The giraffe in the room

21 October 2020

You’ve heard the one about the elephant, right? But what about the giraffe? It’s really not too easy to hide a giraffe either…

When it comes to dealing with what is needed for a city or region to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, the giraffe of climate policy has to be governance – everyone knows that the elephant in the room is the financing.

This was how Anna Lisa Boni, Secretary General of Eurocities, introduced a very timely debate, during the European Week of Regions and cities, on governance models for climate neutrality. Timely because it follow the recent vote in the European Parliament in favour of 60% carbon emission reduction targets by 2030 on 1990 levels, and while the European Council still has to take a decision.
Read more on Eurocities position on climate targets here

So, what do cities need to achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible?

According to Boni, “the present silo based forms of governance, designed and developed for traditional city operations and services cannot drive an ambitious climate transition”, but rather we need ways to get citizens on board, and build broad movements as necessary.

The upcoming European Climate Pact, “is really the opportunity to enhance new ways of working together in a more integrated way, breaking the silos, fostering societal participation and social benefits,” said Boni.

Examples abound of what cities have done to lead climate efforts. Through the Covenant of Mayors alone, more than 10,000 local and regional authorities have committed themselves towards climate actions.

Joining Boni on the panel was the Mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski, who explained that cities are really on the front lines of these efforts, even though a lot of resources and attention are currently focussed on the economic recovery post-COVID. However, the mayor noted that these elements should go hand in hand, and that investing in a green recovery is possible.

In these efforts Trzaskowski said that the European Climate Pact, “should be an enabler for closer cooperation between the local and regional authorities and European institutions,” and should act as an umbrella for different climate initiatives.

In his view the most important element of the European Green Deal should be to serve as a platform for education, environmental and climate protection, with EU funds channelled directly to cities and regional authorities.

For those mostly interested in giraffes, however, the mayor also said that one of the major challenges is to demonstrate palpable change. To do this, he suggested that shaping European programmes around concrete projects, achievable in the next 3-5 years, such as taking diesel busses off our roads, would help to get more people on board with taking climate action.

Get it right in cities, get it right for Europe

Turku wants to become a ‘climate positive’ city by 2030, said Mayor Minna Arve, and it aims to be climate neutral by 2029.

A tall order, but Turku is on track, having halved its carbon emissions since 1990, while growing the economy at the same time.

How has so much been achieved already? By involving people…such as in the use of city bikes all year round, by creating energy positive student housing, and offering citizens a carbon footprint calculator so that they can make their own plan for low carbon daily living. The idea is of creating ‘climate action together’ – something that 300 local companies have been keen to sign up to.

From Leuven, Mayor Mohamed Ridouani, shared the ‘Leuven 2030’ model of inclusive innovation, which brings together citizens, NGOs, civil society, local government, local businesses, and knowledge institutions.

To make sure it is not a loose network they have a shared decision making process, with a legal framework for the organisation and combined equal decision making power. Around 600 members take up elected roles, and, crucially, Leuven 2030 coordinates all the climate plans of the city, because the local council has given those powers away directly to the new organisation.
– Little surprise really that Leuven was recently named European Capital of Innovation.

Are you still paying attention at the back? We were talking about giraffes, I believe.

Charles Fournier, Vice President of the Centre Val de Loire Region shared details of a regional COP (modelled on the famous Conference of the Parties, which will next take place in Glasgow), launched one year ago, which is focussed on bringing citizens, businesses and others around actions to fight climate change.

Already, over 44,000 citizens have been mobilised and 250 initial commitments taken by companies and citizens’ groups, such as developing cycle routes for tourism and reducing the CO2 emissions of city busses. Going forward, the regional COP has plans to also levy financial resources to set up calls for projects.

All this, said Boni, is the “mission of our times”. The challenge of this generation is to find ways to reach climate neutrality as fast as possible to ensure a liveable planet. And doing so needs us to work together, and share different ideas about how to do it, such as the ones briefly outlined above.

This idea is also encapsulated in the Horizon Europe Mission for Climate Neutral and Smart Cities, which has proposed the mission of creating ‘100 Climate-neutral Cities by 2030 – by and for the Citizens’.

You can read about the proposed mission here. Warning: this document may contain elephants.

A recording of the above session will soo be available here.