From climate crisis to ecological democracy “Klima500” popular initiative


This article focuses on the relationship between climate crisis and democratic deficit, the transformations needed for an ecological democracy and the popular initiative Klima500.

Person holding eco-not-ego sign

The climate crisis as a result of the lack of democracy

The climate crisis is the result of the disruption of humans’ relationship with nature at global level. It is a consequence of a specific and historically determined social structure, characterised by the disruption of traditional community relations by nation states and private companies. Unlike the communities, modern states and large corporate organisations as forms of power are characterised by their detachment from the social body. The modern representative democracies of the 20th century are the result of the struggle for social control of nation states and private corporations. However, with the start of the 21st century it is clear that this democratisation has been left incomplete. 

The gradual isolation of the economy from democratic control and the marginalisation of forms of community economy have led to an unprecedented interference of corporate activity in the environment, which is now changing nature itself according to its own rules. The value system of the commodity market itself still does not take into account the negative externalities of private corporate initiative, making its impact on the environment largely invisible. States continue to act as siege bricks of the commodification of the commons and economic growth as an end in itself. In conclusion, modern democracies impose a very limited social control on corporate activity and only ex posteriori, to "pick up the pieces" of the commodity market. With regard to nature and climate protection, the results of the last 100 years of such a practice are very poor. 

Climate crisis and democracy are in a dialectical relationship. Anywhere on the planet, the greater the lack of democratic control over the activities of the state and corporations, the greater the impact on local ecosystems. The prevalence for more than 40 years of neoliberal ideology, i.e. the belief in the goodness of removing all social norms from corporate activity, has accelerated the march towards the climate crisis, reducing democracy in most countries to a marginal control of the economic sphere. 

Ecological democracy as the central stake for the future 

However, the now obvious effects of the climate crisis are changing the terms of policy. Social mobilisation for climate and nature are bringing about transformations at the base of societies, which are gradually imposing a more ecological framework on states and companies. Democracy returns, albeit slowly, just as the owl flies at dusk. But it is necessary for such a return to be effective at the institutional level, in order to protect societies from the worst effects of the climate crisis.

The major changes that will be caused by the climate crisis need a violent adaptation of our societies. The next day already requires effective ways of addressing pressing issues of resource poverty, emergencies, social institutions and public infrastructure that will keep societies on their feet. 

This opens up two paths for the future. In the dystopian path, adaptation to the climate crisis will be dominated by transnational formations towards totalitarianism inside and a tendency towards armed conflict abroad. In the bright one, adaptation will be achieved through the democratic and socially just solution of social issues as well as cooperation and solidarity at the international level. 

In practice, democracy and totalitarianism will interpenetrate each other in a constant relationship full of tension across the length and breadth of the globe. In this context, ecological democracy is the central stake for the future of humanity, if we want such a future to be worth living. 

The European Climate Pact

In the struggle between democracy and totalitarianism, every existing democratic conquest has value and must be utilised. Although it is organised “from above” and is expected to have limited success, especially in the European South, the European Climate Pact is worthy as a concept, because it demonstrates the European Commission's consensus that no kind of adaptation to the climate crisis will be possible unless the basis of societies are moved.

The European Climate Pact is therefore a European Commission initiative to mobilise civil society and local authorities to protect the climate and the environment. It will encourage broad societal participation in the following ways:

  • Public Dialogue. The Pact will organise public events across the EU on the climate crisis and the prospects for overcoming it.

  • Active Action. The Pact will encourage individuals and organisations to commit to concrete actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapt to the unavoidable consequences of climate change (e.g. urban mobility, tree planting, creation of urban green spaces).

  • Co-operation. Through the activities of the Pact, pan-European networking and co-operation, such as citizens' assemblies, will be promoted, as well as links with existing initiatives such as the Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy.

The European Climate Pact is addressed to both individuals and organisations, whether national, regional and local authorities, businesses, trade unions, civil society organisations, educational institutions, research and innovation organisations, consumer groups and individuals. 

The European Climate Pact is part of the European Green Deal, was put out to public consultation by the European Commission in June 2020 and has been in force since the last quarter of 2020. 

The Klima500 initiative

Greece needs a mass ecological movement from every corner of the country, which will bring about such transformations in its social base that it would not even be conceivable for the central political scene not to place the protection of nature as an absolute priority. To achieve its goals, such a movement must have a local presence, a (re)productive base, independent structures and an orientation towards ecological and democratic transformation of institutions. What we want is for many streams to merge into one river that changes things.

The newly established popular Klima500 initiative is trying to contribute towards this direction. With “Change the Institutions, Not the Climate”, as its slogan, the initiative seeks to draft a Greek climate law through social consultation and, after being signed by 500,000 citizens, to put it for a vote in Parliament.

The effort of Klima500 is based on the institution of the popular legislative initiative, which was introduced in Article 73(6) of the new Constitution after the recent constitutional revision and came into force in December 2019.

Klima500 is an autonomous grassroot organisation which operates with working groups open to all interested parties and decides in a democratic way, after a thorough discussion among its members. It aims to develop a national climate law, based on principles, supported by scientific evidence and international best practices, with effective institutions to achieve climate neutrality for our country by 2050 at the latest. 

In the next period, the Klima500 popular initiative will put the relevant legislative proposal to two rounds of social consultation, open to all interested parties. The first public consultation will be on the outlines and the second on the content of the proposal. The initiative will seek the adoption of the relevant legislative proposal by individuals, collectives, mass social movements and broader sections of the society, especially the youth. 

From climate crisis to ecological democracy

The institutions and the (re)productive foundations of an ecological democracy will not be given away by states and corporations. They are therefore the work of the active society. 

A transition to ecological democracy includes, for example, ecological mobilisation, the reconstitution of the commons, the institutionalisation of the ownership of local and regional resources, forms of social and solidarity economy, social constitutionalism, the revival of local self-government and, in general, the utilisation and expansion of institutional democratic gains. 

Any step towards an ecological democracy must always maintain the active society as the central subject and be directed towards the re-establishment and strengthening of open democratic community institutions alongside the state and corporate structures.

Being at one minute to midnight when it comes to climate crisis, states and corporations will seek the emergence of community to stabilise the shocks. The management of the crisis will thus take place through a dialectical interaction of these three key institutions with different qualities and tendencies in each case. But there will be a day after the climate crisis. And its future will belong to open democratic communities.