Ask, not tell: how government should engage communities on climate change
Communities and local NGOs know better than the government about environment policies. Communities should lead the energy transition in Ukraine.
Ukraine, Eastern Europe
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In 2019, Ukraine held two elections, and the new government changed environmental policy in Ukraine. The Ministry of Energy and the Coal Industry and the Ministry of Environmental Protection were merged into one structure, named the “Ministry for Energy and Environmental Protection.” Then, the new minister of energy and environment came up with a “Green New Deal” for Ukraine. While I welcome the intention, to make it a real new deal, based on my experience working with local authorities, I assert that this policy should undergo many more discussions with stakeholders on all levels, especially local authorities, before adoption.
In 2010, I started as a student volunteer at an environmental NGO. My first task was to study energy efficiency projects in Manevychi District, a small northern community in Ukraine. Talking to employees of the district administration, I noticed how motivated they were. They wanted to improve the comfort of citizens by making public facilities more efficient. While it may be true that not all civil servants are as motivated, all those I have met want to make the lives of their fellow citizens better. This is especially true in small communities, where civil servants represent the needs of their friends and neighbors. Therefore, I believe that local communities, not the federal government, should lead the “new green transformation.”
National authorities must learn this! In my job at the NGO, I see national policies from the perspectives of local officials. The government makes plans on a national level and does not consult with communities. The lack of consultations results in implementation issues on the ground. For example, the actual state subsidies for energy costs of low-income families are designed in a way that discourages energy efficiency. In order to be entitled to a subsidy, a household should consume a certain amount of gas per year. If a household consumes less, it loses the subsidy. Therefore, people have to burn more natural gas in order to receive the subsidy. I call it a perverse incentive.
One day, in a café, I discussed with colleagues how to narrow the gap between national and local level policies. That discussion resulted in the biggest event I ever organized: the “Climate ambitions of cities” forum, in 2019. We brought representatives from 50 local authorities, including mayors of seven cities. At the forum, 21 municipalities signed the forum’s declaration, which calls for more attention from the state level to local developments, particularly in the green energy and climate fields. This was the biggest and most impactful event ever organized by Ukrainian civil society in the field of energy.
Many participants expressed their support of the idea of better collaboration between local and national levels, and of the “new green transformation” in general.
I was very proud of what we achieved.
As civil society organizations, we find and support local authorities, who are ready to step into climate actions. If the government followed our lead, we would be in a new green economy in no time.
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