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Local communities leading the way to a low-carbon society

Author: AEIDL
Published Date: 8 July 2015

Across Europe, a new frontline on climate change is emerging. Inspired by the tradition of community activism in other spheres, and building on the experiences of other initiatives for sustainable local development, small groups of citizens are quietly coming together to take action in their own communities. 

These small, local groups are emerging in cities, towns, villages and rural areas right across the EU, and the numbers are increasing at an impressive rate (see Fig. 2 page 5). Meeting in living rooms, in local caf.s, community centres and other public places, the focus is predominantly on practical initiatives that can be taken locally to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the dependence on fossil fuels, and to strengthen the resilience and sustainability of local communities. 

Many of these initiatives involve the testing of new ideas, technologies and approaches in order to find the most sustainable and cost effective solutions. In this way, they act as important local laboratories, piloting and demonstrating how citizens and communities can live more sustainably. 

A defining feature of this silent revolution is that it is entirely citizendriven, or bottom-up. Those involved are not responding to topdown policy or regulatory decisions, but to their own desire to make a difference, to be part of the solution rather than the problem. In many instances, links and collaborative initiatives are being developed upwards, with local authorities and other local or regional bodies, which are responding positively to the leadership shown by local citizens. 

This gives this community-based movement a strong legitimacy and credibility which, combined with its widespread and growing popularity across the EU, makes it a potentially powerful driver of proenvironmental behavioural change. This type of societal change is not just a pre-requisite to meeting future emissions targets, but also to bringing about the transition to a resource efficient, low-carbon economy, which is now a central goal of European policy. 

For this potential to be realised, however, the role of this local, community- based action must be better recognised by policymakers at all levels. Voluntary, citizen-based initiatives cannot be sustained indefinitely without external support and assistance. The challenge for policymakers, therefore, is to provide this support in a way that encourages and facilitates community-based action, without undermining its local, bottom-up dimension, or stifling the energy and creativity that this unleashes. 

Local, community-based initiatives are, by their nature, fragmented, and often have little contact with or support from outside. There have been some efforts to address this, especially at local, regional and national level, but the effectiveness of these efforts has been limited. 

A key requirement, therefore, is to nurture and support this local dimension, while also facilitating greater inter-connectedness and networking between groups, and with other organisations. There is a clear need to create a strong platform that promotes the exchange of ideas, information and good practices, and also facilitates the development and implementation of cooperative or shared initiatives. 

The establishment of this kind of a platform would provide existing groups with improved access to the information and resources they need to develop their projects and activities. Importantly, however, it would also be a valuable source of inspiration and guidance for other groups and communities, providing a tool to promote a much wider dissemination and uptake of community-based approaches.

Read this AEIDL report in full: Local communities leading the way to a low-carbon society