grassroots, we see all sorts of transformations and transitions happening all around us, and we know the importance of localism as a catalyst for change: local government, citizen assemblies, municipalities, mayors, ecovillages, community groups - these are all implementing solutions that people can touch and feel in their daily lives; something crucial if climate adaptation is to be at all successful.
Away from the official negotiations, there was much talk amongst observers of the need for far bolder action, but in the context a ‘just transition’ - in the light of the Gilet Jaune protests happening simultaneously across France in protest at a tax hike on fuel, it is becoming increasingly evident that any transition must take into account the social and economic needs of disaffected groups.
This is a challenge, but also a space where ecovillages can truly shine: demonstrating that sustainable and regenerative livelihoods are possible, creating connections to counter the disaffection spreading Europe and promote a positive narrative of connection, possibility, and true well-being.
We must also speak the language of innovation, of circular economy, of bioeconomy - areas where ecovillages have long been quietly progressing and that both governments and non-state actors are keen to develop. Finally, the limited progress of the talks also suggests that ecovillages must be continuing to create and share their solutions for community resilience, enabling us to prepare our communities for an uncertain future. The Paris Agreement, as well as the commitments made by countries at COP24, make space to ratchet up ambition year by year, and civil society voices are crucial in determining what that level of ambition will be.
And above all, we must remember what Yvette so powerfully told us: that with or without governments and conferences and goals, local communities have - and have always had - immense power and vital solutions in their hands and hearts.
GEN Europe wishes to thank our donors, the many volunteers who made this possible, and Foundation for Gaia for their support. To contribute to GEN Europe’s advocacy and other work, consider becoming a Friend of GEN.