Cities and civil society as allies for the energy transition in the EU and US

Lessons for successful civil society engagement



Irene Garcia, GMF
Divya Khandke, GMF
Alix Bolle
Ian Turner

Publication year


When it comes to efforts to address complex global challenges such as climate change, it is clear that a transatlantic partnership is needed as a prerequisite for any viable solution. The bonds between Europe and the US may be unravelling in recent times. However, cities and their citizens are holding the nations together through their will to collaborate and learn from each other.

This report lays out the main lessons from cities for successful partnerships with civil society in six key dimensions:

  1. Providing real opportunities for engagement in planning and implementing with transparency and easy access to information on existing opportunities;
  2. Establishing trust and helping energy-transition stakeholders understand what the city’s vision and goals are to align needs and build something together with civil society;
  3. Setting principles around civil society participation to make it meaningful, as it is time- and cost-intensive;
  4. Being clear on the process, on the stages, and on the objectives of the partnership;
  5. Finding the enabling institutions that provide inclusive and valid representation for specific community groups on the topic of concern; and 6. Promoting regulation and changing procurement in a way that eases the role of civil society and facilitates the scaling of renewable energy.

There is growing momentum behind the prominent role transatlantic cities are playing in the global efforts to fight climate change and in the transition to a new energy paradigm. Through their actions, local authorities are increasingly shaping practices, strategies, and frameworks for energy and climate action, which are taken up at the national and international level. Many of them are going as far as setting the target of reaching 100 percent renewable energy, as endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ resolution in June 2017. In the EU, an ever-growing number of cities are adopting bold targets on renewable energy. The combination of vulnerability to the adverse effects of climate change and a predominant role in energy consumption means that cities can and will be part of the climate solution. They cannot, however, act alone for they often control only a small fraction of local GHG emissions, a fraction which rarely exceeds 10 percent, and the majority are not responsible for their territories’ energy supply.


In 2017, the German Marshall Fund of the United States and Energy Cities launched “Energy Allies: Transatlantic Multi-Stakeholder Dialogues for the Local Energy Transition,” funded by the European Union under the program EU–U.S.: Transatlantic Civil Society Dialogues to foster strategic partnerships and collaboration between local civil society and government leaders, and embed them as a constant pillar in the policy planning and implementation that support cities’ energy transition.

The project included the participation of sixteen individuals from Europe and the United States. Two cities in Europe (Nantes, France and Heidelberg, Germany) and two cities in the United States (Cambridge, Massachusetts and Charlotte, North Carolina) were each represented by one local government representative and two individuals from relevant civil society groups, business organizations, and utilities within the city. Also included were five representatives from stakeholders operating at the U.S. and EU levels. This report summarizes their discussions.

Read the report