The European Ideas Lab is a unique space that brings together Green decision-makers and activists for 3 days. The 2021 European Ideas Lab (EIL) co-hosted by the European Greens and the Greens/EFA in the European parliament was held from 29 September to 3 October. As the 3rd pan European edition, it is part of a long-term effort to foster dialogue and collaboration between Green politicians and activists.
This year, it focused on climate and biodiversity the UN Climate Summit (COP26) and Biodiversity Summit (COP15). Extreme climate events such as flash floods and massive wildfires in the last few months have illustrated the pressing need to address the climate crisis.
And continued biodiversity loss in the continent, including the destruction of old growth forests, signal that biodiversity must be made a priority in the EU and beyond.
As Greens, we believe that engaging with societal actors beyond the political sector is vital to our common project of achieving a Green Recovery. The EIL is an extension of our work on this and provided another opportunity to connect the struggles in Europe and create links with the changemakers across Europe that are mobilizing civil society around environmental issues
Mar Garcia, the Secretary General of the European Greens, opened the event. She gave an overview of the current political situation on climate and biodiversity and emphasised that advances are insufficient and very slow: “If we keep going like this, if we don’t accelerate our action, we are going towards a climate disaster.” She mentioned the creation of the EU’s Green Deal as a positive step geared towards a more sustainable path. “There are good intentions,” she emphasised, “but what we are lacking now is the action.”
Garcia outlined the main demands of the Greens as COP26 approaches: 1) a stronger leadership of the EU, including stronger levels of ambition in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, 2) access to the necessary resources to achieve a just transition for both the Global North and South, and 3) the phase-out of fossil fuels. She also highlighted social awareness as the engine of change, and the vital importance of activists and civil society in this transformation of our societies:
“Today, one of the main political tools that we have to prevent the unsustainable and unhealthy decisions is the greater sensitivity of public opinion towards environmental issues in order to face climate change and the pressure that environmental movements bring into the system.”
Vula Tsetsi, the Secretary General of the Greens/EFA in the European parliament, welcomed Green leaders and changemakers and introduced the Mayor of Milan Beppe Sala, who illustrated his plans for a just and sustainable transition in Milan and Europe. Vula Tsetsi highlighted the pressing need for climate action and the risk of greenwashing considering the less than 6 years left on the climate clock. She also emphasised the need for civil society to continue to put pressure on politicians:
“If politicians do not feel the public pressure, nothing will happen. [Politicians] will continue with the greenwashing. We will continue to look at this clock and not do anything. (…) Without activists, without civil society, without young people, we will not be able to make the changes that need to be done in a short amount of time.”
Activists Adélaïde Charlier, Co-founder of Youth For Climate, and Nathan Méténier, member of the UN Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change and Co-chair of the Youth Summit, spoke about their hopes and challenges for climate action and policy ahead of COP26, such as prioritising those that are already suffering the impact of climate change, treating the climate issue as a problem of climate justice, and prioritising inclusivity – both in terms of marginalised communities and youth.
In ‘The vital role of activists and politicians: How to foster synergies’, Green MEP Bas Eickhout was in conversation with Chloé Mikolajczak, Climate Justice Activist, Rossella Muroni, Green Member of the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of Italy, Martina Comparelli, Fridays For Future Activist, and Giovanni Mori, Fridays for Future Activist. At the centre of the discussion was how activists and politicians can fight together in this crucial moment, whilst respecting each other’s different roles in shaping society and affecting change.
The evening ended with a Keynote Session featuring Carola Rackete, who underlined nature-based and Indigenous-led solutions in the fight against the climate and biodiversity crises. She also stressed the need to steer away from the paradigm of economic growth and address social justice issues.
She stated: “We cannot address the climate crisis as a technological problem or a science problem, it is a problem of justice.”
Companies should be forced to share the technology in order to scale up the production and make it accessible to all. The argument that the technology is too sophisticated for others to produce it has been disproved – RNA technology has for example shown to be very easy and fast to transfer. There are many countries – from India to Cuba – with the capacity, expertise and knowledge to produce these health products. The TRIPS Agreement (the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) does contain some exceptions – mainly in Article 30 – which could allow states to temporarily waive patents on COVID-19 products for instance.
