“We are witnessing the more and more visible and dramatic signs of climate change, and it is time to act.” These words from David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, opened the Covenant of Mayors Ceremony on 7 October 2021. This annual ceremony honours the efforts and innovations of European cities to adapt to and mitigate climate change.
It was a pleasure to open the @eumayors ceremony today. Cities and towns have an essential role to play in creating a fairer and more sustainable Europe.
— David Sassoli (@EP_President) October 7, 2021
Addressing more than 400 attendees, over a quarter of whom were politicians from all levels of government, Sassoli declared that the European Parliament’s commitment is to achieve “a climate-neutral society by 2050 at the latest” and to “transform the Union into a society that is healthier, sustainable, fair, just and prosperous for all.”
According to Sassoli, this vision requires cooperation between all levels of government to stand a chance of being realised: “It is crucial that EU institutions, Members of the European Parliament, national governments and local politicians join forces, as we have been doing in the hardest moments of the pandemic, to make sure that the energy and climate transition will leave no one behind and improve the quality of life of all European citizens, creating new opportunities and improving social cohesion.”
One example of how cities are engaging to achieve these ambitions comes from Grenoble, a city that has recruited the expertise of 37 researchers to set up its Scientific Council for the Transition.
Efforts like these have earned the municipality the title of European Green Capital for 2022. Grenoble Mayor Eric Piolle attributes much of this success to the collaboration of the city with local organisations and businesses through running a local climate pact.
Mayor Poille wants to see a European scheme of support directed at workers currently employed in a number of sectors that will be phased in over 10 or 20 years, and has launched a formal proposal in this vein.
Stockholm is also using a pact strategy to meet its climate targets, and besides the Stockholm Climate Pact, has designed an ‘Electrification Pact’ with the local private sector to encourage the transition to electric vehicles.
Deputy Mayor of Stockholm Katarina Luhr says that this pact has enabled a virtuous circle in that it encourages the building of electric charging infrastructure throughout the city, which itself drives up demand for electric vehicles.
Luhr would like to see resources for technical assistance and capacity building mobilised by the EU Commission – a demand that she used the Covenant of Mayors Ceremony to put directly to The Executive Vice President of the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans.
Timmermans applauded the use of climate pacts by these cities and said that raising awareness of such methods was essential to effective cooperation for climate transition. Cities, he said, are trailblazers, they can demonstrate to their citizens that climate neutrality is achievable, and what are the costs of doing nothing, which is immensely bigger than the cost of the transition.
The Executive Vice President also announced the launch of a Policy Support Facility for European cities to move from planning to implementation of climate adaptation.
The Mayors of the Covenant have long been frontrunners in climate commitments, and, faced with the growing threat from our climate emergency, are now adhering to even stronger targets – to achieve climate neutrality by or before 2050.
Finland has set a braver national target, aiming for climate neutrality by 2035. Not satisfied with this, Anna Kaisa Ikonen, Mayor of Tampere, is pushing her city even further, aiming to go beyond European and national goals to get to climate neutrality by 2030.
Ikonen avows that “the need for change is massive and in order not to leave anybody behind we need to make sure that the transition is done in the most just and most inclusive way possible.”
Pääsin tänään puhumaan kansainväliseen ilmastositoumus #CovenantOfMayors’in tilaisuuteen ilmastotavoitteistamme:#Tampere vahvisti sitoumuksensa kaupunginjohtajien ilmasto- ja energiasopimukseen. Tavoitteemme on olla hiilineutraali 2030. https://t.co/r99gmbmrTT #Tampere @eumayors https://t.co/Remfp4v50t
— Anna-Kaisa Ikonen (@IkonenAK) October 7, 2021
For Prague, the 2050 goal is not a new one – the city has had this in its sights since 2019.
To achieve this, Prague is investing in becoming more self-sufficient and producing local renewable energy. Its newly established Society for Sustainable Energy is a municipal organisation that will install photovoltaic solar panels on up to 20,000 constructions before 2030, starting with public buildings.
Zdenek Hrib, Mayor of Prague, has pointed to the challenges posed by having climate goals divergent from national policy, and the strength that joining forces with other cities has lent to his ambitions. Together with the other mayors from the so-called Visegrad4 capitals (Warsaw, Budapest and Bratislava), Hrib decided to launch the Pact of Free Cities, promoting the link between human rights and climate change as well as progressive and liberal EU values.
Meanwhile in Gabrovo, the Bulgarian city that was named European Green Leaf (a version of the Green Capital award for smaller cities), pointed out that even when local and national policy are aligned, an overly centralised approach can mean that local context is not adequately taken into account.
Minna Arve, Mayor of Turku, will be going to Glasgow for the COP26 Conference, and joined the ceremony to share with the rest of the covenant community the importance of this conference and what messages she will be bringing there.
Arve will emphasise that the vital roles of cities and local governments needs to be recognised, and their daily action to tackle climate change in their communities should be supported by clear mandates, stable regulatory frameworks and sufficient resources. Only this way will cities be able to turn their collective ambition into a reality.
The Covenant of Mayors Ceremony crescendoed with the City in the Spotlight Awards, presented by Paula Pinho, Director of DG Energy of the European Commission. This year saw Murcia scoop up the award for large cities.
— Covenant of Mayors – Europe (@eumayors) October 7, 2021
Murcia set ambitious goals for 2020, and achieved them. The city is now looking at 2050 and climate-neutrality, with an action plan developed through a participatory approach with the local people.
It is addressing climate change and biodiversity together, with a series of adaptation actions, building a more resilient city that is also fit for the climate challenges of tomorrow. Murcia has mainstreamed climate resilience in its public health planning, with specific actions to assist vulnerable people during extreme climate events.
In the medium-sized cities category, Padova, Italy, scooped up the award thanks to its climate collaboration pacts with local companies and universities, its green roofs and solar panels, home renovations and sustainable urban mobility plan.
Apostolos Tzitzikosas, President of the European Committee of the Regions and Governor of Central Macedonia in Greece, closed the event by calling on the European Commission to work closer than ever with cities and regions “It’s time for a Europe that works with, for and in its cities, regions and villages.”