New report: Leveraging the activism of civil society

Energy transition lessons from the EU and US


The latest Energy Allies report showcases how civil society can be an ally and friend to city governments in a quest for better energy transition strategies with lasting local impact. Civil society includes citizen groups, non-governmental organizations, startups and established companies. It is a challenging, yet an important stakeholder to include in energy governance.

Our report entitled “Cities and Civil Society as Allies for the Energy Transition” provides guidance to local public servants and policy-makers wishing to initiate new participatory processes. It draws upon good practices from four cities in Europe and in the US, all of them committed to strengthening local stakeholder participation in political decision-making. The report, drafted by the German Marshall Fund (GMF) and co-authored by Energy Cities takes us from Nantes (France), Heidelberg (Germany) over the Atlantic to Cambridge (Massachusetts) and Charlotte (North Carolina). After a description of the context and pioneering initiatives from each of the four cities, the report explores the ways in which civil society can be engaged in multi-stakeholder dialogues in favour of local energy transition.

Engaging civil society for a healthy participatory democracy

Readers are provided with detailed examples of how giving citizens, businesses and associations a say can produce better outcomes. Nowadays, a city government is much more than a regulator and policy-maker and has the task of leveraging civil society in their processes. The report identifies several key roles that civil society can play for local governments, based on the lessons learned from the transatlantic Energy Allies project.

Local governments should tap into the potential of civil society as:

  • Advocate
  • Connector
  • Implementor
  • Educator
  • Lab for cities
  • Curator of ideas

Each of these roles is illustrated in the report through concrete examples. These include activities with cooperatives, citizen groups, NGOs, startups and energy companies.

Cities are centrally positioned to tackle climate solutions through stronger energy democracy. Readers will particularly appreciate the main lessons learned from cities: The six identified dimensions show that done correctly cities can unlock enormous potential through listening to and amplifying the voices of their local stakeholders.  

Energy Allies

An important dimension to the creation of the report was the transatlantic nature of the inputs. With the decision of the US to withdraw from the Paris Agreement in 2017, bonds between the EU and US have been tested with respect to climate change strategy. Energy Allies was a joint project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and Energy Cities. This report captures the various exchanges of ideas that were promoted through the project. The efforts showcased, such as targets of reaching 100 percent renewable energy endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ resolution in June 2017, reflect that regardless of national political climates, transatlantic city relationships and commitments have the potential to drive decarbonisation strategies on both sides of the pond.

Article by Carol Grzych and Miriam Eisermann