Building communities of energy-responsible citizens
4 min read

Building communities of energy-responsible citizens

Energy transition is no longer a concept to debate or consider. It is an urgent requirement that communities across Europe are implementing. While energy-related legislation and guidelines from national and international levels is undoubtedly needed, action in cities and sub-national regions demonstrate that there is so much that can also be done and led by communities.

Communities are keen and able to herald in energy transition: from coal regions whose workforces and communities want to be actively leading a just transition, to urban dwellers setting up renewable energy communities (RECs).

Carsten Rothballer, Coordinator at ICLEI Europe, notes that, “Communication plans are underdeveloped in coal regions in transition. This makes it even more important to engage with stakeholders and citizens to broaden awareness, acceptance, and activate transformative actions. Participatory processes have to be set-up to achieve political, technical, and social approval at the local and higher level. This will democratise the coal phase-out process as well as the climate-neutrality to come.”

Local authorities are in the perfect position to support their citizens to lead this transition. They can, for example: prepare their communities for upcoming shifts in energy sources and systems; provide resources and education to support more energy efficient and sufficient behaviour; and can advocate for and implement regulations that support solutions like RECs, which are often seen as at-odds with traditional, embedded energy systems.
As a network of and for local governments, ICLEI Europe is here to help!

Coal regions in transition

One pillar of this work is providing support to coal and carbon-intensive regions. ICLEI Europe is part of the teams that manage the Secretariats for both the European Union’s Initiative for Coal Regions in Transition, and its Initiative for Coal Regions in Transition in the Western Balkans and Ukraine (WBUA), as well as the WBUA Coal regions exchange programme and the exchangeEU programme for coal, lignite, peat and oil shale regions in transition in the EU.

Through these programmes, ICLEI is, for example, facilitating exchanges between: the Tuzla region (Bosnia-Herzegovina) and the Ústí region (Czech Republic); Bitola and Kicevo (North Macedonia) and Western Macedonia (Greece); and for the Zasavje region (Slovenia), Northern region (Hungary) and Moravia-Silesia (Czech Republic). Visits to the Ústí, Bitola, and Zasavje regions have already taken place; as George Stiff, Senior Officer at ICLEI Europe explains, “All the exchanges ICLEI is working on, across the EU and beyond, prove that there's a great, untapped potential to succeed in a just transition already embedded within coal regions – not just in terms of infrastructure or resources, but also thanks to competent, passionate and eager change-makers already on the ground.

As part of these initiatives, and through its role in the CINTRAN project, ICLEI Europe gives voices to coal regions and executes tailored, targeted capacity-building activities. In fact, ICLEI’s main role in CINTRAN is to lead workshops and learning activities for coal transition stakeholders.

Resources on this subject are available to support readers in coal and carbon-intensive regions:

  • Those looking for inspiration and best practices can refer to a series of Case Studies from coal regions.
  • Toolkits on specific topics like environmental rehabilitation and repurposing; governing transitions; sustainable employment and welfare support; and transition financing provide step-by-step guidance.
  • Insights from exchanges will be shared periodically, primarily via the WBUA newsletter and EU coal regions newsletter.
  • The exchangeEU programme will be launching a second call for interest in September for stakeholders to apply to join the programme; news will be posted to the programme website.
  • CINTRAN hosts ICLEI-led public webinars, with its next one about economic resilience and diversification in coal+ regions, scheduled for 22 September at 10-11h CEST: register here!

Energy-efficient citizens

The above represents crucial work to herald in just transition on the supply side (i.e. with respect to fossil fuel producing regions). What about the demand side (i.e. energy consumers)?

Energy impacts so many facets of our lives and the systems that we rely on, including housing, building stock, heating and cooling systems, transport, food systems, and more.

ICLEI Europe’s “Fit-for-55+” position paper series advocates for specific, concrete changes at the EU-level to help communities adopt more sustainable energy behaviour, and features recommendations that have been provided directly to the European Commission. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Providing succinct guidelines with clear definitions, targets, monitoring systems, and administrative procedures for RECs.
  • Supporting incentivising models for electricity and thermal energy sharing, and investment in prosumer technologies.
  • Establishing an internal market for energy storage that privileges energy efficiency and renewable energy services instead of gas or other fossil fuels.

Establishing binding (not indicative) targets for increasing renewables in heating and cooling, and for district heating and cooling.
In addition to advocating at higher levels, ICLEI has produced a number of resources to directly help local authorities and communities to consume energy more efficiently. These resources have been developed in the contexts of a number of projects over many years – the ICLEI Europe publications & tools database and news page are good places to start looking for the tools you need!

One project that ICLEI Europe is involved in is Sun4All. Sun4All representatives work with energy consumers to facilitate their access to renewable energy consumption and to help them improve these habits at home. The French region Coeur de Savoie, and ICLEI Member cities Barcelona (ES), Rome (IT) and Almada (PT)) have adopted the Sun4All financial support scheme and later this year, the project will launch an Open Call to establish a Community of Practice. This will provide opportunities for other European cities to replicate and adopt Sun4All in their regions.

ICLEI Europe will have a stand at European Sustainable Energy Week at the end of September, at which ICLEI representatives will be on-hand to provide tools and resources on: smart energy solutions; positive energy buildings; district heating; social innovation in energy transitions; energy communities; building stock; reaching climate neutrality; energy management in homes; and energy citizenship.

The bigger picture

Whether considering energy- (and fossil fuel-) producing regions, or any facet of energy consumption, ICLEI’s message is consistent: communities must be at the heart of energy transition.

We need EU-level regulations that make it easier for communities to produce and consume sustainable energy, and direct support from all levels of government to the most vulnerable community members, including those who are subject to losing their jobs in energy transition.

ICLEI Europe is determined to continue to push for community-led energy transition, and to provide capacity-building and tools to local authorities and citizens to make that happen.

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