NetZeroCities attended the 5th Cities Forum in Torino, Italy on 16 and 17 March. The event was an excellent opportunity to connect with Mission Cities representatives, as well as with other European cities engaging in a journey to climate neutrality. Organised by DG REGIO, the event brought together key urban stakeholders at the European, national, regional and local levels who are committed to a green and just future for cities. Our team had the opportunity to showcase our work with cities at a booth shared between the Cities Mission and the Adaptation Mission.

Mission Cities at the forefront of transformation in Europe

The 5th Cities Forum put a spotlight on key cities-related EU policies and initiatives and maintained a focus on the role of cities in implementing the European Green Deal. Speakers outlined the importance of strategic approaches to address the needs for climate adaptation and environmental protection, as evidenced in initiatives like the EU Mission for 100 Climate Neutral and Smart Cities.  As Patrick Child, Mission Manager, explained at an Urban Talk centring systems change,  “the Mission Cities are the local manifestation of EU Green Deal: bringing together actors at the local level with the goal of inspiring other European Cities and leading the green transition.”

The event was held in Torino, one of the nine Italian cities in the Mission, and a city with a vast history in urban transformation, especially during its transition from a factory town to a city of knowledge, culture and innovation. Torino’s mayor Stefano Lo Russo  particularly emphasised the city’s 2030 ambition as part of the Mission, and the importance of working with citizens and stakeholders for a more inclusive and greener future.

Among the many Mission Cities representatives present at the Cities Forum were Minna Arve, Mayor of Turku (Finland), Anna Lisa Boni, Deputy Mayor of Bologna (Italy), and Magdalena Mlochowska, Coordinator of Green Warsaw (Poland). Together, they reflected  on how to support the implementation of the European Green Deal within cities while also dealing with other new challenges, such as the energy crisis. They exchanged perspectives on being part of the Cities Mission, and their ambitions and visions to transform cities in a systemic way.

Being neutral is not neutral”, Boni said – a statement that proved true over the course of testimonies from Mission Cities. In a session dedicated to greening cities as a strategic approach to address climate and environmental challenges, Gitty Korsuize, an urban ecologist from Utrecht, Imanol Zabaleta Altuna, Director of the environmental studies of Vitoria-Gasteiz, and Susa Eräranta, project director for the Climate Unit of Helsinki, shared experiences from their cities. Together, they spoke about bringing more nature into cities while also managing existing natural spaces within cities boundaries. This offers benefits to biodiversity, food systems, climate resilience and citizens’ well-being. Key enablers to reaching climate ambitions included: Setting long-term goals, turning talks into action while taking planetary boundaries into account at the local level and considering principles of inclusion and fairness.

Mission Cities representatives from Rome and Florence (Italy), Cork (Ireland), Tampere (Finland), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Umeå (Sweden), Athens (Greece), Łódź and Kraków (Poland), and Lyon (France) were also in attendance, addressing topics as varied as the opportunities raised by the European Urban Initiative and the New European Bauhaus, the socio-economic inclusion of marginalised groups at the local level, international cooperation,  and European cohesion policies.

Mission Cities and Mission Adaptation to work hand in hand

The Cities Forum was the opportunity for an insightful exchange between Patrick Child, Deputy Director-General of DG ENV and Manager of the Cities Mission, and Clara de la Torre, Deputy Director-General Innovation, adaptation and resilience, stakeholder relations, at DG CLIMA, and Manager of the Adaptation Mission.

Cutting emissions down to zero and adapting to climate change are two sides of the same coin. With cities involved in both the Cities Mission and the Adaptation Mission, the two Missions will work extremely closely together to support cities in working towards climate neutrality and resilience. These Missions also complement other greening initiatives, as they provide a comprehensive overview of changes to be made.  The missions are goal based: climate neutrality by 2030 for the Cities Mission, for instance. With systemic change at the core of the Missions’ approach, and tools such as the Climate City Contract to achieve it, the Missions aim to foster innovation and tackle climate issues at scale are the centrepiece for achieving climate neutrality by 2030.

Initiatives supporting climate neutrality in cities

Beyond the Mission, cities across Europe need all the support they can get to change the way we live and work, drastically cut emissions and enable a sustainable and greener future for all. Many EU initiatives were represented at the Cities Forum, including the Smart Cities Marketplace, URBACT, the Covenant of Mayors, the Green Cities Accord, amongst others.

The event also marked the launch of the European Urban Initiative, which brings together various policy learning instruments, and builds on previous work including the Urban Innovative Actions, to promote innovation as well as capacity and knowledge building. Commissioner Ferreira announced the topics for the future Call for proposals to be held under the European Urban Initiative, with €120 million for projects to green cities, ensure sustainable tourism and harness talent.