SUSTAINABILITY

The Valea Jiului Development Society

IMAGE: Valea Jiului Society

Local Romanian civil society organisation accelerates sustainable transition in former mining region

December 15, 2022

 

By Schuyler Cowan

Communications Officer, ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability

Europe is experiencing great uncertainty. An ongoing pandemic, skyrocketing energy prices and war in Ukraine threaten to disrupt the continent’s ambitions to become climate-neutral and to fulfil the objectives of the European Green Deal. Action at the local level is therefore more important than ever.

 

This year, the Transformative Action Award winner Valea Jiului Development Society, demonstrated the resilient potential of local actors, including local governments, civil society and citizens, to inspire change from the ground up. The civil society coalition based in the Jiu Valley, Romania’s former largest coal mining region, is shaking off thirty years of a badly organised transition and revitalising the area within the context of the European Green Deal.

 

This year’s edition of the Transformative Action Award placed a strong emphasis on the local implementation of the European Green Deal, in addition to spotlighting actions that catalyse socio-cultural, socio-economic and technological transformations. For six years, ICLEI Europe and the City of Aalborg (Denmark), with support from the European Committee of the Regions and the European Investment Bank, have organised the award.

 

The Transformative Action Award Trophy

IMAGE: ICLEI Europe

Valea Jiului’s transformative action shows that in spite of obstacles at the local, regional and national levels, sustainable, equitable transitions are possible. Not only are they possible, but similar grassroots initiatives are key to advancing sustainable development across Europe as emphasised by one of the Transformative Action Award jury members:

 

“Local governments and organisations play a big role in advancing the implementation of the European Green Deal, as it is at a local level that the transition will need to take place. It is also at the local level that we are able to involve citizens and key stakeholders, creating local green deals, which is absolutely necessary in order to achieve a successful implementation,” says Thomas Kastrup-Larsen, Mayor of Aalborg (Denmark).

 

 

The 2022 Transformative Action Award winner is announced

IMAGE: ICLEI Europe

Inspiring change from the ground up

 

Alongside Valea Jiului, two cities were shortlisted for this year’s award: the City of Łódź, Poland, for its City Development Strategy, which frames the city as a ‘living organism’ and aims to improve quality of life, and the Municipality of Caldes de Montbui (Catalonia), Spain for its local energy community that prioritises the reduction of Co2 emissions, the use of photovoltaic energy, and the involvement of citizens in co-designing a new model for energy efficiency and independence.

 

Notwithstanding the competition, Valea Jiului emerged as the winner. The Romanian organisation’s innovative approach to spearheading a green transition in difficult circumstances impressed the jury, as underlined by ICLEI Regional Director and Transformative Action Award jury member, Wolfgang Teubner:

 

“Valea Jiului has shown that civil society organisations can play a crucial role for a constructive and sustainable transformation, even under challenging conditions like in Romania’s largest former mining region. In order for Europe to achieve the goals of the European Green Deal, we need local actors to drive and implement transformation on the ground. These actions have the power to accelerate and inspire change at the local, regional, national, and even international levels.”

 

 

 

A Valea Jiului Development Society community event in full swing

IMAGE: Valea Jiului Society

Engaged Jiu Valley

 

Jiu Valley is home to 135.000 inhabitants spread across six towns. The Valea Jiului Development Society, a civil society coalition of 21 local NGOs, launched the ‘Engaged Jiu Valley’ project in 2019. The co-designed and co-implemented action engages civil society and citizens in the development of public policies and the implementation of sustainable development initiatives.

 

“Jiu Valley is the most beautiful place on Earth! I’m extremely happy there are more local people that consider the same and [that] we manage to attract around us more and more involved people, [who are] confident in the Valley’s future, actively contributing to its sustainable development,” says Adina Vințan, President of the Valea Jiului Society.

 

The coalition’s central ambitions are to redefine the area’s post-mining identity, improve quality of life for all residents, especially marginalised families, and advance an innovative future in a green, sustainable environment. As a foundation for its work, Valea Jiului established a signed protocol with six mayors, the local University, private sector stakeholders, a mining company and more, promoting the Valley as an investment destination.

 

“I think that we are lucky in the Jiu Valley because we are surrounded by natural areas, but it has been very challenging because we have more than 150 years of coal mining activity. It’s very hard just to close everything now, but that’s why we are trying to preserve our past while working toward a better future, a greener future,” shares Vințan.

 

So far, Valea Jiului has converted the Petrila Mine into an administrative, economic and cultural centre, where community events for all ages, such as a showing of the PetrilaPlanet documentary and a RoboticsValley festival, take place. Until now, Valea Jiului has organised 30 local events, including 35 artists and 3.000 participants. It has also commissioned hand-painted murals on the Petroșani University Campus and former Petrila and Aninoasa Mines, and planned 42 other community activities for all ages, with 700 people participating.

Collage of urban murals by renowned streets artists from Romania at the site of the former Aninoasa and Petrila Mines

IMAGE: Valea Jiului Society

Aligning strategy for greater impact

 

In addition to advancing change from the ground up, this transformative action has also carefully developed strategies that align with relevant regional, national and European initiatives such as the World Bank Country Strategy for Romania, Romania’s Urban Policy, the Just Transition County Plan, the European Green Deal, National strategies for Employment, Sustainable Development and Competitiveness, and more.

 

Alongside the development of integrated strategies, Valea Jiului collaborates closely with numerous European NGOs, including Greenpeace, Bankwatch, WWF, ClimateRealityProject and EuropeBeyondCoal.

 

Over the past three years, the Engaged Jiu Valley has already managed to establish nature as a pillar of communal well-being by reducing local levels of pollution and putting an end to projects that degrade autochthonous biodiversity. The action has also organised environmental and climate initiatives focusing on education, green-blue spaces and increasing forested areas. Their latest results have even attracted support from the European Commission and the World Bank through the “Functional Areas in the EU’ project.

 

 

Adina Vințan accepts the 2022 Transformative Action Award on behalf of the Valea Jiului Development Society

IMAGE: ICLEI Europe

As for what’s next, President Adina Vințan is excited about the future:

 

“We want to continue what we have done in the Jiu Valley. We are lucky because we could find involved people and people that still trust in the future of the Jiu Valley…We want to work to have a better quality of life and to show everybody that the Jiu Valley is the most wonderful place on earth.”

 

Despite the numerous challenges Europe is facing, there is no time to delay climate action, sustainable transitions, or initiatives such as the European Green Deal. Instead, Europe must accelerate these transformations and use this period of uncertainty to create a better future. Local governments and civil society organisations, like the Transformative Action Award finalists, are offering transparent examples of how green, sustainable and just transformations can be achieved not in ten or twenty years, but right now.

 

 

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