Integrating sustainable energy and mobility solutions for climate neutrality

29 May 2024

Responsible for 70% of emissions, urban areas have a major impact on achieving the Green Deal goal of climate neutrality by 2050. In particular, the integration of sustainable energy systems and innovative mobility solutions have become sectors that play a key role in reducing the carbon footprint and promoting sustainable urban living.

As more and more cities add their efforts to the green transition, it becomes clear that the path towards climate-neutrality requires not only technological advances, but also collaborative policy, stakeholder engagement and substantial financial investments.

Neutralpath and Mobilities for EU co-hosted the policy session “Towards Climate-Neutral Cities: Integrating Sustainable Energy and Mobility Solutions” during the IEEE Summit Dresden 2024

“We need to reflect on the importance of common efforts and collaboration across countries, cities, sectors and actors,” says Stefania Mascolo, Project Coordinator at Eurocities, and leader of the policy work of Neutralpath, “to unlock the systemic transformation that we need to achieve climate neutrality together.”

The Cities Mission

In this sense, the 100 Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities Mission involves local authorities, citizens, businesses, investors, as well as regional and national authorities to deliver over 100 climate-neutral and smart cities by 2030, ensuring these cities act as experimentation and innovation hubs, enabling all European cities to follow suit by 2050.

While over 800 EU-funded projects contribute to the deployment of the Cities Missions, cohesive efforts at multiple governance levels and among cities are needed to truly leverage the individual efforts.

“It’s important to scale up and leverage these project results through policy advocacy across European cities,” states Svea Heinemann, City Advisor of NetZeroCities, the project is supporting the Mission Platform providing cities with world-class expertise and services tailored to their needs. “No city can achieve climate neutrality on its own.”

No city can achieve climate neutrality on its own
— Svea Heinemann

Cities, at the forefront

Cities across Europe are spearheading climate-neutral initiatives, deploying projects and solutions across various sectors to achieve their sustainability goals.

These urban centres play a pivotal role in integrating sustainable energy systems and mobility solutions, addressing challenges, and sharing successes in their journey towards climate neutrality.

Dresden is leading by example

Dresden, one of Neutralpath’s lighthouse cities, is at the forefront of implementing sustainable energy solutions. The city’s approach involves comprehensive municipal energy supply planning, focusing on local resources, financing strategies, and stakeholder engagement.

Dresden’s Integrated Energy and Climate Protection Concept, which provides the technical basis for the creation of the Climate City Contract within the framework of the EU Cities Mission, focuses on the areas of electricity and heat supply and mobility, and takes into account the regulation coming from the EU and the federal government.

Since its conception in 2013, the Integrated Energy and Climate Protection Concept has been updated, including a greater focus on actors, putting an integrated and cross-sectoral approach.

“Both Dresden citizens and experts from science, politics, business, civil society, and administration should contribute their ideas and projects to the updating process of the Concept,” mentions Anh Minh Vu, Project Coordinator in the City of Dresden, who highlights the importance of collaboration with different actors to the effective deployment of positive and clean energy districts.

“EU projects, such as Neutralpath, are marked as pilot projects to be scaled up in Dresden,” says Minh Vu. “The results should be permanently integrated with city activities and tasks.”

Vantaa, a model of resource smart solutions

Vantaa, which is Neutralpath fellow city, is transforming its energy system, including a hybrid district heating network aimed at reducing fossil fuel dependency.

The city-wide district heating network plays a key role in the city’s energy system, as it supplies heat to approximately 70% of the buildings in Vantaa, providing warmth for 90% of the city’s inhabitants. Currently, district heating accounts for more than 30 % of Vantaa’s yearly area-based climate emissions.

Achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 requires continuous collaboration and partnerships between various actors
— Eira Linko

At the same time, the city works continuously for energy transition in public buildings and has achieved their energy saving targets ahead of time.

“Achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 requires continuous collaboration and partnerships between various actors,” acknowledges Eira Linko, Project Coordinator in the City of Vantaa.

