An opportunity for people and planet

6 May 2021

The following OpEd, written by Dario Nardella, President of Eurocities and Mayor of Florence, originally appeared in EURACTIV.

We cannot afford to waste this crisis. We need to make the most out of it to build back better, and cities are doing just that, by focussing on digital, social resilience and green investment. Last year, I argued that cities are key for a sustainable recovery in Europe, and that’s something I believe now more than ever as cities present their local recovery plans, putting people and environment first.

Local action starts with people

The European Green Deal sets out a series of ambitious policy plans, with the overall goal of a climate neutral EU by 2050. Mayors and city leaders can play a double role in this transition – as ambassadors for the green deal locally, and as representatives of people’s concerns and interests to other levels of government.

Because the green deal must be, first and foremost, about people.

The challenge of energy poverty is a good example of where the ambition of the Green Deal to ensure a just transition towards climate neutrality must be combined with active social policy at the local level.

That’s something cities like Antwerp realise. Its Ecohouse, a one-stop-shop for households, offers all city services on sustainable building and living. The focus is on energy reduction and using renewable energy, and it has a special programme dedicated to vulnerable groups. It offers workshops and advice on energy retrofitting and can also give loans or grants.

As we look to the recovery, and the coming years of employment, cities are well-placed to facilitate Local Pacts for Employment with local companies to promote local employment.

On skills we can step up our efforts to address the skills mismatch at local level through up-skilling and re-skilling measures helping people to enter new jobs in the green and digital sectors.

Belfast, for example, is looking for opportunities to expand to the green economy and digitalisation, to ensure that jobseekers are fit for the sectors of the future. The city’s Employment Academy Model matches businesses with skills shortages to jobseekers who might not have all the required skills. Alongside this matchmaking, the academy offers career orientation, trainings, and the opportunity to develop transversal employability skills.

Together for Europe

With 37% of the Recovery and Resilience Facility earmarked for green actions, we cannot miss this historic opportunity to financially boost the much-needed green transformation, while leaving no one behind.

In the context of the recovery, many EU mayors and their city administrations are keen to support the EU flagships – proposed top areas on which to focus the recovery efforts – especially in the areas of the digital and green transition, by working with other European cities.

Bologna’s submission to the Italian national government, for example, includes the development of a ‘technopole’ that will host 80% of the national computing capacity and will become one of the main hot spots for computing capacity in the world. As part of the digital innovation of the city, Bologna has also planned to develop a digital twin – a digital representation of the entire city that should allow it to plan, test and build things digitally first – and is already collaborating with cities such as Barcelona and Helsinki on the next steps.

In Florence, we are currently in discussion with several other cities on how to create a pan European project of urban forests. This ambition, which will drive resilience and generate a better quality of life for our inhabitants, was already included in our submission to the Italian national government as part of our recovery plans.

Some of the projects proposed by cities to national governments, like Digital Twin cities, already demonstrate how they would contribute to the European flagships. Others, like the improvement of transport networks, or forward-looking green projects, would provide tangible benefits for everyone if developed within the framework of transnational collaboration.

The European Green Deal and Europe’s recovery package can be game changers for Europe, but only if the benefits are felt by people. It will be no good making our houses more energy efficient if people can no longer afford rent. That’s why we need cities on board.

A new pact

A new pact between city and EU leaders to centralise people in the recovery efforts and ecological and digital transitions would be a positive signal for the future. An annual summit, with a meaningful representation of cities in the debates, would be a good first step.

We can start this commitment now. I will put many of these arguments to EU leaders at the EU Social Summit , where we will discuss openly and directly about how to connect the European Pillar of Social Rights with the European Green Deal and with cities. As cities, we’re committed to fulfil our role and we expect European leaders to talk with us as key allies for Europe’s recovery.

There cannot be a green or digital transition without all people on board. No one should be left behind. To this end Eurocities is creating a Mayors Alliance for the European Green Deal that will bring together ambitious local action where climate, environment and social goals go hand in hand.


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer