Presentation of the study “Participatory processes in Spain and Europe for the fulfillment of SDG 7”.

On May 27th, we celebrated the Human Bridge: inspiring urban experiences for energy transitionwhere we present the conclusions of the study “Participatory processes in Spain and Europe for the fulfillment of SDG 7”. carried out by the Area of Studies and Social Innovation of the Tomillo Foundation for the Subdirectorate General of Global Citizenship and International Development Cooperation of the Madrid City Council.

The objective of the research process was to inspire local policies from a global citizenship perspective for the fulfillment of Sustainable Development Goal 7, which refers to achieving energy that is accessible to all, renewable and with social justice.

For decades, atmospheric pollution, global warming, biodiversity loss and resource depletion seem to be accelerating towards an unprecedented catastrophe. We are thus experiencing a systemic emergency whose closely interrelated elements give rise to equally severe crises in other areas, as we are currently witnessing in the health sector. Asking ourselves how we have arrived at this situation invites us to reflect on our current urban-agro-industrial development model, thanks to which the human footprint has exceeded planetary limits. In particular, the continued use of non-renewable energy sources is seriously jeopardizing planetary survival as we know it.

The change of this model will take place mainly in urban centers. And, in particular, the role of local governments is key. But to achieve this, participatory governance models are needed to implement systemic transformation plans and actions that transcend the sectorialization of local administrations and promote citizen leadership, in order to overcome the exclusionary, unsustainable and vulnerable energy models that currently characterize our urban spaces.

In this context, the Studies and Social Innovation Area of the Tomillo Foundation analyzed 6 inspiring participatory urban practices:

  • Energy Transition Roundtable and the Energy Poverty Roundtable (Cadiz, Spain): at the end of 2015, the Cadiz City Council created these two spaces where citizens meet periodically to participate in the process of defining the energy future of the city and to promote a change in the energy model and culture that reduces its ecological impact.
  • Energy Advice Points (Barcelona, Spain): developed since 2017, this is a universal service, whose responsible is the Social Rights Area of the Barcelona City Council, through 11 spaces that aim to combat energy poverty and promote a change in the energy culture of citizenship through care, empowerment, training and counseling of individuals and families as well as socio-labor insertion in the field of green employment.
  • Vilawatt (Viladecans, Spain): with the aim of placing the city on the road to energy transition and led by its local government, Viladecans has launched a local energy operator with citizen participation, awareness-raising, training and support initiatives to change the culture and improve energy efficiency in homes, businesses and schools, comprehensive energy renovations of buildings and an electronic currency, legal tender, called Vilawatt and associated with the capitalization of energy savings resulting from the new operator and the promotion of local commerce.
  • Leuven 2030 (Leuven, Belgium): this is a participatory process for the implementation of the Roadmap for Climate Change towards 2025, 2030 and 2050 in which the city, European Capital of Innovation 2020, mobilizes its resources towards decarbonization. The process has been articulated around a public-private consortium called Leuven 2030, in which 600 local stakeholders are equally represented in its decision-making bodies, including businesses, financial institutions, social enterprises, sustainability advocacy organizations, culture, academic and knowledge institutions, as well as individual citizens.

  • Brixton Energy Community
    (London, United Kingdom): a group of citizen cooperatives that, since 2011, have been supplying electricity to three neighborhood communities in South London through photovoltaic panels installed on their roofs. Its objective is to generate resilience and development opportunities for citizens through their empowerment in the areas of energy, social inclusion and community development, social skills and job placement. Brixton was the first project of “Repowering London“, a platform created to replicate experiences of energy participation and democracy.
  • Manchester Climate Change Agency and Partnership: consists of a platform of 70 social and citizen agents that, supported by an independent agency that leads the fight against climate change in the city, channels citizen participation and develops actions within the framework of its strategy for decarbonization by 2038.

The main conclusions of the study have been summarized in a decalogue of recommendations for local administrations to incorporate citizen participation in their sustainability policies and, in particular, in energy policies. These include planning, energy efficiency, promotion of renewable energy, energy justice and cultural change towards an inclusive, sustainable and citizen-controlled transition. Specifically, the study advocates, among other things, establishing joint diagnostic processes with citizens, replicating the experiences that already exist in the territory, aiming for a cultural and systemic change, involving the right people and organizations, and establishing viable and democratic governance models. With their particularities, these experiences can serve as a guide for other urban contexts to address the global energy-related challenges that we must all face. Because only through social and citizen participation can we move towards an energy transition that will lead us towards an ecologically sustainable and socially just planet.