A greener, climate-resilient and just transition starts in cities

9 July 2024

The European Green Deal was the backbone of the last European Commission. Now, with a new mandate beginning, cities insist that climate and environment must continue to be the EU’s highest priority – as it is locally. As part of Eurocities’ ‘A better Europe starts in cities’ campaign, local priorities and cities’ main asks from the European institutions are outlined in publication ‘A greener, climate-resilient and just transition starts in cities.’

Read the full publication here.

A greener climate resilient and just transition starts in cities

A better Europe for local people must be greener, more climate-resilient, and just. Cities’ proposals emphasise the need for swift legislative action, rigorous engagement with local governments, and significant investment in sustainable infrastructure and services.

In brief, cities demand that the EU:

  • Quickly propose a binding EU target of at least 90% net emissions reduction by 2040.
  • Propose an EU target for consumption-based emissions with a specific methodology for cities and new targets for natural sinks and permanent carbon capture for hard-to-abate emissions.
  • Put in place legislation and funding to support universal access to essential services like energy, transport, and housing to help achieve climate-neutrality and improve living conditions.
  • Set new binding, measurable targets for adaptation policies, considering local actions and increasing support for local governments.
  • Accelerate efforts to reduce noise and air pollution, promote sustainable food systems, set stricter standards for fluorine-related chemicals, reduce pesticide use, and maintain healthier, more open soil.
  • Encourage partnerships between cities and industries for net-zero projects, and use Green Deal Industrial Plan initiatives to strengthen local innovation ecosystems.
  • Establish ongoing dialogues with local and regional levels and work with cities to ensure adequate financial capacity for a just green transition.

Accelerate climate mitigation

The publication stresses the importance of the EU setting a legally binding target of at least 90% net emissions reduction by 2040. Such a target is essential to ensure Europe remains on track to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. Cities call for distinct targets for natural carbon sinks and permanent carbon capture technologies, which should be focused on hard-to-abate emissions. They also urge the EU to adopt a consumption-based emissions target, accompanied by a dedicated methodology for cities, to address the significant portion of emissions generated outside Europe.


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Failing to secure ambitious emissions targets for 2040 would seriously endanger 2050 targets, making it more likely that vital policies and actions would be put off until it is too late. To hammer home this message, mayors have launched a #Climate2040 campaign, transforming themselves into comic book characters to underscore the impossibility of achieving climate neutrality without concerted early action.


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Enable a people-focused transition

The green transition must also be socially just. Ensuring universal access to essential services like energy, transport, and housing is central to a just transition. Cities recommend that EU legislation and funding prioritise renovating and using empty spaces, increasing affordable housing, and building sustainable social housing. To facilitate this, the Social Climate Fund should be a permanent instrument, directly managed by cities or through mandatory dialogues with local government, to support green initiatives that promote social inclusion and equitable access to clean energy and transport.

Increase efforts on resilience and adaptation

Cities advocate for binding and measurable adaptation targets integrated into national adaptation strategies for both the EU and member states. This would encourage coordinated action and support for local governments. The EU should also climate-proof and risk-proof all new initiatives to minimise the impacts of climate change. Enhanced support for voluntary initiatives, such as the EU’s 100 Climate Neutral and Smart Cities Mission, supported by Eurocities through the EU-funded NetZeroCities project, is essential to boost local resilience.

Healthy cities for people and the planet

In the publication, cities also call for mandatory targets for reducing noise and air pollution, implementing Extended Producer Responsibility schemes, and stricter standards for pollutants like pesticides and chemicals that can contaminate drinking water. They also emphasise the need for sustainable food systems, healthier soils, and reduced water consumption. These measures are crucial for connecting the dots between ecosystem health, climate action, and residents’ wellbeing.

Cities in the Green Deal Industrial Plan

The Green Deal Industrial Plan seeks to unlock the profitability of sustainable action. As cities tend to be the place where industries are headquartered, and because local governments have strong connections with industry leaders, cities are essential partners in the local deployment of the Green Deal Industrial Plan. In the publication, Eurocities suggests fostering deeper local partnerships between cities and industries, with cities becoming shareholders in strategic net-zero projects. Investments should strengthen local innovation ecosystems, sustainable value chains and clean technologies, and benefit local communities.

Multi-level governance and financing

The just transition holds long-term gains for all levels of government and sectors of society. Nevertheless, there will be short-term burdens and difficult decisions that must be shouldered equally. To achieve this transformation, cities urge the EU to establish permanent and structured dialogues with the local and regional levels and appoint an Urban Envoy within the European Commission. Adequate financial capacity for cities is essential, including more direct access to EU funding and redefined budgetary rules for long-term investments. De-risking solutions and guaranteed funds are also necessary to finance high-risk, innovative solutions for local transformation.

Commitment to sustainable transition

Cities are committed to the target of a maximum of 1.5°C global warming, as defined in the Paris Agreement, and to a climate-neutral Europe by 2050. In ‘A greener, climate-resilient and just transition starts in cities,’ cities emphasise their unique responsibility to lead this transition, and the fact that they have been keen supporters of the European Green Deal since its inception. It is clear that achieving a greener, climate-resilient, and just Europe requires close collaboration between the EU and local authorities, leveraging the full potential of cities to drive this critical change.


Anthony Colclough Eurocities Writer