Cities central role in realising the European Green Deal

18 March 2024

Europe’s cities remain committed to achieving the climate neutral objectives of the European Green Deal and ensuring a just, green and sustainable future for everyone.

Across Europe, city administrations are implementing transformative climate policies to de-seal their surfaces, tackle road traffic, increase access to green space and reduce the impact of air, noise and water pollution on people’s health.

However, cities understand that they cannot achieve climate neutrality by acting alone. If they are to fully implement the Green Deal’s ambitious climate goals, increased support at EU level is essential.

As outlined in Eurocities European elections manifesto, A better Europe starts in Cities, the EU must work with cities to develop the strong policies and funding initiatives needed to implement bold measures such as sustainable transport, energy efficient buildings and innovative nature based solutions.

Given recent farmer protests in Europe, and the shift among some political groups towards a weaker Green Deal, the importance of this collaboration, with cities at its core, has never been more important.

Building healthy and resilient cities

This was the strong message communicated by city leaders at a meeting organised by Eurocities in the Committee of the Regions, which brought together cities, academics and EU representatives to discuss how EU climate policies can be better implemented at local level.

At the ‘Planning for healthy and resilient cities’ meeting, leaders from Łódź, Guimarães and Nantes, all of which are part of the EU Mission on Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities, shared the challenges they are facing and the positive climate actions they have already introduced.

The city leaders, academics and EU representatives who took part in the Eurocities meeting

The meeting was organised as one of three parallel sessions under the conference ‘Translating the EU Green Deal into Local Action’ organised by the Belgian Presidency of the EU, which gathered over 200 European mayors in Brussels to discuss what is needed to move forward in tackling climate change.

The other two sessions saw discussion around the drivers for energy and climate transformation, and the use of local green deals to become more resource-efficient and circular.

During the conference, mayors from the Eurocities network joined local and regional leaders from across Europe to sign a new declaration reaffirming their commitment to the European Green Deal’s objectives and calling on the EU to include cities and regions in its implementation.

Cities leading the way

Speaking at the Eurocities meeting, Veronica Manfredi, Director for Zero Pollution and Green Cities in the European Commission, explained that the biggest challenge for the EU’s next mandate will be creating climate policies that make a difference to people’s lives in cities.

“Together, we must work to ensure the seeds we have planted for a sustainable prosperous Europe are not lost and we grow them into a mandate that brings everyone, including cities, on board,” she stated.

Across Europe, there are already many examples of cities that have taken great leaps towards meeting the targets of climate agreements set by the Green Deal. Cities understand their importance to achieving the climate goals, because it is in cities that the biggest climate challenges are being faced.

We must have an EU mandate that brings everyone, including cities, onboard
— Veronica Manfredi, Director for Zero Pollution and Green Cities in the European Commission

Cities are where 75% of people now live, where 70% of Europe’s carbon emissions are produced, and where challenges such as energy consumption, sustainable urban mobility, digital transformation and the circular economy come together.

But it is also in cities that many of the most ambitious policy developments are already taking place. Over 10,000 European cities have committed to the sustainable energy objectives of the Covenant of Mayors plan. More than 100 cities are also part of the Climate Neutral and Smart Cities Mission, pledging to reach the EU’s goal of climate neutrality by 2030, with support from the NetZeroCities project.

The Portuguese city of Guimarães has taken significant strides forward towards achieving its climate goals, combining a commitment to climate neutrality with zero emission objectives and a climate adaptation strategy.

“I am proud to say that 97% of our population breathes air that is considered good or very good. Creating a liveable city is our goal, where people can age happily and healthily,” said Paulo Lopes Silva, Deputy Mayor of Guimarães.

Guimarães also understands the importance of working in partnership with local industry and businesses. “We have created a climate pact with over 100 industries in the city,” said Lopes Silva. “Working alone, we could never achieve our climate targets, so we need to work alongside industries to create more diverse, green jobs for the future.”

For the French city of Nantes, the focus is very much on people’s health. “We are focusing on the benefits of nature to human health, such as the quality of air, and green and open spaces,” stated Tristan Riom, Deputy Mayor of Nantes. “A healthy city is a city that connects with its resources, to provide what its citizens need.”

Creating a liveable city is our goal, where people can age happily and healthily
— Paulo Lopes Silva, Deputy Mayor of Guimarães

Direct access to EU funding and support

However, despite the commitment being shown by cities, many of their efforts still continue to fly under the radar of national and EU decision makers when it comes to designing collective policies, such as the European Green Deal and the Fitfor55 initiative.

Most recently, the EU Climate Risk Assessment has highlighted the need for a better governance structure between national, regional and local levels of government to ensure they each have the necessary resources and capabilities to face climate risks. The European Commission Water Resilience Strategy, which has been delayed, is expected to present similar findings.

At the Eurocities meeting, cities were keen to stress the importance of EU funding, expertise and resources to help them achieve their climate objectives.

Łódź, a 19th century post-industrial city, is facing a range of challenges when it comes to the continuation of the green agenda and achieving its climate targets. “The main problems are the size of the work required, the lack of sufficient funds, and the limited competence of city authorities in urban planning,” said Hanna Zdanowska, Mayor of Łódź.

The city of Łódź

She explained that the city government owns around 40,000 communal buildings which “ have not been well cared for,” with only a quarter having water and central heating. “Many of these are listed historical buildings which makes implementing energy efficient very difficult and expensive,” said Zdanowska.

We need close cooperation and support from the European Commission
— Hanna Zdanowska, Mayor of Łódź

This year, this city is completing a raft of climate projects related to residential buildings, streets, squares, parks and its mobility infrastructure. It is an ambitious whole city integrated model worth 382 million euros, including significant funding from the EU and the city administration.

