Climate Active Neighbourhoods working conference in Arnhem.

Last month, as well as visiting some of the neighbourhood community projects in the Arnhem area, Energise Sussex Coast attended the Climate Active Neighbourhoods (CAN) working conference. The CAN project focuses on raising the standard of living for the most vulnerable and those least able to pay for their fuel. We often refer to this demographic as the people who are in ‘fuel poverty’, but the social scientists at the CAN conference were keen to point out that this should really be framed in a different way – as energy injustice or energy democracy.

Indeed, ESC Living Labs project partner Professor Audley Genus of Kingston University took the concept further by questioning whether energy democracy could be possible without the framework of a truly democratic society. Genus states that ‘new problem framings can enhance effective local energy consumption initiatives: rupturing energy use routines’, and adds that ‘top-down’ only solutions, imposed on a population from above, now seem impractical, if not impossible.

Throughout one year of the CAN project – in France, the UK, Germany and The Netherlands – 1200 houses had been reached, 1500 Tonnes of Greenhouse Gas emissions had been saved, and 14 million euros of funding had gone into the project areas.

All of the project partners agreed that a Bottom Up Development (BUD) approach had not only been a successful strategy, but had added great social value to the communities via shared experiences and responsibilities. The social cohesion that comes with this approach must not be underestimated. On more than one occasion people benefiting referred to now being able to see ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’.

Cathelijne Bouwkamp, Alderman of Arnhem, stated that cooperation between local authorities and neighbourhood initiatives worked well, and that citizens trust could be earned by chatting to them and learning what their issues were before trying to impose solutions.

Simone Raskob of Climate Alliance stressed the importance of learning from mistakes, working with local authorities and merging bottom up with top down approaches. In her city of Essen there are now 200 projects connected to CAN. She also emphasized that we owe it to the next generation to act now and we need to support them in their school climate action strikes.

Dirk Vansintjian, the Belgian president of REScoop stated his desire that locals take as much ownership as possible NOW or else a more democratic energy transition cannot be achieved. In his experience, those investing in community energy regularly halved their own consumption through an increase in knowledge. He added that energy democracy needs to be from 100% renewable sources and, as they do in their energy coop, half owned by the local community, as outside vested interests would always drain value from the local economy. He stressed that he sees the sun, wind air and water as part of ‘common goods’ not for some outside company to come in and take that asset away – ‘We need a plan, and not a free market approach’ he offered.

You can view all the images from our visit to Arnhem here