From COP26 to 2050: How to get to climate neutrality?

4 November 2021

Achieving a just and green transition is the challenge of our lifetime, according to Dario Nardella, President of Eurocities and Mayor of Florence, who gave opening remarks ahead of a keynote by European Commission Executive Vice President, Frans Timmermans, at Eurocities 2021.

This transformation will require cities to make use of three special powers, according to Nardella.

“Firstly, we need our political power,” said Nardella. Cities need to be able to act, but “the framework for our action is often set at EU and national level,” he explained, which is why cities need to work alongside international leaders to show what is possible at the local level and where bold decisions can make a difference.

Dario Nardella, Mayor of Florence

“Secondly, we need financial power,” he added. With 37% of the EU’s recovery and resilience funding targeted towards green investments, and with new initiatives, such as the EU Mission for 100 climate neutral cities, there is a real opportunity to turbo charge the sustainable transition at local level and identify new financing and governance models.

“Thirdly, we need people power,” he concluded. As the level of government closest to people, “we can do things that national governments cannot,” he said. This is essential to ensure both the buy-in needed from people and to tap into the innovative potential for local change, he explained.

View from COP26

For his part, Timmermans, who was speaking live from Brussels and on his way to Glasgow for the UN Climate Conference, said that “cities are not the only ones, but they are particularly impacted by climate change,” while noting that “the challenges that cities face dictate that we must act faster and earlier.”

“As much as I admire what cities are doing, we have no room for complacency, we must do much more” said the Executive Vice President of the European Commission. “We’re still a long way from where we need to be,” he added.

To achieve the goals of the European Green Deal, cities, national governments and the EU level will have to work hand in hand with citizens and private enterprises. This was the sentiment behind the Commissioner’s invitation to all Eurocities member cities to join the 100 Climate Neutral Cities Mission of the European Commission.

“Cities are the centres of inspiration, innovation, where minds meet, different opinions clash and through this clash of opinion and ideas  something new can emerge,” said Timmermans.

“My door is always open” he concluded in his remarks to the assembled mayors and city officials.

The transformative power of cities

The New Leipzig Charter highlights that cities need to establish integrated and sustainable urban development strategies and ensure their implementation for the city as a whole, from its functional areas to its neighbourhoods. It also offers a framework to envision and realise European and global agreements at the urban scale.

Burkhard Jung, Mayor of Leipzig

And, as highlighted by Mayor Jung of Leipzig, the core message of the original charter: to promote integrated and sustainable urban development; is just as valid today.

That, of course, means working with people in order to bring the transformative changes needed to reach climate neutrality.


Making transformation real

Cities are at the heart of transformation, according to Minna Arve, Mayor of Turku.

Turku’s 1.5 degree life campaign encourages all citizens and companies to shift towards sustainable lifestyles as the city bids to reach carbon neutrality by 2029. Citizens are being involved in creating a “carbon-neutral and resource-wise city” via a social media campaign, for example, by engaging in a video competition where youth are invited to share their best tips on climate-friendly living by producing creative videos.

Minna Arve, Mayor of Turku

“We really need everyone on board to reach the climate targets,” said Arve, “and cities with consistent policy measures and leadership can act as this transformative force and enabler of cooperation. Together,” she added, “we can turn the climate ambitions into action and bring hope to the COP26.”

Rafał Trzaskowski, Mayor of Warsaw, remarked that the green transformation is the “chance of a lifetime” to rethink how we organise urban development.

Rafał Trzaskowski, Mayor of Warsaw

Every crisis presents its chance, and as we approach the post-Covid recovery, the challenge is twofold, according to the mayor: one is of awareness and the second is affordability.

“Can I leave my car at home?” There are personal choices to make too. In Warsaw, where 50% of inhabitants use public transport, this is still a daily question that people need to consider as we all do our bit for the climate.

Trzaskowski also raised the important point of energy poverty, particularly relevant currently with energy prices soaring.

“We do not want the green deal to deepen the rift in our society,” he noted. “In Warsaw, we are getting rid of the coal-powered furnaces, in the last three years we were able to eliminate 60% of all the furnaces owned by the city.” However, the success rate has not been the same when it comes to encouraging citizens to make the switch, because of fears around energy security…an area where the European Commission can lend a helping hand, according to the Mayor.

Mayors Alliance

EU actions matter to cities, and the success of initiatives like the Green Deal depends on cities’ ability to implement them. The Mayors Alliance for the European Green Deal brings together around 50 committed mayors with the powerful message that a green and just transition is possible with mayors and cities on board.

“Our pathways will be different, but the goal is the same for us and for Europe – a sustainable transition,” said Nardella.

There is a clear message to everyone in Glasgow involved in the negotiations: let’s work together to make the transformation a reality.


Main image credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer