EUKICON22 – Fostering the Green Transition
by Sofia Shabafrouz & GIZ/EUKI
The 4th EUKI conference took place in Berlin from 20 to 21 September 2022, providing a great opportunity for Europe’s energy transition and climate action community to dialogue, share ideas and learn from each other.
EUKI’s fifth anniversary was a very fitting occasion to reunite for two full days of dialogue on how to foster the green transition in Europe. From Sofia and Bucharest to Warsaw and Madrid, almost 150 delegates attended the hybrid conference. The event was moderated by Verena Ringler, European strategy expert and founder of AGORA European Green Deal. It provided a space for EUKI project members, representatives of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK), and the EU Commission to ponder the important question: How can we strive for climate neutrality in times of crisis? But it was also an opportunity to celebrate EUKI’s birthday, its community, and the work that it does all over Europe.
Making a meaningful contribution
First up to speak at this international high-level conference on Europe’s green transition was Ulrike Leis, who welcomed the audience and the speakers on behalf of the entire EUKI team. ‘These are challenging times indeed. We just barely overcame the corona crisis. Now we’re facing a horrible war raging on European soil. All of this while the climate crisis is becoming ever more prevalent,’ said the Deputy Director of the financing programme. ‘The EUKI cannot solve this, but we can make a meaningful contribution.’
The floor was then given to Simon Marr, Head of Division for European Climate Policy at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) under Minister Dr Robert Habeck. The division assumed responsibility for EUKI at the beginning of this year. ‘We see that the EUKI can contribute to reaching the goals of the European Green Deal by supporting partners and civil society, in particular in some of the European focus cities,’ said Marr.
Tough but necessary to stay on track
BMWK State Secretary Patrick Graichen sent a video message with his opening remarks. He talked about the severe energy crisis set off in Europe by Putin’s war against Ukraine, which was forcing the German Government to take short-term measures to secure more fossil energy supplies. However, as he assured the audience, this did not mean that Germany was heading back to the fossil-fuel age. These measures were necessary only in the coming 18 months to get the country through its next two winters. Moving away from Russian coal, oil and gas was the long-term path to take, he stressed. This, argued Graichen, made it necessary to step up the transition to renewables, and to accelerate energy efficiency and electrification – not only to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also to make European countries less dependent on autocrats. ‘We need ambitious climate policies, not only in the government and in big multinational companies. But we also need you, the civil societies, the municipalities, the climate pioneers closest to the everyday life of the citizens,’ he said, addressing the EUKI community.
Leave no one behind
His colleague Berthold Goeke, Deputy Director-General for National and European Climate Policy at BMWK, was responsible for EUKI in its launch phase. He continued on-site with a brief walk through the political priorities of the EU and national climate policies. While at national level, Germany had set itself ambitious targets, the European Union was discussing and adopting the promising REpowerEU and the ‘Fit for 55’ packages – two key reference points for all climate stakeholders from Europe. ‘The overall cause, we are heading to, should be clear. The EUKI and its programmes will also need to turn their cause towards this direction,’ said Goeke. In the midst of these efforts, he pointed out, we must not lose sight of low-income economies and households who struggle with the upfront investment in a green transition.
Yvon Slingenberg, who directs two departments in the Directorate General on Climate Action at the European Commission, shared her insights on the European political framework regarding climate action. Despite all the difficulties the EU member states were facing, she remained optimistic. ‘We are making steady progress towards the adoption of the Fit for 55 package,’ explained Slingenberg. She described the high degree of consensus on this front between the European Council and the European Parliament as good news, before going on to highlight the immediate need for action, investment, and a concerted effort to shape a transition that is just and fair for all European citizens.
Time for exchange
After this opening, experts from NGOs, think tanks and municipalities all across Europe had time to share their thoughts. The first panel discussed the challenges and opportunities in these times of crises and how EUKI projects could accelerate the green transition. The panellists saw Europe’s energy transition community very much embedded in EU policy cycles, at a turning point due to the energy crisis and facing a great deal of work in advocating for the transition. The second panel, with representatives from EUKI projects and BMWK, discussed the benefits of EUKI as a funding instrument. The panellists agreed that it was a unique and flexible instrument, one that helped the transition at municipal, rural and governmental level. It was fostering long-term capacities, facilitating the transfer of knowledge and aiding collaboration in a sustainable way. In between the panels, the delegates participated in whisper groups, break-out sessions, and question-and-answer rounds.
A treasure trove of success stories
A poster exhibition around the conference room showcased the ways in which the EUKI projects were bringing ideas to power and translating visions into action. All projects were invited to summarise their approaches and achievements. 13 projects took the opportunity to present very briefly on stage what they were doing and to identify possible connecting factors. The good examples included climate-efficient school catering in Croatia and Estonia, interactive and gamified climate education in Slovenia and Hungary, and facilitation of the citizen energy movement in the Balkans.
The importance of success stories concerning projects that supported climate action while delivering benefits for people and businesses was underscored by three speakers in the ‘future tracks’ session. Annika Hedberg from the European Policy Centre (EPC) encouraged the community to get in touch with the ‘Brussels bubble’ (politicians, but also NGOs and think tanks) and share their stories: ‘We need to learn from good practices, exchange on lessons learnt, and talk about the challenges and ways to address them when delivering on projects. We need to scale up good results,’ she explained. Leonora Grcheva from the Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL) presented new and holistic ways of thinking inspired by the economist Kate Raworth. Grcheva described the doughnut as a compass for human prosperity within planetary boundaries that was inspiring many people around the world. She invited the audience to check out the tools and stories provided on the DEAL platform to see if they could be of benefit. Last but not least, Sven Egenter from Clean Energy Wire (CLEW) appealed to the audience to leverage their success stories and specific expertise correctly when talking to people and journalists. ‘Think about how your story, how your project can relate to the people on the other side, not only what you want out of that project,’ he said.
“I’m glad to personally stand here in front of you and to see that the EUKI as a baby has been flourished and has been nourished. I remember that it was quite cumbersome to organise funding mostly at the end of the year, where there was still a little bit of money available and to get projects up and running. And I remember someone saying: we actually need an EUKI in comparison to the IKI, to the International Climate Initiative. This has been established and it’s a great success.”
The three speeches gave the EUKICON audience food for thought, which they subsequently discussed in the six future labs. Split into groups, they focussed on how the community needed to equip itself and the projects to tackle current challenges. For 90 minutes, the groups shared their experiences, lessons learned and peer-to-peer advice with regard to the future tracks. ‘It was an amazing experience to first hear three inspirational speeches and then see how we could use and transfer some of the innovative ideas into our projects,’ shared Mateusz Kowalik from the Polish Green Network.
Elsa Benhöfer, who heads the EUKI Academy, EUKI’s networking and peer learning tool, presented upcoming events and summarised what the community wanted to focus on next: cross-national sharing of best practices within the sectors of expertise, a discussion of current developments and new policy trends at EU level with other Central and Eastern European partners, and greater dialogue with and access to EU institutions.
Maximilian von Kleist-Retzow (BMWK) added that the ministry was planning to launch the next call for ideas in November of this year, leaving it open until mid-January. ‘We want the EUKI projects to have a real influence on the EU’s current priorities, meaning the EU Green Deal, and the Fit for 55 and REpowerEU packages,’ he said. Which is why the project proposals needed to show direct links to these big agendas. The focus would remain on Central and Eastern Europe and the accession and potential accession countries in the Western Balkans.
Plenty of networking, face-to-face encounters, and many insights to take home – the EUKICON22 was just what the EUKI community needed in these times.