Robert Hall, president of Ecolise and Board member of the International Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) lives in the ecovillage of Suderbyn, Sweden. In January 2013 he quit his well-paid position with the Swedish government to become a full-time ecovillage activist. Here, he talks to Christiane Kliemann about COP23, his hopes and frustrations.

With thanks to Christiane Kliemann, member of Transition Town Initiative Bonn im Wandel, active in the Degrowth Movement and Trainer for Deep Ecology. First published on Bonn im Wandel.

What attracted you to the conference and what questions did you come with?
My question is: where is the place for community-led initiatives in the framework of the Paris agreement?

I think the only way to be optimistic is to believe that people can take things into their own hands and transform their lives. It is happening, but it is not happening enough. Setting these targets and figuring out how to accomplish them without working together with citizen initiatives, they will never succeed. I am here to promote repopulation of Europe’s rural areas with ecovillages.

What do you wish to change by your presence here?
By participating in the different events and making clear that governments need to facilitate people taking action for themselves. There is so much belief that top-down policies and large scale infrastructures are going to meet the targets, but this will be impossible without a change of people’s values.

What will you take away with you?
It is disheartening that a lot of the discussions are very superficial and I haven’t found so many people who are searching for answers. People are often attending as paid representatives pushing a certain organisation.

Do you believe in the official negotiations?
The official negotiations are a very slow process in the right direction. It is a truly global agreement about the problem, but the pace is just insufficient with the time we have available. Targets need to be set, but meeting the targets will be impossible without more radical social transformation.

What do you hope will bring about this social transformation?
It is a change in mentality. A change in values from this outdated, old paradigm thinking towards peer-governance, community provisioning and regenerative culture.

Where do you see the seeds for this transformation?
The seeds are the local community action spontaneously taking place all over the world. I was in Latin America just a few weeks ago and was really inspired that such community initiatives exist all over Latin America. I think this is a global phenomenon – that people are trying to transform their way of living in their immediate area and they are doing this out of consciousness but as well out of striving for a better well being.

If you take the old paradigm thinking that everything we do for the climate is a sacrifice, it will never work. We will never be able to change our lifestyle with this mentality.

What would be your message to the negotiators of the official process?
To support community initiatives that are outside government and outside business to allow the re-creation of the commons.

What is your message to all the NGO people around the official process?
We need to see our common values for societal transformation and collaborate more without so much concern for managing our “brands”. So many people are here because they want to expand their own NGOs rather than focusing on the survival of humanity.

Is there anything that gives you hope from this conference?
There is hope in that the 25,000 people here are almost without exception committed to this global action for climate. There are so many brilliant people involved and so many good ideas, but the international process is extremely slow.

Do you consider it realistic that we will be able to save our climate within the existing overall economic system?
Of course not, but we need to avoid confrontation with that system and create space for post-capitalistic structures for provisioning and governance and culture. That’s why we need to open up these new spaces which we can call the commons where business and government are not the main drivers.

What is your message to the Transition Town movement?
Keep on weaving the networks of good community initiatives;  through our networking of these initiatives we create a new culture.