Climate neutrality is mission possible

8 June 2021

Climate neutrality is the destination for cities across Europe. And with a growing awareness of the role of transport in our emissions, leaders from cities across Europe are more committed than ever to share their best practices and make sure climate neutrality can be ‘mission possible’.

This was the message from the first day of the Eurocities Mobility Forum hosted by the city of Madrid, where mobility experts and transport planners gathered online to discuss the solutions, challenges, and visions for mobility in the years to come. Read on for some highlights from Monday’s sessions.

A green and clean urban vaccine

“The pandemic has created some difficulties, but also mission possible,” Jean-Claude Dardelet, Vice-Mayor of Toulouse and Chair of the Mobility Forum, told attendees. Many cities participating in the forum have used the last year as an opportunity to radically re-examine their mobility mix and have wasted no time in setting out to search for the ‘urban vaccine’ to the issues of emissions, pollution and inactivity.

For example, host city Madrid has rolled out vast pedestrianisation and has incentivised the use of public transport despite a reduction in the number of people commuting to work. The city has focused on establishing a system where citizens have choice over their mode of transport. “Users must be aware that using the most polluting vehicles should not be encouraged,” said Federico Jiménez de Parga, General Mobility Coordinator, Madrid City Council.

But according to Samu Marton Balogh, the Head of Cabinet for the Mayor of Budapest, solving the most pressing climate and health issues of our time cannot be addressed by people’s transport habits alone. That’s why the Hungarian capital is looking beyond simply mobility to achieve carbon neutrality and embracing the idea of a 15-minute city. This means reducing the number of people leaving the metropolitan area by creating liveable, more affordable city. Active mobility is important in this respect and Balogh was proud to showcase Budapest’s recent pedestrianisation of one of the banks of the Danube.

But not all cities start with the same mobility realities. For Porto, the road to carbon neutrality is about acting on things they can control – for example, electrifying public fleets and powering them with renewable energy, and expanding and improving the city’s public transport offer. For Filipe Araujo, Vice Mayor and City Councillor for Innovation and Environment at the City of Porto, the three ingredients for this urban vaccine are clear: “Public, affordable, and zero-emissions.”

Meanwhile, in Stockholm, ‘zero-emissions’ is certainly the order of the day, according to Daniel Helldén, Vice Mayor for Transport, City of Stockholm: “We want to be a climate-positive city by 2040.” The city is aiming for more than 30% of cars to be electric by 2030, has already installed bicycle infrastructure to boost the number of people moving by pedal-power and is expanding the city’s metro and tram networks. But Helldén adds that to really achieve climate goals, cities need all the help they can get from national governments and the EU.

The future EU Urban Mobility Framework

In the day’s third session, representatives from two more cities we able to share their experiences of the pandemic’s effect on mobility and share exactly what they need from the EU’s Urban Mobility framework in the future.

Torsten Klimke, Head of Unit Innovation & Research, DG MOVE, was present to represent the Commission and receive feedback from the ground. Since the first EU Urban Mobility Package in 2013, a lot has changed in mobility for cities – not least the due to the pandemic. This has led to a vast reduction in the use of public transport – up to 90% at some points, according to Lola Ortiz Sanchez, Director General of Planning and Mobility Infrastructures, Madrid City Council.

Long-term trends have also played their part – according to Malin Andersson, Head of Department, Urban Transport Administration, Development and International Affairs, City of Gothenburg, the labour market is more regional than one decade ago, leading to longer journeys and larger intake areas. But in the past 10 years, cycling and walking have also become recognised as real efficient and healthy modes of transport. In Hamburg, progress has been made since 2013, said Tina Wagner, Head of the Department for Transport Planning City of Hamburg, but the transition must be accelerated to achieve climate goals.

That’s why the Commission is offering help to cities for future Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs) in the form of a policy toolbox, available for all cities, to make the framework easier to navigate. And a new public consultation is set to be launched on the future EU Urban Mobility Initiative in the coming weeks, which should provide some insight into the future EU policy toolbox. But what recommendations or requests do cites have for the Commission?

“Set a deadline for fossil fuel road transport,” said Wagner. A framework would help cities greatly, she added.

On de-carbonising transport, “all living beings on this planet need the EU to be courageous”, said Andersson.

Mission: climate neutral cities

The panellists of the last session were on a mission – a mission to create 100 climate-neutral and smart cities by 2030.

This ambitious project from the EU’s research and innovation branch (DG RTD) started last year and will try to get cities to sign ‘Climate City Contracts’ starting from next year and has citizen engagement and city-level innovation at its heart. There is “huge interest” from cities, according to Eurocities Secretary General Anna Lisa Boni, who is part of the mission board. “Cities want to be a part of it.”

But how can this missions-based approach be useful in an urban mobility context? According to Matthew Baldwin, Deputy Director General for Mobility and Transport at DG MOVE and mission manager, it’s about listening to what ‘sustainable mobility’ looks like in each city. Most of all, though, the approach will stress the co-benefits of achieving climate neutrality. “The actions you take to deliver carbon neutrality bring you, cleaner air, fewer deaths and liveable cities,” says Baldwin. “That’s the real benefit for cities!”

But should cities be worried about having to commit to such a tight deadline? “If you worry about change, then be worried!” said Martin Russ, Managing Director at AustriaTech, another member of the mission board. If the mission is about changing the mobility cookbook, said Russ, then “what the Commission is doing is not just bringing you new recipes, it’s building you a new kitchen.” Mobility is a catalyser for the mission, as changes in mobility will be the first thing people recognise when change arrives.

With such ambition contained within the mission, head of the mission board and Head of Unit, Future Urban and Mobility Systems at DG RTD, Philippe Froissart, is confident that they can achieve their goal. Having 100 climate neutral and smart cities in the EU by 2030 is “ambitious but realistic”, he said. For Boni, the message to cities is clear: “The time is tight, but the time is right!”

Eurocities members can access the all recordings of the sessions on the Collaboration Platform.