Talking terms for green citizen action


What does it mean to be a good environmental citizen? A COST meeting has defined key concepts that help teachers and organisations to encourage people to care for the planet. An online database, book and global outreach add to the support.

Plastic pollution, climate change and the loss of biodiversity are just some of the many environmental issues in the news every day. Actions by citizens are central to EU plans to tackle these issues – for example, the proposed European Green Deal and the EU 2050 strategy for a low-carbon Europe.

But first, people must agree on how citizen action should work. A meeting of the European Network for Environmental Citizenship (ENEC) – a COST Action – has defined “environmental citizenship”, the “environmental citizen” and “education for environmental citizenship” to provide ground rules for bottom-up initiatives for the planet.

According to ENEC Chair, Dr Andreas Hadjichambis of the Cyprus Center for Environmental Research and Education, the concepts are new and until now, understood by researchers in often different and sometimes contradictory ways.

With over 130 experts from Europe, Israel, Australia and the USA in ENEC, the Action has created an international consensus that can be a framework for educators, researchers, NGOs and policymakers worldwide.

“This common language is an important and valuable step,” Hadjichambis explains. “ENEC’s definitions and outputs bring Europe to the forefront of attempts to achieve environmental citizenship.”

Global reach

The full definitions are based around the idea of environmental citizenship as “…the responsible pro-environmental behaviour of citizens who act and participate in society as agents of change”. Details specify citizens’ environmental rights, duties and how they should act to achieve sustainability and a healthy relationship with nature.

The texts were agreed at the ENEC first meeting, a three-day event in Cyprus, following extensive literature review and expert communication. Participants first reviewed the existing approaches among scientists to environmental citizenship. With outside specialists from fields such as environmental sciences, education and law, groups then reviewed, analysed and debated concepts for the terms.

“Interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity were very important in our approach,” says Hadjichambis.

More widely, the Action is sharing knowledge about environmental citizenship. ENEC members have created “GAIA”, an online database of measures and actions, and published a free online book, along with dozens of smaller publications, presentations and scientific posters.

Other outreach includes an international conference, ‘International Researchers of Education for Environmental Citizenship’ (iREEC2019), along with training schools and science cafés in different European countries.

In its next two years, ENEC aims to promote its perspective, propose policy measures and create a scientific community dedicated to the topic.

It is an ambitious plan.

“We want our ideas to be disseminated on a global scale,” Hadjichambis concludes.

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