European Ideas Lab – Greens meet Changemakers

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Last weekend the European Greens came to Dublin for an innovative event, the European Ideas Lab, the second of four to be held in various regions of Europe in 2017 and 2018. The event, held in the Law Society in Dublin, was subtitled “Greens meet Changemakers”, with changemakers being representatives of various NGOs, Universities and other organisations around Ireland. As Ska Keller, MEP and Co-Chair of the Green Group in the European Parliament, explained in her welcoming address to delegates, the aim of the two day conference was to “bring civil society and greens closer together, exchanging experiences and ideas”.

The event opened on Friday night with a plenary session entitled “The Path Forward: towards a sustainable future”, featuring three speakers: David O’Donoghue, Ireland’s former permanent representative to the UN and co-chair of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) talks, Stephen Humphreys, Associate Professor of International Law in London School of Economics, and Ruth Davis, a writer, campaigner, political analyst and conservationist.

David O’Donoghue gave some insight on the process of developing the SDGs, which he said involved “a lot of luck and a fair amount of patience”. He explained that the real challenge of the SDGs is understanding the interconnections between the different policy areas, and the need to work across them in a coordinated way. He also stressed how countries have to work together on this “mutual learning exercise”. David noted that each country will have to submit a voluntary report on progress on the SDGs, with an accompanying action plan. Ireland’s report is due next July and he noted that “no country wants to be humiliated based on lack of progress”.

Stephen Humphreys focused on climate migration, explaining that the issue is “intractable” because it raises contradictory feelings for all of us. He noted that a number of uncertainties make it difficult to estimate the numbers of climate migrants, both now and in the future. He suggested that “we need to mobilise real money quickly and effectively towards the most vulnerable countries and people”.

Dr Humphreys made an interesting point regarded the language of climate migration, suggesting that there is a worryingly popular view that there is “no such thing as a climate refugee”, because the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is wary of diluting the convention on human rights. He commented that “we seem to have developed an uneasy consensus that our system to manage migrants might break down if the numbers increase”, adding that “refugees get a pass but we can pick and choose with migrants”. To conclude, Dr Humphreys offered five ideas for what he termed “decent thinking”:

  • Hug your inner nomad
  • Practice hospitality
  • Remember your history, we are a nation of migrants
  • Learn to live with less
  • Speak up, start the conversation

The final speaker on Friday, Ruth Davis, contrasted the climate movement with the wider environmental movement, suggesting that the climate movement is “powered by a sense of momentum”, but she doesn’t see this in relation to other key areas such as deforestation, resource exploitation or extinction. She highlighted what she saw as “things that make for powerful campaigning”:

  • Evidence, even in a post-truth world
  • Learn about money and power and start to disrupt it
  • Understand how to organise e.g. spreading information through digital platforms
  • Convince ourselves that this is possible e.g. we can feed ourselves without chemical agriculture, we can change our diets.
  • Establish an alternative discourse

The panel was followed by a “Forward Thinking Agora” where delegates were sent to cluster around and discuss some “subvertising” posters by the Brandalism project (below).

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Day 2 began with a similar plenary session, in which six invited changemakers spoke about their work or organisations:

Transition Towns – Jay Tompt

Jay focused on the work Transition Towns is doing in Totnes to explore alternative economic systems. He spoke of the need for “new economic actors, relationships and models” and for “investment and financial entities to support entrepreneurs”

ACES: Livelihoods and land use change in Mozambique – Estrella Lopez Moya

Estrella outlined the findings of the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) project, which look at livelihood changes for commuinities as woodland is converted into agricultural land in Mozambique. She suggested that “we need to manage trade offs at a landscape scale, through participation, negotiation and cooperation”

Cloughjordan Ecovillage – Davie Philip

Davie gave an introduction to the ecovillage, explaining how it has driven citizen-led development

All-Ireland Pollinator Plan – Dr. Una Fitzpatrick

Úna explained how the Pollinator plan was developed on a voluntary basis, without funding, and has now been supported by 68 government and non-governmental organisations. There are now related documents targeted at different stakeholders e.g. farmers, industry. She noted that biodiversity is a problem that people can understand and relate to, and progress can be quite easily tracked and measured.

Black Protest: Ania Glogowska and Magdalena Galkiewicz

Ania and Magdalena spoke of their activism for womens’ rights in Poland. In 2016 the Polish government proposed a Bill to make abortion in Poland illegal and send any women caught undertaking an illegal abortion to jail for 5 years. This sparked the rise of the Gals4Gals movement, who collected signatures to propose their own counter-bill to legalise abortion. After the counter-bill was rejected, the government started to process the anti abortion law, leading to the Black Monday protest and national womens strike on October 3rd 2016. The government has taken a step back from the bill but is still trying to get it through, so it is expected that there will be more protests in Poland next month.

