Petr Zahradník, Lutz Ribbe and Isabel Caño Aguilar members of the European Economic and social committee (EESC) highlight the key role of civil society in driving the low-carbon economy transition

The Paris COP21 has led to a historic agreement to hold the increase in the global temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C.

Prior to COP21, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), the voice of Europe’s organised civil society in Brussels, called for a legally-binding, ambitious framework applying to all parties to the Convention on the basis of common but differentiated responsibilities. The COP21 outcome has largely satisfied our expectations. However, significant efforts will need to be made in the coming years to translate these ambitious commitments into concrete actions.

The challenges of implementing the agreement can be illustrated by the case of Europe. The EU Member States have been among the main advocates for decisive action to mitigate global warming and have set ambitious decarbonisation goals for 2020 (20% GHG reduction compared to 1990), 2030 (40%) and 2050 (80-95%). One of the key policy frameworks created to achieve these goals is the European Energy Union (EEU).

The EEU is an interesting policy framework because it covers – as a multinational undertaking – a wide range of sectors (energy, transport, construction) and pursues not only the goal of decarbonisation but also of energy security and affordability while ensuring economic competitiveness and job creation in the renewable energy sector. It can, therefore, be expected to foreshadow some of the challenges that can be faced in implementing the Paris Agreement, including the development of an effective Emissions Trading System (ETS), agreeing on binding national GHG emissions reduction targets, and the phasing-out of national subsidy schemes that distort energy prices.

Most importantly, however, the Energy Union can be expected to provide a glimpse of the opportunities, innovations, and challenges of governing multinational decarbonising efforts. At present, the governance of the EEU revolves primarily around obliging the Member States to produce energy and climate policy plans and annual monitoring of progress. The EESC continues to promote the idea of a European Energy Dialogue to ensure that it is a civil society that drives an EU-wide transition to a low-carbon economy and society.

The importance of having a civil society in the driving seat was notable during the COP21. The conference was historic not only because of its final achievement but also due to the unprecedented mobilisation of civil society and non-state actors. They stated, consistently and with conviction, the need for an ambitious, collective effort for a just transition to low carbon and climate resilient societies and economies.

We have seen in the last months that the real action on the climate is taking place outside of the political decision-making and international negotiations process. This division between the negotiators and the non-party stakeholders, including among other civil society and the subnational authorities, was discernible prior to Paris.

However, it must be said that COP21 succeeded in bringing the 2 worlds closer together. In the run-up to Paris, the mobilisation by non-state actors was given a platform of the Lima to Paris Action Agenda (LPAA) to showcase commitments and partnerships of cities, regions, businesses and civil society organisations, including trade unions, which reduce GHG emissions and build greater resilience. LPAA ensured significant visibility for concrete projects very often initiated close to communities and citizens. As a result, the outcome of COP21 clearly recognised the efforts of all non-party stakeholders to address and respond to climate change.

By now almost all parties to the Convention have announced measures to limit or reduce their GHG emissions, so-called INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions). We know that even if these commitments are fulfilled, temperatures would still rise by around 3°C, far exceeding the level promised by the Paris Agreement. However, most analysts expect countries to exceed their pledges and a substantial part of this is due to action taken by non-state actors. A number of important announcements made in Paris such as the commitment of the RE100 group of major companies to source 100% of electricity from renewables, 1000 mayors pledging to deliver 100% renewable energy to their communities or an 80% reduction in GHG by 2050, and the launch of the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, to name just a few, provided a strong signal to investors about the unfolding transition.

COP21 has been a success of multilateralism and an important step forward in setting the global framework for climate action. But the job is not done; it merely got a kick-start and a strong push. The role of civil society will be more important now than ever. It is our obligation to put pressure on governments to fulfil their commitments and accelerate the transition. It is also our role to mobilise non-state actors to work together by delivering concrete solutions in businesses, workplaces, organisations, cities, regions and communities as well as to take ownership of the climate agenda by forming strong alliances. The EESC is calling for intensive and structured dialogue so that society’s fundamental willingness to develop new structures and solutions can be carried forward.


Petr Zahradník – Member

Lutz Ribbe – Member

Isabel Caño Aguilar – Member

European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)


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