Achieving climate neutrality by 2050 in line with our commitment to the Paris Agreement and as set out in the Green Deal is a key objective of the European Union. The 2022 energy crisis and related EU energy security issues revealed that an especially key factor in the structure of such climate policy approaches is the active participation of citizens.
The importance of this aspect is underlined in the study Behavioural Climate Change Mitigation Options and Their Appropriate Inclusion in Quantitative Longer Term Policy Scenarios1 . The study concluded that there is considerable potential for reducing CO2 emissions by means of behavioural changes, particularly in the areas of housing, nutrition, and mobility. However, there are several barriers that prevent the realisation of these behavioural changes. In addition to a lack of knowledge and insufficient awareness of one’s own energy consumption, cultural norms are also among the hindering factors.
In line with these findings, the Energy Neighbourhoods project was realised, co-funded under the Intelligent Energy – Europe programme. This project is based on an energy-saving bet between municipalities and their citizens, with the aim of reducing energy consumption by a certain percentage. Friends, colleagues, and clubs join to form energy neighbourhoods and bet against their city or district that they will manage to save at least 9% of electricity and heat within a certain period compared to the previous year. The competition is accompanied by information and motivation measures as well as energy coaches, and concludes with a prestigious award ceremony.
But besides energy saving and responsible energy consumption, citizens also play a vital role as energy citizens and prosumers. In the report The potential of energy citizens in the European Union (Kampman, Blommerde und Afma, 2016, p. 3), it is estimated that “about 83% of the EU’s households could potentially become an energy citizen and contribute to renewable energy production, demand response and/or energy storage, which amounts to about 187 million households”. Taking this into account, the Horizon project SHAREs supports local heroes in setting up or expanding energy communities and enables them to motivate and reach out to consumers directly, including those who do not yet have an affinity for energy or are simply unfamiliar with the concept of energy communities.
In summary, behavioural change on the part of citizens and an active role as prosumers are crucial factors to achieve climate neutrality in the EU by 2050. In addition to supportive policy and legal frameworks, information, motivation, the provision of materials and the active cooperation of citizens in overcoming obstacles are necessary to bring the Green Deal to life across the EU.
1 Faber, Jasper; Schroten, Arno; Bles, Mart; Sevenster, Maartje; Markowska, Agnieszka; Smit, Martine; Rohde, Clemens; Dütschke, Elisabeth; Köhler, Jonathan; Gigli, Michaela; Zimmermann, Karin; Soboh, Rafat; van’t Riet, Jonathan (2012): Behavioural Climate Change Mitigation Options and Their Appropriate Inclusion in Quantitative Longer Term Policy Scenarios – Main Report; Delft, April 2012
Thekla Heinel is FEDARENE Vice-President for Climate Protection in Municipalities and Regions. She is also Head of Department at Beratungs- und Service Gesellschaft Umwelt (B. & S.U.).
This editorial is part of our publication “Sustainable Regions in Action 2023”. Find out more by clicking here to discover best practices from FEDARENE members as well as an overview of our activities.