This measure is also a matter of political will. It is also possible to stop allowing big pharmaceutical companies to have a monopoly on the production of essential health products. In many cases, these pharmaceutical multinationals externalise various stages of the production to medium and small enterprises (SME) – from basic research to clinical trials – which governments could contract directly.
The second day of the EIL programme was structured to elaborate on various streams of topics, which included a wide range of talks and workshops, in order to connect Green leaders with changemakers and civil society. The road to the COPs focused on strategic discussions ahead of the UN Climate Summit (COP26) and Biodiversity Summit (COP15). Making an impact: Campaigning and Activism focused on peer-learning and creating spaces for exchange on campaigning tactics and strategies, from strategic litigation to public protest and everything in between. Connecting the Struggles was dedicated to campaigns, with the aim of creating connections and strategizing on how to achieve campaign objectives by connecting the struggles.
The central issue at hand throughout the day was the relationship between Green politicians and activists, and how they could work together to achieve their mutual goals in light of upcoming COPs. Both parties understood the timeline that we are facing in order to avoid climate catastrophe but are each limited by their roles at times. That’s why it’s vital to create synergies by discussing priorities together. The Federation for Young European Greens (FYEG) stated its aims to kick polluters out of the COP, ask for more climate action, and bring in the voices of the movements. Green MEPs Bas Eickhout and Pär Holmgren highlighted the need for countries to invest towards the goals of the Paris Agreement, and for the Greens to gain more political capital in order to have to compromise less. Dylan Hamilton, Youth Summit delegate and climate activist, attended the Youth COP and explained that “the best outcome would be that all the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are in line with the Paris Agreement.” The importance of representing those who cannot be at the COP, considering global inequality around vaccine access and other barriers for attendance, was underlined.
The need for more diversity within environmental movements and politics in Europe, as well as more platforming of MAPA (Most Affected Peoples and Areas) peoples was also a central topic. In a session on how the climate crisis is impacting the Global South, activists and MAPA representatives Manuel Alberto Vásquez Ibarra, Davis Reuben Sekamwa, Sofía Caro, and Dhreen Abdullah spoke about the desertification and floods affecting frontline communities.
According to them, the challenges for a green transition were 1) limited education and financial resources, 2) capacity gaps, 3) corruption and weak institutions, and 4) limited information provided locally. Green MEP and European Green Party Co-chair Thomas Waitz emphasised that the Greens are fighting for ecocide to be included in crimes against humanity: “We need global rules that prevent the worst disasters environmentally and socially. That is something that I think is really worth fighting for.”
Furthermore, the topic of welcoming migrants, refugees, asylum seekers is crucial amid what Philippe Lamberts, Member of the European Parliament and Co-president of the Greens/EFA group, called a trend towards ‘fortress Europe’. By pushing migrants and refugees back and making the lives of those that arrive miserable, some EU countries are trying to shirk their responsibilities under the Geneva Convention. Yagoub Kibeida, Executive Director of Mosaico: Action for refugees, spoke on the types of traumas endured on the migrant journey, and the lack of refugee voices in public debates on immigration.
The day started with a brunch with Green Politicians, during which participants could exchange with Green MEPs Philippe Lamberts, Bas Eickhout, Pär Holmgren, Rosa D’Amato, and Thomas Waitz, as well as Secretary General of the European Greens Mar Garcia and Co-Chair of the European Greens Évelyne Huytebroeck. Afterwards, participants expressed their wishes for the future in the Wrap-Up Session, which ended in cheers, speeches and song! The wishes included using politics and activism to reinforce one another, achieving social and ecological justice, and giving a platform to and prioritising the voices of marginalised peoples and MAPA.
The day continued with the Global Strike for Climate Justice by Fridays for Future. We did a lot of work, and we still have a lot to do. But, as one participant said, “we are all changemakers, each one of us!”