Murcia grabs sustainability award

2 December 2021

Murcia has just grabbed the prestigious Covenant of Mayors Award. The Covenant of Mayors is a global pact signed by local authorities around the world to achieve the climate targets that will make it possible to combat climate change. Murcia has already signed up to the newest target – to become climate neutral by 2050, having previously signed up for the target of a 40% emissions reduction by 2030 and already hit the initial target of a reduction of 20% by 2020 in 2015. Interested cities can start engaging here.

The city has long been a frontrunner, becoming the first Spanish city to sign the Covenant, along with Madrid, in 2008. María Cruz Ferreira-Costa, Managing Director at Murcia City Council, remembers well the city’s decision to adhere to the global targets: “At that time I had just arrived to Murcia municipal council, coming from Brussels before, and this was just like bringing a piece of Europe to Murcia,” she recalls.

Ahead of the game

Though Murcia has managed to stay ahead of the game, these results have not come easily. The city’s Sustainable Energy Action Plan lists more than 100 concrete ways that its targets will become reality. These range from renovation of public and private buildings, from swimming pools to apartment blocks – “And 86% of these actions have already been carried out,” Ferreira-Costa says proudly.

Public buildings have been made energy-efficient from head to toe, from insulation to LED lights with motion sensors. “We do not allow to have less than energy class B,” Ferreira-Costa says, while noting that they always aim for their buildings to hit class A. No stone has remained unturned where efficiency gains can be realised. The city has even moved its attention outside to “energy saving actions in park and garden fountains. I can keep talking forever about all these actions that we have.”

An outside eye

Nevertheless, the city is not prepared to congratulate itself until it is certain of the gains it has made. To make sure to be able to attest to local success with a neutral eye, the city has employed external consultants to monitor and verify emissions savings. “For us, it’s very important to show that we have implemented what we’ve promised,” Ferreira-Costa divulges.

From the beginning, it was evident to Murcia that it would need the support, and ideas, of tonnes of local actors to get to its targets. Ferreira-Costa remembers how her team worked to get everyone to bring their own contributions to the table: “For the preparation of the mitigation measure action plan, we created this democracy base group. All services of the municipality, and all the sectors involved: education, university, professional associations, private companies, small and medium enterprises as well as NGOs and neighbourhood associations. Their contributions were all integrated into our climate change mitigation strategy.”

This contribution was not limited to a once-off engagement. “The plan is alive,” Ferreira-Costa says, “It grows with participation. Everyone can participate and it can be modified according to how society evolves.”

Bridging the gap

For Ferreira-Costa, the Covenant of Mayors is significant not just because it brings together thousands of mayors around the world, but because it bridged the gap between the European Commission, who set Europe’s climate targets, and the cities, where the measures that decide if these targets will be achieved must be put in place. “The European Commission goes down to deal with the municipalities directly,” Ferreira-Costa explains, “it’s the best tool for cities to think globally while acting locally.”

Ferreira-Costa is effusive about the journey her city has had with the covenant: “The Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy is the best tool for municipalities. It’s the largest global movement of cities for local action on climate and energy and brings together thousands of local governments with the will to help, with the will to change the world.”

“I remember, it was the first time the European Commission went to the municipalities and showed them that they are part of the solution, not this hierarchical structure. It was the first time the European Commission talked directly with municipalities, and this is very important because we felt part of the team. At national level they have not great implementation of climate ambitions, but at local level, we have done our homework. And this is something where the Covenant of Mayors has helped a lot.”

Alternative approaches

Being the city to win this year’s Covenant of Mayor’s award also required significant financial resources, resources which it took a lot of creativity to muster up. “Municipal resources are limited,” Ferreira-Costa confesses, “we had to make an effort to find alternative sources as well as committing to allocate the necessary ones in the annual budget.” These alternative approaches included revolving funds, energy saving contracts, and the work of private enterprises.

Ferreira-Costa gives a quick explanation of these tools: A revolving fund means that financial savings from spending less money on energy go back into a fund which is used to invest on more energy saving measures; while energy saving contracts are contracts which mean that the companies that carry out energy-saving measures take their payment not upfront but only from the profits of the energy savings they actually achieve. The work of private companies to clean up their act internally using their own resources has also been a major boon – though it was necessary for the city to engage with the companies to get these commitments.

Terrible heat

Though the challenge has been far from insubstantial, Murcia is committed because it sees the necessity of holding the worst effects of climate change at bay. Ferreira-Costa has little time for sceptics: “Climate change is a reality here. If someone has any doubt about climate change, I just invite them to come here. This summer we reached 44-45 degrees, and it was really hard.”

For Ferreira-Costa, Murcia’s commitment to fighting climate change and the city’s commitment to the Covenant of Mayors are one in the same. “You cannot talk about climate emergency if you are not in the Covenant of Mayors,” she declares.

The city has found its part in the covenant very useful in achieving its targets, but also in other ways. “Being a signatory of the Covenant of Mayors opens for us a lot of doors,” Ferreira-Costa says, “for example the green chapter on IT, or another one just recently on biodiversity.”

Vulnerable people

Climate, Ferreira-Costa explains, is not an issue that stands alone. “The problems are combined here – the energy poverty issue and the effect that the excess temperature has on health, not just in the young or elderly, but on everyone.” She is especially concerned about the social dimension, as Murcia is a frontrunner in the protection of vulnerable populations from the effects of climate change: “We need to implement a municipal plan on energy poverty, especially with the price of electricity nowadays,” she emphasises, “it’s madness!”

Murcia is not planning to rest on its laurels – the city still has work to do. “We need as well to work on taxes and cut the red tape to make it easier to consume your own renewable energy.” The city also wants to engage other actors even more deeply, Ferreira-Costa says. “We already have a contract for the purchase of certified 100% renewable green energy in the city council, but we need to convince all the private companies to do the same, starting with small and medium enterprises, restaurants and local shops, but also with big companies. We are even teaching climate change programmes to children after school.”

“We have done a lot of things, but there are still many things to do,” Ferreira-Costa laments, adding, “I think we know what we have to do, we have the will to do it.” With the Covenant of Mayors Award now under the city’s belt, and the latest climate targets well on the way to being achieved, the message, for Ferreira-Costa, is clear: “Hard work pays back.”


Anthony Colclough Eurocities Writer