Climate is everyone’s job

The vice-mayor first lifts one arm above her head, then the other one, swooping each down in a mock swimming stroke. “In France, everything is a bit like this,” says Frédérique Bonnard Le Floc’h, Vice-Mayor of Brest Metropole. “Like in a swimming pool, you know, you swim in your rank.” Then she makes a 90-degree turn and ploughs across the lanes of her imaginary pool, startling fictional swimmers. “We’re trying to design lines like this – transversally.”

This year, Brest Metropole made an enormous commitment: the local administration signed up to the Covenant of Mayors’ 2050 targets to achieve climate neutrality in under 30 years. Bonnard Le Floc’h and her fellow Vice-Mayor of Brest Metropole, Glen Dissaux, are convinced that this will be possible, but only if everyone in the metropole – both within the administration and outside of  it – is ready to join in.

Interwoven links

Dissaux is eager to emphasise that this does not mean that those whose work does not touch on climate change need to be burdened with concerns that fall outside their remit. The point, he says, is that the interconnections are already there. They just need to be recognised.

“It is crucial to understand that climate policies are linked to social policies,” explains Dissaux. “In Brest, some people turn off their heating because energy prices have become impossible to pay. This is staggering in rich countries like ours.” The issues that people in Brest – and other cities – face run across sectors; climate intersects with poverty and even health. If problems are transversal, answers should be too.

It is crucial to understand that climate policies are linked to social policies
— Glen Dissaux

That’s how solutions like the Mould Cafés bring several positive changes. They directly tackle a health issue: the mould in poorly maintained flats. They foster social exchange by bringing together people who share the same problems and who can be supported by the community. They raise awareness within the public administration about challenges that people are confronted with. They become a platform for the city, NGOs, energy operators, and residents to come up with policies that can solve problems.

Getting citizens involved

The Mould Café is one of Brest’s activities under the Climate Active Neighbourhood (CAN) project, funded by the Interreg North-West Europe programme. Since 2016, Brest Metropole has worked with the inhabitants of four different neighbourhoods to find energy-saving solutions tailored to their needs.

The city engages with grassroots groups and local partners, like the energy provider Emergence, to reach out to residents via different activities: from awareness-raising events on energy poverty and poor housing conditions to the Brico-Bus – a pop-up bus that informs residents about energy-saving actions for their homes.

The Brico-bus in Brest © Christelle Hall

If residents wish, they can also ask for an individual home energy visit to receive advice on energy-saving behaviours and on energy-efficient appliances. These actions not only impact a household’s economic situation, but have wider repercussions on the metropolis’ energy consumption: one-third of it can be reduced through actions like the ones promoted by CAN.

“The Climate Active Neighbourhood project enabled us to do something that we couldn’t do without international support,” says Bonnard Le Floc’h. “It has deeply transformed our way of acting for Brest’s energy poverty. And we’ve been influenced by the actions of other European partners. We couldn’t have done all we’ve done without this European dimension.”

From planning to action

Thanks to the Covenant of Mayors’ European cooperation,  Brest made its first steps toward writing a climate action plan.

“The Covenant of Mayors gave us a framework to monitor our different climate actions and record our achievements,” explains Bonnard Le Floc’h. “It also allowed us to compare and start an exchange with other European signatories.”

In 2019, Brest Metropole adopted its second climate action plan. Stemming from workshops between municipalities, local NGOs, citizens, and economic players, the plan mobilises the entire territory, giving Brest Metropole a roadmap for political action.

“We are fully aware that we need the massive mobilisation of different local actors to reach our goals and objectives; first of all, citizens,” says Dissaux. “Citizens must be at the core of the road-mapping process; that’s why we introduced a city councillor who is fully dedicated to citizen participation. And we have plenty of new ideas thanks to them.”

Citizens must be at the core of the road-mapping process
— Glen Dissaux

Some of these ideas are now part of the action plan, which identifies 13 key sectors and lists 60 concrete actions, touching on waste collection, agriculture, renovation, sustainable mobility, renewable energy, and air quality. The challenge, however, is to find ways to get everyone on board.

For example, Brest Metropole could curb CO2 emissions by taking action on building retrofit. A third of the metropolis’ greenhouse emissions come from construction works. “We have to promote building retrofit actions by proposing grants and incentives for positive solutions because, at the moment, we lack resources. We need more builders and companies to be involved,” says Dissaux.

No results without resources

“You need massive amounts of money, big money to bring real change,” adds Bonnard Le Floc’h. “We also need to benefit from EU structural funds to achieve our goals.” For example, the metropolis uses the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to retrofit social housing, but would like to find a similar scheme for private owners.

You need massive amounts of money, big money to bring real change
— Frédérique Bonnard Le Floc’h

“We seek the help of European programmes, funds and policies to achieve our ambitious climate goals,” insists Bonnard Le Floc’h. “EU initiatives like the Green Deal and the New European Bauhaus are an essential tool to deliver our climate strategy and foster cooperation across Europe.”

But public funding isn’t the only solution. Dissaux notes that local businesses are also concerned about the environmental transition, and Brest Metropole tries to draw them in. The European project Tomorrow is an excellent example of mobilising an entire economic sector by convincing businesses to engage in climate actions and sign different pledges. “This is far from being greenwashing,” says Dissaux. “We work with more and more businesses and investors willing to commit and propose solutions for the climate.”

However, for commitments to be meaningful, results must be analysed and adjusted if needed. One tool that Brest Metropole uses to assess progress and the effectiveness of its climate policies and actions is the European Union Energy Award. “Last year, we were granted the gold level,” says Bonnard Le Floc’h proudly. “It’s important for us to measure our progress. Are we making a difference? And this gold level tells us: ‘It’s okay, you’re on a good path.’ It’s meaningful.”

Cities’ journey to tackling climate change includes plenty of examples about mobilisation at local level, citizen outreach, partnership with businesses, and European support and collaboration. Sometimes that journey prompts one to make the most of a train delay by extending an in-person meeting and learning from a sister city, as Bonnard Le Floc’h recalls with a smile.

Wilma Dragonetti Eurocities Writer