- By Jamie Shea
Cities are essential partners when it comes to helping the European Union meet its commitment to the Paris Agreement. Getting things right at local level, where the vast majority of environmental legislation is implemented, is vital to securing a successful energy transformation. Cities across Europe are committed to the transition to a greener, more sustainable and inclusive future by working with citizens and collaborating in partnerships.
In tandem with regional initiatives, cities are leading the way on efficient emissions reduction as exemplified by the key roles they play in areas such as land-use planning, new developments, building energy renovation, transport and circular economy. As the architects of COP24 discussions and the European Commission’s 2050 Energy Strategy are surely aware, the time for action is now.
Involving all partners is also key to guaranteeing shared ownership of outcomes. Cities work at local level with a network of different actors, from private to public, with citizens and across our greater metropolitan areas and regions.
Cities offer the know-how to drive results while working with citizens, often involving them in designing and developing solutions together
Essen’s transformation from a city of coal and steel to the greenest city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, is a good example of an industrial hub that has become a beacon within its region. Its receipt of the European Green Capital Award last year represented a formal recognition of these efforts. Located at the centre of the Ruhr Metropolis, the third largest conurbation in Europe after London and Paris, Essen’s success has been shared throughout this region.
Regional governance partnerships have been active in the Ruhr Area over many decades through the shared management of sewage and water supply systems. Essen’s commitment to move away from coal has led to the emergence of new regional partnerships over time to support a sustainable transition to clean energy.
The Ruhr region now employs over 45,000 people in green energy jobs, with others having moved into the tourism industry and other areas. A museum and gallery located at a former coal mine complex near Essen welcomes over 250,000 visitors a year. The Ruhr has also become increasingly attractive for businesses to invest in. It is fair to say that Essen now sits alongside cities like Copenhagen, Stockholm and Ghent as a leader in the green energy transition.
Cities offer the know-how to drive results while working with citizens, often involving them in designing and developing solutions together. In Amsterdam, for example, a ‘social return’ clause creates jobs for young unemployed people to learn sustainable and environmental business practices within companies that have won public contracts. Such programmes build a shared sense of ownership and responsibility of outcomes in the green energy transformation.
Urban areas are also demonstrating more ambitious goals than their national and EU level counterparts on climate change. Networks like EUROCITIES, which brings together the major European cities, allow cities to share success stories with other cities and regions for even greater impact.
Through the Covenant of Mayors, over 6,000 local climate and energy action plans have been adopted across Europe, with an average CO2 reduction of around 27% expected by 2020.
There is much that can be done at local level but local and regional administrations also need a greater say in national climate plans, especially in how they are implemented and how practical goals are set. Earlier this year, a key victory for the recognition of cities at EU level was achieved: from now on, member states will have to include local authorities in their climate and energy plans. This ensures greater impact when local and national plans are integrated.
As local administrations, we want to contribute to a strong EU that lives up to its Paris Agreement commitments. In our view, it is a great shame that the COP24 negotiations have not striven for greater involvement from cities and regions, given the central role of subnational governments to reach the 1.5-degree target as well as the targets for CO2 reductions.
The COP24 climate negotiations should take inspiration from the partnership approach of the Urban Agenda for the EU. Currently, 12 thematic partnerships are bringing together representatives from cities, national governments and the European Commission with the aim of achieving better regulation, better funding and better knowledge sharing. The partnerships focus on issues like the energy transition, climate adaptation, circular economy, urban mobility and innovative procurement, so the ground is already set for further development and the exploration of new collaborations in multilevel governance to tackle climate challenges.
The time to act is already upon us
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently warned of dire outcomes if the planet does not commit to minimising the temperature rise set out in the Paris Agreement. The difference between a 1.5 and 2.0-degree rise has much worse consequences than previously understood.
Cities like Essen have shown that green transformation is possible. EUROCITIES provides a good model for sharing such examples of best practice amongst cities and for translating these into action for other levels of government. Cities are often leaders within their region but given their knowledge and experience, they can also contribute much more at national and European levels.
Experts are telling us with increasing urgency that we need a complete transformation of both economies and societies. With cities leading the way, we can get there but we desperately need more action across different levels of government, sectors and actors. If we fail in this, we will need to brace for the impact which, for the next generation, looms ominously on the horizon.
The scale and urgency of the challenge should not be underestimated. The time to act is already upon us.
This article is from Friends of Europe’s discussion paper ‘The regional dimension of climate change: Making the case for a just and innovative transition’, in which we aim to increase awareness of the importance of Europe’s carbon intensive regions in tackling climate change and transforming through disruptive social, economic and innovative leadership.
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