Cork Food Policy Council – Dr. Colin Sage

Dr Sage outlined some of the work of the Cork Food Policy Council in promoting food sovereignty and sustainability around Cork, including hosting a “Feed the City” event, launching “Incredible edible” boxes, greening the “historic spine” of Cork, running the Food Harvest festival and helping organisations such as University College Cork to grow food directly in Cork.

Energy/Climate workshop:

There were 18 workshops across three sessions on Saturday, so only three workshops are discussed here. The first was on “Energy/Climate”, facilitated by Eamon Ryan, Irish Green Party Leader, and Reinhard Bütikofer, MEP and Co-Chair of the European Green Party.

Eamon Ryan took us through the proposed North Sea Grid wind energy project, which would have the potential to produce 8% of Europe’s energy and reduce the amount of onshore pylons required. He noted that it is difficult to develop these kinds of projects as, based on his experience as Minister for Energy, energy ministers tend not to think outside national boundaries. He presented the illustration below of the proposed grid.

Related image

Eamon highlighted the uncertainty of the energy markets e.g. the costs of wind energy have come down by over 50% in the last three years due to bigger, more powerful turbines and change in the market systems. He commented that we are starting to see big ambition at scale and that the “next quarter of the revolution will come by changing the entire system”.

Reinhard Bütikofer, who is currently working to form the next German government, offered six core ingredients for succcessful transition to low carbon:

  1. Guiding vision (which we have)
  2. Local initiative and regional initiative – we need to build the foundations of an alternative
  3. Strong research and innovation
  4. Transform the markets through regulation – institute price for carbon around Europe and scrap fossil fuel subsidies
  5. Fight hard to avoid fossil fuel lock in – block big infrastructure projects
  6. Democratic accountability, to make sure that regulation is implemented and international cooperation is pursued

Reinhard commented that “everybody in energy policy talks about the energy triangle – sustainability, affordability and availability”. He stressed the importance of engaging with business but making changes structural, reminding us that “short-termism is the crux in business”. He argued that:

“If you’re just the happy and the knowledgeable few, you won’t change the world, you have to find ways of bringing other actors on board.  If you want to engage business people you have to talk to them in business terms”

Eamon also highlighted the role of business in developing renewable energy systems. He suggested that while “small is beautiful… we will not run a data transmitter or a steel industry on a local system, we need a transnational, renewable production and storage system”. He stressed however that we need the political system to show leadership and put a regulatory framework in place.

Brexit workshop

This workshop, which looked at the potential impact of Brexit on the environment, was facilitated by Michael Ewing, Coordinator of The Environmental Pillar, and Craig McGuicken, Chief Executive Officer of Northern Ireland Environment Link.

Michael Ewing outlined the layers of environmental law and guidelines from the global to national levels:

  • Global conventions e.g. UNFCC
  • Regional conventions e.g. Aarhus convention
  • EU legislation e.g. water framework directive. Also fundamental principles of “polluter pays” and the “precautionary principle” (Article 191 in the Lisbon treaty)
  • Various international conventions which are not binding, and countries are given a slap on the wrist if they contravene them
  • UK Law – legislation transposing EU law. Many EU laws will be transposed through the UK government’s Great Repeal bill.
  • EU strategies, policies and programmes e.g. EAP, CAP, IMPEL

Presentation of the legal framework and a discussion of current cross-border environmental initiatives was followed by a group discussion on Brexit and the environment.

Economy/Community workshop

This workshop was led by Jay Tompt of Transition Towns, who explained the Totnes “Reconomy” project. He described the programme as “community-supported entrepreneurism”, the principles of which are as follows:

  • Citizen led economic change
  • Fair and inclusive
  • Regenerative and resilient
  • Inspiration from a variety of sources e.g permaculture, degrowth, community wealth building, open source and commons

He explained that the aim of the project is to “create the conditions for new economic actors, relationships and models to emerge and flourish”. To do so the project seeks to:

  • Catalyse entreprenuerial problem solving culture
  • Mobilise local financial and social capital
  • Build out ‘enterprising ecosystems’
  • Weave ‘convergence networks’ e.g. community energy talk to the community housing people, to the community agriculture people

A key element of the Reconomy project is the “Local Entrepreneur Forum”, where aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to the local community, who can then invest in the idea. The community can make financial and non-financial investments e.g. time, in the company. The results of the LEFs to date are shown in the image below, which illustrates that of the 27 businesses established from the LEFs, 23 are still in operation.

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Jay concluded with some advice on how other towns can approach running an LEF. He indicated that first comes “preparing the soil” – assessing local conditions (mapping networks and allies, import substitution survey) and then engaging and building support. The LEF itself is the next stage, “planting the acorn”. Finally there is “cultivating the garden”, which involes nurturing relationships, setting up an entrepreneurs’ incubator, and expanding the reconomy to include elements like a mutual credit system, a local bank, social enterprise networks and local investor networks. Further information can be found in the Local Economic Blueprint publication.

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The Law Society, venue for the European Ideas Lab

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Some of the recycled tyre sculptures dotted around the Law Society for the conference

 

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