Accelerating climate neutrality through NetZeroCities Pilot Programme

31 January 2024

The ambition of EU Mission Cities to reach their climate targets by 2030 has been given another important boost through Horizon Europe, the EU’s key research and innovation programme, and NetZeroCities, with new funding of up to 1.5 million Euros and access to expert support.

Twenty-six cities from across the EU and the associated countries involved in Horizon Europe will become ‘Pilot Cities’, acting as innovation hubs as they test solutions for rapid decarbonisation.

These grants will support Pilot Cities’ exploratory activities across a broad range of themes, from the electrification of construction and energy transition options, to new methods of citizen participation in climate action and better systems of governance.

Pilot Cities will also receive direct support from city experts and have opportunities to learn from other cities over the course of the two-year programme.

Cities taking action

“We are very delighted that our efforts to follow the path to a climate-neutral Europe by 2050 have been recognised,” says Luka Korlaet, Deputy Mayor of the City of Zagreb. The Croatian capital has has been selected to implement the project ‘Activating Green Courtyards for Carbon Neutrality’,  which contributes to climate action and the process to accelerate decarbonisation.

Korlaet continues: “The involvement of citizens and experts from different fields, as well as sharing the knowledge and experience with fellow Pilot Cities, will strengthen the capacity of the Zagreb to successfully test the innovative approaches required to create a positive change and ensure a more pleasant, healthier and more beautiful urban and living environment that supports social interaction.”

The city of Zagreb. Photo by mtomicphotography, Pixabay
The city of Zagreb. Photo by mtomicphotography, Pixabay

Marseille has also joined the NetZeroCities Pilot City Programme. “After a year of work on our Climate City Contract, we are very proud of this European recognition for the Marseille’s project,” says Benoît Payan, Mayor of Marseille. “This support will give us additional resources to help the people of Marseille, in all neighbourhoods, to implement climate-friendly projects.”

The project will also structure the ecological contribution of local businesses by creating an associated observatory and increasing the engineering support the city provides. The ‘Marseille 2030 Objectif Climat’ programme is the link between the European Union and the City in terms of climate. “The ecological and climatic ambitions we pursue will be reflected more and more in the city every day,” adds Payan.

Urban Mediaspace Aarhus

“The City of Aarhus and the Aarhus School of Architecture is both honoured and delighted to be chosen within the NetZeroCities programme as one of the Commission’s Pilot Cities dedicated to scalable solutions for a climate-neutral Europe,” says Kasper Albrektsen, representative of Aarhus School of Architecture, and Rolf Johnsen, Head of the Department for Climate and Energy in Aarhus.

Aarhus is implementing the CO-SHAPE project, involving citizens, businesses and NGOs early in the process to achieve CO2 ambitions and targets. The project acknowledges the consequences of delayed citizen engagement, often leading to local opposition to renewable energy plants.

Against this backdrop, the city of Aarhus, in collaboration with Aarhus School of Architecture, has forged a partnership to experiment with co-creation methods in comprehensive planning for peri-urban areas, including landscape qualities, climate mitigation, and biodiversity to address local needs and wishes. The partnership is alos working on long perspectives on landscapes and urban development, operating within the framework of comprehensive planning for renewable energy plants.

Oslo will look at how to balance energy demand, supply and grid capacity when construction, transportation and machinery are electrified. This is key for the city’s work in designing an optimised and resilient energy system, ready to power an electrified city.

“We are delighted to be selected as part of the Net Zero Cities Pilot Cities Programme,” says Marit Vea, Vice Mayor for Environment and Transport in Olso, “we look forward to move this work forwards in dialogue and collaboration with other forward- thinking cities across Europe.”

A view of Porto
A view of Porto. Image by Miguel Nogueira

Porto has been selected to become part of this initiative through the WAKE UP! project. “This project is a significant step in our journey to make Porto a climate-neutral city by 2030,” says Filipe Araújo, Vice-Mayor, City of Porto. The project involves many partners and citizens, emphasising their commitment to innovation and civic engagement in sustainability matters as a crucial move to achieve ambitious climate goals. The city’s Porto Climate Pact has already demonstrated it drives for change.

“The success of WAKE UP! reflects our dedication to integrating technology and information to empower the behaviour of Porto’s citizens towards climate action,” added the Vice Mayor. “We are confident that this initiative will not only encourage more sustainable behaviours but also serve as an inspiration for other cities aiming to increase their decarbonisation efforts.”

The results and learning from Pilot Cities’ work will be shared in turn with non-Pilot Cities selected to participate in a ‘twinning’ programme – multiplying the impact of the programme on European cities’ efforts to become climate neutral.

More to come

These awards mark the beginning of the second cohort of Mission Cities to join the Pilot Cities Programme, bringing the total number of Pilot Cities to 79, as they follow the 53 in Cohort 1 who started their programme activities in the summer of 2023.

The Pilot Cities Programme is one element of NetZeroCities – the platform that supports the 112 ‘Mission Cities’ who have committed, as part of the EU Cities Mission, to reach climate neutrality by 2030. The programme will also welcome new Pilot Cities in September 2024 as part of a third and final cohort.

A call for applications from Mission Cities (who are not yet part of the Pilot Cities Programme) to join that cohort has been announced and is open until 18 March. The chosen cities will be announced in May.


Lucía Garrido Eurocities Writer