The latest round of the FitFor55 package is upon us.
Today, the European Commission has delivered another major building block on the path towards climate neutrality by giving a further boost to the necessary revisions to the Union’s energy and climate laws for it to meet its European Green Deal ambition of staying within 1.5C warming.
The commentary below from Eurocities focuses on the most important enablers for cities to accelerate the transition to climate neutrality in an inclusive way: the Efficient and Green Mobility Package, the revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, and a European Council Recommendation to address the social and labour aspects of the climate transition.
Efficient and green mobility
Given that more than 70% of EU citizens are still exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution, the EU Efficient & Green Mobility Package is well placed to help cities introduce safer, more sustainable and affordable mobility options.
“The initiatives we’re seeing from this package supplement the efforts of our members to revolutionise the way people and goods move around in our cities,” says Thomas Lymes, Policy Advisor on Mobility for Eurocities.
The revision of the TEN-T regulation – the network of transport connections across Europe – is a good case in point. “The new recognition for cities emphasises their strategic role along major transport corridors. Whenever long-haul transport and local mobility are not coordinated, it is bound to create transport disruptions,” says Lymes.
In some cities, such as Prague, cargo bikes are already replacing lorry or van deliveries within the urban centre, meaning that larger, more polluting vehicles are kept away, and instead deposit their packages at a depot a little way out.
“However, we are still missing clarity on how the EU will help cities fulfil this new role and comply with subsequent obligations,” notes Lymes.
Another positive signal, as recommended by Eurocities, is a clear focus on public and active modes of transport.
“This is something that all our cities work on around the clock,” says Lymes. “For us this is all part of better sustainability and liveability in all of our cities.”
In Rome, where around 65% of all journeys are made by car (compared to, for example 22% in Warsaw), the city’s first ever Cycling Mayor capitalised on positive experiences during Covid-19 lockdowns to create 150km of new bike lanes. A little further to the North, Milan now limits the use of the most polluting vehicles in certain urban areas from 7:30-19:30 during the working week, in a bid to safeguard its air quality.
Finally, according to Lymes, “the continual involvement of local authorities will be necessary to ensure that the revision to the Intelligent Transport Systems Directive will offer a valuable contribution to improving the shift away from private car use in our cities.”
To this end, he highlighted the EU-funded Scale-up project as a good example of how the EU could further support cities to develop mobility data strategies supporting multimodal transport for their residents.
Revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive
Collectively, buildings in the EU are responsible for 40% of our energy consumption and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions, which mainly stems from construction, usage, renovation and demolition. As such buildings also have a large role to play if we are to meet our climate targets.
But to make this a reality, as Eurocities has recently set out in a policy statement, the current Revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive must define a clear roadmap, including minimum energy performance standards and progress indicators, to achieve zero emissions buildings by 2050.
“Alongside the focus on renovation and setting Minimum Energy Performance Standards, special attention should be given to in-need and at-risk households,” says Eugenia Mansutti, Policy Advisor on Energy, Eurocities. “When renovation costs are balanced as much as possible by energy savings, there is an opportunity for better quality housing, while lifting people out of energy poverty, but that will require making sure things like public funding are available to those with reduced access to market-price loans,” she adds.
Local one stop shops, such as Antwerp’s Ecohouse, play a key role in providing advice on energy efficiency and coordinating renovation projects. They can also be important sounding boards to encourage people to start renovation projects in the first place.
“Cities are the essential level that connects European legislation to the needs of citizens. If the European Commission really wants to boost its renovation and energy efficiency achievements, the answer should be to provide increased support to cities to realise more projects like this one. In this way, citizens can be empowered through having direct access to the technical assistance they need,” adds Mansutti.
One significant proposal from the initial FitFor55 package was the consideration of the whole life-cycle of carbon emissions of buildings and the recognition of buildings as significant material banks and repositories for carbon-intensive resources.
“That fits well with our long-term vision that new buildings should not produce any carbon emissions throughout their entire life cycle,” says Mansutti. “We already have projects in several of our cities that show this can be possible. Eventually, all buildings will be constructed and refurbished in zero emissions construction sites, include shares of renewable energies at the building or district level, and will ultimately produce more energy than they consume.”
Cities such as Muenster are aware of the huge challenge this poses in terms of renovating existing buildings. Since 1997, the city has offered financial grants, totalling more than €11 million annually, to support homeowners in the energy renovation of their old buildings, as well as in the use of renewable energies and by providing advice on the advantages of innovative solar technology.
Social and labour aspects of the climate transition
The European Council Recommendation on addressing social aspects of the green transition, to which Eurocities submitted feedback this Autumn, sets a strong precedent for mainstreaming social equity concerns within the FitFor55 package.
“Social, health and employment policies are not just key enablers of the green transition, but also the most critical link to connect the European Green Deal with citizens,” says Masha Smirnova, Campaign Manager for the Mayors Alliance for the European Green Deal.
According to interim results from a recent Eurocities survey, most cities currently provide direct support for energy efficiency retrofits to their residents to alleviate energy poverty, reduce energy consumption and/or increase access to affordable energy.
In Amsterdam, as an example, between 2012 and mid-2019, the number of solar panels grew by 54% each year.
“Bringing together clean infrastructure, quality jobs and public services can deliver substantial economic, environmental and social co-benefits for the green transition,” says Smirnova.
One way to do this is through skills matching and job creation in the green economy, for example through local skills pacts, which focus on bringing together local businesses and training providers. Good practices from cities such as Lyon Metropole show the added value of local-level action, ending cycles of long-term unemployment. By signing the ‘Charte des 1,000’, businesses pledge to support local inclusion through training, recruiting and up-skilling of job seekers with difficulties finding a job, as well as committing to socially responsible purchasing and other actions.
Making the Fit for 55 package achieve tangible benefits for people requires partnerships between different layers of government and critical investments in local welfare services that effectively link the European Green Deal with the European Pillar of Social Rights. “That partnership needs to work both ways,” notes Smirnova, “so that EU and national-level climate policies benefit from the evidence base collected in cities.”
Pushing for 1.5C
Overall, there are many positive elements, as well as several that need clarification within the current raft of measures.
What is clear, however, is that cities have the expertise to take climate action today and are ready and willing to work with EU and national decision makers to achieve that change. Now, we just need these EU and national governments to show that they are ready to make the plans for a green and just transition a reality.