Why social innovation is an essential part of the energy transition

The climate neutral transformation will require big technological and social changes. EU citizens play a crucial role for the decarbonisation of Europe’s economy and society.

Climate change has become a major challenge for the European society. Horizontal and influencing almost every aspect of our lives. Therefore, the High-Level Panel of the European Decarbonisation Pathways Initiative, of which I was a member, was asked to produce recommendations for research and innovation for the decarbonisation of Europe’s society. With this, the High-Level Panel (HLP) contributed to the European Commission’s long-term Strategy “A clean planet for all” aiming at a climate neutral economy by 2050. The Commission’s vision for a climate-neutral future is in line with the Paris Agreement objective to keep the global temperature increase to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to keep it to 1.5°C. This strategy shows how Europe can lead the way to climate neutrality by investing into realistic technological solutions, empowering citizens, and aligning action in key areas such as industrial policy, finance, or research – while ensuring social fairness for a just transition.

Individual behavioural changes can help to reduce CO2 emissions (credit David Marcu/Unsplash)

The climate neutral transformation –for which the energy transition plays an important role – will require big technological and social changes. EU citizens play a crucial role for the decarbonisation of Europe’s economy and society. Small changes in daily behaviour, such as using public transport rather than private cars to commute, can help to reduce individual CO2 emissions. Also, citizens may come together to start community initiatives and thus foster “social innovation for decarbonisation”. Behavioural change and social innovation have both their own merits and are separate concepts, but social innovation can also enforce behavioural change.

That is why empowering citizens to take a leading role in the decarbonisation of Europe’s society is to my view an essential element for a successful decarbonisation of Europe. People know themselves best, how and to what extent they can contribute to the decarbonisation of Europe’s society as they are the main constituent of it. It appeals to their creativity, motivation, and willingness to change their way of living, or to start initiatives for decarbonisation, either individually or collectively with other people. Such a bottom-up movement on the micro scale, complements global movements and policies on the macro scale.

But, to bring us closer to this required and expected societal change, we need something more than just High-Level Panel recommendations. On 28 March 2019, the DEEDS-project organised a workshop with stakeholders from policy, NGOs, knowledge institutes, etc. on “Social innovation and lifestyle change for the decarbonisation of Europe”, that was aimed at bringing the recommendations of the High-Level Panel to a more concrete level as to be able to support the calls in the new Framework Program “Horizon Europe”. In the workshop four topics were discussed in an open atmosphere and in an interactive manner: impacts of social innovations and lifestyle changes, policy innovations, upscaling & replication, and equity aspects of the energy transition. For each of these four topics several recommendations were worked out. The DEEDS-project will take these up in a policy brief that will be published before summer.

With these actions, I trust that the Panel’s recommendations on lifestyle change and social innovation will reach the European Research and Innovation practice and will lead eventually to well-informed and capable citizens that know how to act and take initiative for a timely and effective decarbonisation of Europe’s society, changing the way we act, consume and produce energy. And eventually, the EU will become carbon neutral.

By Beata Jaczewska, Member of the High-Level Panel of the European Decarbonisation Pathways Initiative