Citizens would vote for the Green Deal – if only they knew about it

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This article is part of our special report Local action spearheading climate resilience – a special report.

Bad dream, full reality

Your house is burning and you’ve called the fire brigade, “Don’t worry,” they say “we’ll take care of this.” Then you wait. And wait. Until it’s too late.

Nina Klein is Policy Lead at ECOLISE – European Network for Community-Led Initiatives on Climate Change and Sustainability.

This is where European citizens are today. Temperatures are rising. The European Environment Agency warns us to expect at least 3˚C of warming in Europe by 2050, causing food and ecosystems to fail. Already 80% of Europe’s ecosystems are in a bad state; there is pollution on a huge scale. According to the UN, to avoid the worst impacts the next two years are critical.

Meanwhile, national governments are… not doing much. “Don’t worry,” they say, “we’ll fix this for you. Technology will sort it out. Calm down and watch. But first, we need to take care of … [the pandemic / war / inflation / petrochemical and agro-chemical profits / etc.].”

Nobody treats citizens as agents of change – despite the last IPCC report stating that “(systemic enabling of) changes to our lifestyles … can result in a 40-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This offers significant untapped potential.”

Good dream, half reality

The good news is there’s a plan! There is a European Green Deal. Since 2019, following impressive climate action (thanks, Fridays for Future!) momentum for the deal has been growing, buoyed by a strong coalition across political divides at EU level. The deal establishes important goals for governance in the face of the planetary crisis: binding regulations such as the Climate Law (Fitfor55 package), Ecocide law, Right to Repair, and much more besides. Of course, a lot still needs to be done, especially in agriculture and food systems.

80% of environmental laws in the Member States derive from the EU. They help keep the playing field level in economies based on profits and a delusional growth paradigm – where caring for the planet and people receives little support. These regulations give citizens hope.

A wake up call!

Still, the Green Deal is still just a plan (though some of its laws are already binding). An overwhelming majority, 93% of EU citizens, believe climate change is a serious problem, but without political will (as the UN warns us) the plan will benefit no-one.

Sadly there is a backlash today. Nationalist parties are predicted to win seats in the European Parliament, making political action towards a habitable planet even harder. Right wing groups like the European People’s Party (EPP) are withdrawing their support and blocking progress on the Green Deal with EPP members even expressing delight at the demise of nature protection laws, boasting on social media that one can still use pesticides in nature protected areas thanks to their work.

Do these politicians not read recent studies? By the European Environment Agency, for example: “If decisive action is not taken now, most climate risks identified could reach critical or catastrophic levels by the end of this century.”

The idea that citizens “hate the Green Deal” is not true. Citizens want a pesticide-free environment, healthy food, clean air and water, green jobs, access to nature. In short, they want to live a good life within our planetary boundaries.

Reality check…

Many politicians are out of sync with millions of citizens’ wishes. But why? Aggressive lobbying and disinformation by polluting industries, no doubt. But it’s also because politicians lack contact with the general population, while many citizens are not only disengaged with politics, but also with democracy. As Vandana Shiva puts it, “living democracy grows like a tree, from the bottom up.” In Brussels, civil society actors urging policymakers to strive for a strong Green Deal have a weaker voice than the much better funded fossil-fuel lobbyists working hard to derail the Green Deal.

Few people seem to know about the European Green Deal – including friends, neighbours, local politicians and people already involved in sustainability projects. The media barely discuss it. Politicians avoid the topic. “Normal” citizens rarely attend the conferences in Brussels, which is sad as they would meet inspiring people there, leading real change, especially regarding the European Green Deal.

What if…

What if grassroots organisations and communities could work with the change-leaders at all levels, from local government to the EU, making the Green Deal a reality on the ground?

This is where hope lies. Throughout Europe, there are communities already living “good lives” – respecting the planet’s boundaries, responding to the planetary crisis. Over two million people are engaged in the energy transition; others maintain urban gardens and community-supported agriculture; there are healthy soil initiatives, resource-pooling schemes like car-sharing, and many other initiatives in almost every town in Europe. They are rooted in movements like permaculture, transition and ecovillages; they are evident in energy communities (REScoop, for example), in about 3,000 local action groups (see the European LEADER Association, ELARD) & many more.

Politicians often overlook the significance of such citizen-driven initiatives: their paths to sustainability are realistic and practical, inspiring others and exemplifying the socio-ecological transformation we need. They help us picture a world where everyone lives well, within the limits of the planet. What if we could all “live our democracy” so it grows like a tree or better still, a forest?

In an deliberative process examining the role of community-led initiatives and the European Green Deal, ECOLISE (the European network of community-led initiatives on climate change and sustainability) has produced the Time for Collective Action Manifesto, which holds seven key messages for policymakers and citizens alike.


For a hopeful future after the bad dream, we say to policymakers: make sure people have the right to choose to live sustainably; let them act as agents of change for their communities and for the planet. And to the citizens: go and vote for a strong European Green Deal with communities at its heart! Because if you don’t make this choice for yourself, others will do it for you.

More than 50 campaign partners have already endorsed the Manifesto, which features in our collective campaign in the run-up to the European elections. We call on everyone to sign it.

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