Stop trying to do the wrong things better, just start doing the right things!

Policy op-ed by Claire Roumet

Faced with a pandemic, an unprecedented social and economic crisis, growing democratic uncertainty and the ever-present climate challenge, the time has come for us to consider all these issues as a whole and propose a system change. Does this sound radical to you? Yet these words are not mine! They sum up the foreword – penned by the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen – to the last Club of Rome report entitled “A System Change Compass

To mark Energy Cities’ 30th anniversary, we had planned to review our charter and strategy. But we had not foreseen that this exercise would take place under such circumstances. Nor that the European Commission would preface a report that could be our compass!  

We are continuously managing permanent, latent, looming or existing crises. And mayors, as always, are there, dutifully on the front line. Everywhere they are sharing information and organising themselves. This “reinforced cooperation” lays the foundations for a new form of action. A new way of doing things that may also be experienced by hospital and school managers, who are having to adapt their institutions to the unthought-of.  The strength of local players will always be their detailed knowledge of available resources and the civil society networks they can rely on, and how to link existing organisations to spontaneous initiatives to increase their impact. The strength of local authorities is to provide a fertile ground in which solutions can grow, a ground composed of all the institutions which, taken together, form the basis of our social and democratic system. What the Club of Rome report proposes, almost 50 years after the Meadows report, is nothing less than truly integrating the limits of our planet into the economy. This means working on new economic ecosystems, new types of organisation, new relations between sectors, institutions and players, and organising these relations around our fundamental needs (and so reduced, not “superficial” needs).   

However, if it is nothing less, it remains light-years away from the way policies are organised. For example, on the same day, the European Commission published a 340 million euro tender for the development of structural reforms in EU member States. I doubt this new compass will be used to choose the consultancies which will be tasked with reforming the States and all their local authorities…  the recent “renovation wave” proposal we discussed in detail in our previous newsletter also fails to integrate a systemic vision and is likely to come up against the same stumbling blocks as previous initiatives.

A sector-based approach will be unable to meet the cross-sectoral challenges. Neither will a national approach. The solutions require coordination of the various policies and levels of action. And for each ecosystem to be networked to meet future challenges. When the cities today share their daily experience in managing the crisis, they create an ecosystem. Not only will these exchanges help the cities’ action, but like mushroom spores, they will prepare the local and intra-local ground for new ecosystems.

Until recently, the big cities were competing with each other to be firmly on the world map of the most dynamic cities. A trend amplified by European policies which encouraged specialisation in clusters. But the health crisis, together with the climate crisis, is conversely reinforcing cooperation between territories. Although each city has to define its own resilience strategy, they can share their knowledge, concerns and move forward together. Cities have a long history of sharing experience and viewpoints, so their collaboration is natural.

Networked cities are a rich ecosystem, a foundation for the transitions to come. We still have a lot to discuss with our member cities!  



Claire Roumet

Publication date

November 12, 2020