Vantaa is making strides in public and private energy efficiency measures, including private landowners. An example is Vantaa’s Climate-Neutral Lab, a formal collaboration aimed at promoting and supporting scaling up low-carbon, smart energy solutions in the district of Aviapolis.

Integrating mobility and sustainability in Madrid

Madrid’s roadmap to climate neutrality by 2050 includes a robust sustainable transport initiative aimed at achieving 100% zero-emission municipal vehicles by 2033. “The roadmap promotes recovery and resilience actions aimed at making Madrid a cleaner, healthier, and safer city,” explains Jorge Navas, from the Data Office in the Madrid City Council.

The city is facing some tough hurdles as it works to reduce its carbon footprint. One big issue is the lack of a clear budget and funding for climate-friendly projects. There’s also trouble coordinating between different parts of the city government, which slows down progress.

All the projects we work on include the climate mitigation and adaptation layer in a complementary way
— Jorge Navas

“Another problem is that things tend to stay the same, making it hard to try new ideas,” shares Navas. Madrid has to deal with long contracts for public transport, which makes it tricky to update systems. There are concerns about how initiatives like low emissions zones might affect people’s wallets and communities.

Joint projects on digital transformation and sustainability are pivotal in overcoming these barriers. However, what is proven more effective are the different partnerships and networks in which the city is involved, such as the Spanish platform of cities for climate neutrality, CitiES2030.

“All the projects we work on include the climate mitigation and adaptation layer in a complementary way,” explains Navas. “It is not about making a zero emission city but a liveable city, where there are fewer private vehicles and greater cycling and pedestrian mobility through green itineraries.”

Espoo, balancing growth and sustainability

Espoo tackles emissions from mobility and city heating, with a forecasted decrease in heating emissions by 2030. The city’s efforts to electrify vehicles and integrate various centres into a cohesive climate action plan highlight the challenges of balancing rapid growth with sustainability.

Espoo is also facing some challenges in its efforts to go green. One issue is the city’s geography: an area of over 300 square kilometres, including 165 islands, 95 lakes and 58 kilometres of seashore.

Another problem is that it’s taking a while to get people to switch to more sustainable modes of transport. The cold winter weather also makes it harder for people to walk or bike. Plus, there’s a need for better charging infrastructure for things like electric vehicles and uncertainty about where investments should go. Lastly, the political environment can sometimes make it tricky to push through green initiatives.

To overcome these challenges, Espoo is seizing opportunities through partnerships with universities, research institutions, and businesses. By working together, they’re creating solutions that have a big impact on reducing carbon emissions, not just in Espoo but elsewhere too.

We are not just focusing on cutting our emissions, but also piloting innovations that can help address climate change globally
— Kati Borgers

“We are not just focusing on cutting our emissions, but also piloting innovations that can help address climate change globally,” states Kati Borgers, from the Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development in Espoo. Their focus areas include smart energy, mobility, circular economy, and city design, all aimed at finding solutions that are both eco-friendly and economically viable.

Financing the green transition

Financing emerges as a critical factor in driving the urban transition towards sustainability. And just as collaboration is key for cities in their climate transition from a social and technical perspective, the same applies to financing.

“Getting together is key to being more attractive for funding,” states Matthias Walz, financial expert at the United Nations University, Institute of Integrated Management of Material Fluxes and of Resources (UNU-FLORES). “Cooperatives can generate synergies and economies of scale, have higher negotiation power, and enable risk pooling.”

Public and private investors need to consider the cost of inaction alongside the cost of action, which means long-term, sustainable investment strategies are needed.

In a significant step towards achieving climate neutral cities, Neutralpath and Mobilities for EU co-hosted an insightful policy session titled “Towards Climate-Neutral Cities: Integrating Sustainable Energy and Mobility Solutions” during the IEEE Summit Dresden 2024. The event brought together experts and city representatives to discuss actionable solutions for reducing carbon emissions and financing the green transition across Europe.

This joint initiative demonstrates a strong commitment to the EU’s Cities Mission, showcasing how European cities can lead the way towards a sustainable urban future.


Lucía Garrido Eurocities Writer