“But it is only a drop in the ocean when it comes to the scale of work needed in the city,” stated Zdanowska. “We need close cooperation and support from the Commission. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to find the solutions to address the Green Deal at local level. We require direct access to EU funding so that we can look at innovative and effective approaches to achieve climate neutrality.”

The need for systematic transformation

One of these innovative approaches is the huge potential of nature based solutions, which offer an integrated new approach to urban planning in cities. They focus on sustainably using land and resources to address social, economic and environmental challenges, while also supporting people’s well-being and protecting biodiversity.

Speaking at the meeting, leading academic Niki Frantzeskaki, Chair Professor in Regional and Metropolitan Governance and Planning at Utrecht University, explained that the approach means a radical revision of the current processes for city development.

“It involves moving away from well-worn ideas of institutional planning, towards approaches that transform how government institutions work and cooperate,” said Frantzeskaki. “We must revise investment methods and create platforms for urban planning that incorporate EU policies such as the Green Deal, the European Biodiversity Strategy and the Nature Restoration Law.”

Other important steps include better understanding the different partners who need to be involved in a green project, such as local schools, NGOs, the scientific community, the wider public and older generations, and embracing new nature based technologies and green jobs.

We should embrace nature based solutions, moving away from well-worn planning ideas
— Niki Frantzeskaki, Chair Professor in Regional and Metropolitan Governance and Planning at Utrecht University

An example of this new approach is the Stiemer river project in the Belgian city of Genk, which has transformed the city’s main river from an area of pollution and waste into a thriving, community focused space. Innovative citizen deals have supported the regeneration of the river and surrounding communities, while new green jobs have been created focused on honey production, upcycling and simple economy.

“This project shows what can be achieved when we focus on inclusivity and rethinking our approach,” added Frantzeskak. “It is about embracing new approaches, building trust with the community and ensuring that promises are not broken.”

Embracing opportunities

Along with the potential for nature based solutions, there are several other opportunities and responsibilities for cities when it comes to implementing the legislation of the Green Deal, many of which are presented in a new report published by Eurocities and leading European energy network Energy Cities.

The report ‘Cities in the European Green Deal’ outlines the key role cities will be asked to play in realising the Green Deal due to their responsibilities, leadership and geographic scope.

One city that is embracing these opportunities is Guimarães, where the local administration’s innovative integrated strategy is addressing climate change impacts and building resilience, while simultaneously tackling pollution.

In 2014, the municipality created the landscape laboratory, a multi-level scientific research facility focusing on all aspects of the climate transition, including biodiversity and water resources, green energy, climate and health.

Speaking at the meeting, Paulo Lopes Silva, Deputy Mayor of Guimarães, said: “Each year, our city government invests more than 700,000 euros into environmental research. We also focus on green and blue areas, which reduce heat impact and improve air quality. Our urban area has 73% tree canopy and over 75% of citizens have access to green spaces larger than 5,000 square metres.”

Guimarães is also leading the way when it comes to climate adaptation, responding to the extreme flooding that caused severe damage to its city centre. “We had bad flooding about seven years ago,” said Lopez Silva. “In response, we constructed an innovative flood retention basin to prevent these issues from reocurring.”

Building collaboration with partners

The city of Nantes has also recognised the importance of building collaboration that will drive the green transition and leave no one behind. “Given our growing population, we realised that if we continued to follow our current path, we would not reach climate neutrality until 2320,” said Deputy Mayor, Tristan Riom.

We must be strong as a society and face the climate transformation together
— Tristan Riom, Deputy Mayor of Nantes

The city has developed a programme for citizens to work on new solutions to climate issues, including reducing consumption, adapting to increasing heat and tackling the issue of waste. They are also working on a new climate plan, bringing together urban planners, local businesses, scientists, NGOs, citizens and EU representatives.

“We know we can’t reach climate neutrality on our own, so our idea is to work with all our partners in society to bring about climate change,“ said Riom. “For instance, we have a coal power plant here in Nantes. The question is how can we convert to new methods of climate-friendly fuel and biomass, without impacting on local businesses and jobs.”

He added: “To tackle these big challenges, we must be strong as a society and face the climate transformation together.”

Tackling divisions across Europe

With the European elections fast approaching, and continued political unrest surrounding the Green Deal’s legislation, the message from cities to all partners across the EU is clear: We must work together to build a prosperous, climate neutral future for everyone.

Addressing the meeting, Hanna Zdanowska, Mayor of Łódź, stated: “The focus must be on participation. By continuing to discuss issues with our citizens, we can achieve our goals. We need to help people embrace new approaches and ways of thinking.”

Supporting this position, Tristan Riom, Deputy Mayor of Nantes, added: “We need to work with big companies, farmers and citizens through this transition, while keeping strong climate ambitions and targets. We should look at the problem as a whole.”

As the meeting came to a close, Marieke Schouten, Alderwoman of the municipality of Nieuwegein and member of the Committee of the Regions, made it clear that, despite some difficulties, the opportunities to implement the European Green Deal remain strong.

“The Green Deal is clearly going local,” said Schouten, “and as we have heard today, this process is a little bit messy, with lots of innovation, trial and error, but it is happening and that is something we can be really positive about.”

She added: “At all levels of government, including cities, we are in an excellent position to make the Green Deal happen.”


The report ‘Cities in the European Green Deal,’ published by Energy Cities and Eurocities is now available. It outlines the opportunities and responsibilities for cities when it comes to implementing the legislation of the European Green Deal. 


Andrew Kennedy Eurocities Writer