What is the role of citizens in Europe’s shift to a sustainable future and how do we make it inclusive? Transitioning into sustainability will be challenging and calls for creativity and the full involvement of all sectors of society, including citizens, to make it a success, according to a European Environment Agency briefing published today.  

The EEA briefing presents key insights from sustainability studies and emerging practices of public participation and explains why a thoughtful approach to participation is needed for sustainability transitions. Such insights can help European policy and decision makers to better assess the role of public participation in governance processes that, until now, have focused more on scientific, technical and administrative aspects.

EU policies and programmes, including the European Green Deal and the 8th Environment Action Programme, highlight the importance of public engagement in closing knowledge gaps and call for public participation on all levels of decision-making. This resonates with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ envisaging ‘a world of universal respect for equality and non-discrimination’. 

The European Green Deal in particular calls for citizens to be a driving force of the transition to sustainability and that the conditions for empowering citizens and building effective forms of public participation need to be created. 

The briefing argues that public participation can unleash creativity, generate knowledge and mobilise action. It can provide a means for environmental and social concerns and conflicts to be expressed and debated, even if not necessarily resolved. Choosing the approach that is best fit for purpose in each situation is thus crucial and needs careful consideration. For the full potential of public participation to be realised, a thorough reflection is needed on the institutional conditions necessary for its outcomes to enter policy or decision-making processes. 

The EEA briefing is the latest published as part of the series ‘Narratives for change’. The series explores the diversity of ideas needed to make our societies more sustainable and fulfil the ambitions of the European Green Deal. 

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