Getting smarter to cut emissions

15 February 2024

Cities are at the forefront of the battle against climate change, responsible for a staggering 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, they also hold the key to significantly reducing emissions.

One of the pathways to do it is by implementing Positive and Clean Energy Districts (PCEDs). 

The transformative power of cities 

Positive Energy Districts are crucial elements of the urban transformation process towards climate neutrality. A Positive Energy District is seen as an urban neighbourhood with annual net zero energy import and net zero CO₂ emissions working towards a surplus production of renewable energy, integrated into an urban and regional energy system.  

This is the objective of the European project NEUTRALPATH, which paves the way towards climate-neutral cities through the development of positive and clean energy districts, and the co-design of efficient, climate-friendly solutions.  

By contributing to the European mission of achieving at least 100 climate-neutral and smart cities by 2030, it sets an example for other cities to replicate the process by 2050. 

Policy support for climate action 

“Climate action, and specifically implementation of solutions like PCEDs, need to be supported by targeted policies that enhance the success of local action,” says Stefania Mascolo, Project Coordinator at Eurocities 

Coordinated policy making across all levels of government is key, and it is necessary to truly enable climate action at the local level. “Climate neutrality is a multidimensional challenge, and our cities need the support of regional national governments and the European Union to achieve it,” she adds.  

People: a key component in the climate transition 

Positive and Clean Energy Districts are not solely about technology. “Most technology is already there, the money is there, but we need to find a way to catalyse these resources,” says Miguel García Fuentes, Coordinator of the NEUTRALPATH project. 

Both Zaragoza and Dresden, the lighthouse cities of the project, demonstrate the important role that citizens, industry and other actors play in creation of PCEDs. 

In Dresden, actors from various sectors including suppliers, tenants, and the municipality are actively committed. “We involve all the stakeholders, from the suppliers, tenants, municipality… We are working with homeowners, housing departments, and energy providers,” highlights Ronny Brünler, Smart City Manager in the City of Dresden.

Similarly, Zaragoza underscores the importance of having everyone on board from the outset. As García Fuentes states, “the focus has to be on engaging stakeholders from the very beginning and working with a co-creation approach.” 

Climate action in our every day lives

Getting citizens committed to the cause is sometimes trickier than cities would like. “When discussing climate neutrality, people in the cities feel like it’s a distant concept or a political tactic unrelated to their daily lives,” acknowledges García Fuentes. 

“We need to change this mindset. We must integrate the concept into all aspects of citizen’s lives and tap into their potential to drive change in the cities we inhabit.” 

Addressing challenges through the Climate City Contracts 

Climate City Contracts emerge as a valuable tool in accelerating cities’ transition towards emission reduction targets. These contracts result from an iterative co-creation process led by cities and involving multiple stakeholders at various governance levels. 

“The CCC is structured around three building blocks: commitments, action plans, and investment plans. This means what do you want to achieve, how, and what with type of funding,” explains Carine Valette, Communication lead for NetZeroCities.

Zaragoza is one of the first cities signing their CCC, and thus getting the Mission Label, an important milestone in their quest to become climate-neutral by 2030. 

“We can see already the cascading effects that the Mission Label has in other Spanish cities, even if they are not part of the Mission,” says Gabriela Uchoa, City Advisor from NetZeroCities. 

Work ahead

“There is still a lot to do in terms of regulation,” highlights García Fuentes. “It is important that we take the lessons learned to see how regulation can be adapted and modified.”


This is the first podcast of a series produced by NEUTRALPATH. 


Lucía Garrido Eurocities Writer