Carrying on the Torch of Local Climate Action: BEACON Final Conference

On 16-17 June 2021 165 participants from 13 countries gathered virtually for the BEACON Final Conference to advance the work and success that schools and municipalities have initiated in the past three years through the project.

by Tobias Bernstein, Eske Eilts (adelphi), edited by Kristen Brand (Guidehouse)

Published: 30 June 2021

The conference was organized as a way for participants to:

  • Learn from peers and discuss new ideas for climate action in times of green recovery
  • Showcase their climate action achievements
  • Reconnect with BEACON peers from schools and municipalities
  • Expand their network to pave the way for ambitious climate action
  • Celebrate their successes and keep the BEACON spirit alive

Day 1

Moderator Gunnar Will kicks off the conference in an interview with BEACON Project Coordinator Sarah Gül (Guidehouse). © adelphi

After an introduction and interview with BEACON Project Coordinator Sarah Gül (Guidehouse), the first day of the conference continued with inspiring welcome words from the host governments. Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter (Parliamentary State Secretary, German Ministry for the Environment) explained that the conference was not a farewell conference but rather “a chance to find inspiration for new activities and measures in climate action and to consolidate your network beyond BEACON”. Her speech can be viewed here. Ing. Pavel Zámyslický, Ph.D. (Director Energy and Climate Protection Department, Czech Ministry of the Environment) also echoed the sentiment of continuity, emphasising “It is important that others also benefit from the experience gained and brought by the BEACON project …We believe that BEACON should serve as an example for further activities in this area”.

Ing. Pavel Zámyslický, Ph.D., Director Energy and Climate Protection Department, Czech Ministry of the Environment, presenting the welcome words at the BEACON Final Conference. © Guidehouse

In the following keynote session four different students live-broadcasted breaking news from BEACON schools. They reported about their projects and showed what a dedicated pathway to climate action can look like! They left us with some thought-provoking demands to policy makers and authorities.

“Let’s make every day a climate action day” Alexia Pojar

Florian Kliche (UfU) in conversation with students Ludmila Kozlova, Greta Lohrenz, Daniel Parashevov and Alexia Pojar. © adelphi

In the panel discussion “Navigating Europe towards climate neutrality: progress, partnership, and pandemic” with representatives from the national government, local government, and educational contexts, we gained insights on policy avenues at the national and EU levels, successes of the BEACON project, and received an outlook on what the continuation of European local climate action could look like beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Our highlights:

  • “Recovery programs show that paradigms have changed, now climate change is at the heart of the biggest recovery program the EU has ever seen”. Silke Karcher, Head of Division, IK II 5 EU Climate and Energy Policy, European Climate Initiative (EUKI), Carbon Markets, German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety
  • “Regional and national action means local action, because without local action we will not achieve any of our targets”. Leonor Folgado, Senior Officer, General Secretariat of the Environment, Portuguese Ministry of Environment and Climate Action
  • The BEACON project has had positive impacts in many areas of climate action in Pisek and the involvement with the Covenant of Mayors helps us to scale up goals and ambitions”. Petra Trambova, Deputy Mayor of Pisek, Czechia
  • “There is no society that will succeed if the voice of the young people isn’t heard.” Dimitar Zhelev, Sofia University

Moderator Gunnar Will interviewing the panelists Silke Karcher, Leonor Folgado, Petra Trambova and Dimitar Zhelev. © adelphi

Three parallel sessions were held on the first day to cover a range of climate action topics:

  • Building a truss from beams, turning single projects into long lasting structures for climate action: This session discussed different approaches and visions of the Beacon project regarding mainstreaming climate action in schools, as the speakers exchanged ideas and best practices on incentive systems.
  • More participation, fewer cars? Participatory approaches to reducing individual car use: In this session, a light was shed on mobility projects from various EU countries with a focus on good participatory practices. A key take-away is that participation processes can inspire people to open up their minds about what mobility could look like and that children’s education on sustainable mobility can even influence their parents too!
  • Stepping on the scales: increasing energy management to reduce emissions Europe-wide: The lowest hanging fruit to reduce GHG emissions come from simply managing your energy. This session explored experiences with municipal energy management and avenues to scale it up –to spread good practices to municipal administrations Europe-wide.

Day 2

The second day of the conference began with a keynote conversation amongst elected representatives and students on their vision for a climate-neutral future. The attendees were especially inspired by the dreams of the young students who exclaimed what politicians should stand for when it comes to climate action. Highlights of this session include:

  • “Young people give me hope, they are the guarantee that the future will get better.” Maria das Dores Meira, Mayor of Setubal
  • “I wish for a community that lives in accordance with nature! If everybody would do some changes in their life to be sustainable, we sometimes think it would not make a difference, but I think it can really make a big difference to create a sustainable future.” Ludmila Kozlova, Student from the Czech Republic
  • “We want a city that is not only smart, but wise as well.” Kristýna Kosová, Vice-Mayor of Roznov
  • “In my vision of 2050, we will live in a different world, which is more sustainable, social, more colourful and with less traffic – but sounds of nature.” Greta Lohrenz, Student from Germany

Attendes were excited by the Visions shared by Maria das Dores Meira, Greta Lohrenz, Kristýna Kosová and Ludmila Kozlova. © adelphi

Similar to day 1, three parallel sessions were held on the second day to reflect the breadth of interests and expertise in the larger BEACON community:

  • Future and hope: young people in climate action: Nine students from four different countries shared their experiences and ideas and discussed what constitutes a sustainable future. Moderated by the students themselves, they also talked about how they can motivate their friends to engage in climate action.
  • Climate Action is Teamwork: Cooperation is a key element in climate action – municipal representatives showed how internal and external cooperation can succeed, how key actors can be identified and convinced, which structures need to be established, and how obstacles can be overcome.
  • Green Recovery: financing climate action in European municipalities: This session addressed how to make use of available national, EU, and international financing as well as private financing as the key to implementing the transition to low carbon municipalities. They discussed what financing is available, what role the green recovery funds play, and good examples.

Before the conference came to an end, we heard some final remarks that inspired us to continue our work towards a better future from two main drivers for climate action: a mayor and a teacher! And last but not least, the project coordinators used the chance to praise the efforts of all the partners and the innovative ideas that have come out of the BEACON project over the last three years.

Project coordinators Sarah Gül, Camille Serre and Florian Kliche thanked the BEACON partners for their work. © adelphi

Thanks went to the project initiator, the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, to EUKI, to all BEACON partner organisations, and most importantly to all beneficiaries of the project (educators, students, municipal staff, and national representatives). Without their engagement and efforts, BEACON would not have been possible.

All information about the conference, including summaries from each session, can be found on the event website.

Stay tuned for more updates from the BEACON team as a number of resources will be published this summer before the official close of the project.