Anna Lisa Boni is Secretary General of EUROCITIES, the political platform for major European cities
Cities across Europe are committed to transition to a greener, more sustainable and inclusive future by working with citizens and collaborating in partnerships.
When it comes to climate change, cities often show more ambition than their national and EU level counterparts. For example, through the Covenant of Mayors more than 6,000 local climate and energy action plans have been adopted across Europe, with an agreed average CO2 reduction of around 27% expected by 2020. In other areas – such as providing cleaner air, establishing cleaner water and tackling waste – cities are at the forefront of global change.
Urban and European challenges continue to be strongly connected. To address threats caused by climate change and to meet the commitments established in the Paris Agreement, European Union member states and institutions will need to engage more with cities and their citizens. At EUROCITIES – the network of major European cities – we work with our member cities to implement solutions and share knowledge on the ground.
Urban and European challenges continue to be strongly connected
Urban transport accounts for roughly 40% of all CO2 emissions from road use, and passenger cars make up by far the most amount of traffic on our roads. This has obvious effects on people’s physical, social and mental wellbeing through noise, accidents, pollution as well as lack of space and exercise.
One of the ways we can support cities in their green ambitions is by developing sustainable transport measures and contributing to EU research and policy recommendations through our involvement in different EU and city-led projects. Cities face the double challenge of improving mobility while making urban transport more sustainable. A sustainable urban mobility plan can stimulate behavioural shifts away from the use of private cars; although it must consider the needs and input of local people, businesses and other stakeholders.
EUROCITIES recently conducted research with over 300 representatives from European cities and national governments to advance the uptake of sustainable urban mobility plans. Results show that some of the main obstacles faced by cities include the lack of political and civic buy-in, the lack of support from the national level, the absence of data and limited capacity to monitor implementation as well as challenges related to rapid technological development. These conclusions will feed into the European Commission’s thinking in this area and should help cities find more opportunities for exchanges of best practice, guidance and better support from national level.
Given that the majority of EU rules related to our environment are implemented at the local level, cities’ involvement in top level policy planning is crucial. Cities are working hard to mitigate the impacts of climate change in a number of ways. Local governments acting within cities are well placed to raise awareness of sustainable consumption and to stimulate new resource efficient business models. We can do this through influencing value chains, making use of public procurement and supporting local stakeholders. The concept of the circular economy encourages the repair, reuse and redesign of materials in order to extend the lifespan of products. These are principles we can apply in our attitudes towards recycling and the treatment of municipal waste, as well as the food chain.
When it comes to climate change, cities often show more ambition than their national and EU level counterparts
There is always more to do. In areas such as the implementation of EU water policies, EUROCITIES is working closely with the European Commission to look at the specific needs of cities. In the coming months, we will continue advocacy work on several Commission proposals such as the EU plastics strategy, ambient air directive and the clean mobility package.
Following the ‘dieselgate scandal’ EU decision makers agreed on stronger measures to control car emissions at the end of last year. Together with other stakeholders, EUROCITIES strongly advocated for this, which is vital to ensure better air quality in urban areas.
The Urban Agenda for the EU is a positive first step in finding a way for the different levels of government to work together on common issues. Given that five of the 12 current urban agenda partnerships are related to the environment, this seems like a good model to build upon to explore new collaborations and avenues for assistance towards shared climate ambitions.
Europe’s major cities are doing their bit to deliver a greener, more sustainable future. Understanding the everyday experiences of people, exchanging knowledge and working in partnerships will help us reach global and EU level climate goals. Together we will tread the path towards a greener future.
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