One year has passed since the Let’s Go! Climate Neutral and Smart Cities Mission Kick Off Event where pioneering cities started an unprecedented journey to become the first 112 climate-neutral cities by 2030. At the end of June, Mission Cities kept up the momentum as they convened for the second Cities Mission Conference. The Mission in Progress: Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities Conference 2023 was a chance to come together to exchange on their journeys to climate-neutrality.
The conference was a poignant event for cities, with Dovydas Kaminskas, Mayor of Tauragė eloquently noting: “This is a problem-solving conference.” It was a space for city representatives and practitioners to meet, ideate, collaborate, and establish new pathways to drive them towards their climate goals. City representatives, Mayors, members of the European Commission, and other European institutions met for two days to connect and engage on Mission-critical concepts and ideas. Day one was dedicated to helping city practitioners to connect and synergise their local efforts while sharing ideas, challenges, and best practices with each other. The day was opened by André Sobczak, Secretary General of Eurocities, who emphasised the pioneering role of cities and the critical need to have open discussions about what is working well and the areas to improve upon. The focus was on collaboration around one common aim with the responsibility to set the example — not just for Mission Cities but also cities that will follow suit.
His address was followed by a welcome speech by Thomas Osdoba, NetZeroCities Director, who was emphatic about the need for cities to be open and honest to ensure valuable learnings from one another and enhance city collaboration on this joint journey to climate neutrality.
“A critical part of the Mission is on learning together. No single actor is going to be able to do this by themself.” – Thomas Osdoba, NetZeroCities Director
Thomas Osdoba then facilitated a panel discussion with Jane McLaughlin (Eurocities), Anthony Zacharzewski (Demsoc), Francesca Rizzo (POLIMI), and Eugenie Cartron (Dark Matter Labs), giving the latest updates on NetZeroCities developments. Discussions surrounding networks of learnings, the Climate City Contracts (CCCs) and how cities are making the systemic approach unique to their individual contexts as well as updates on the Summer School.
Notably, a key and recurring theme of the two-day conference was collaboration. Participants, speakers, and sessions evoked the importance of peer-to-peer collaborative exchange throughout the event. A session on Peer-to-Peer City Exchanges delved further into this, with world café-style discussions. The session allowed for open discussions on knowledge sharing, best practices, tackling common challenges, and sharing approaches and methodologies with one another. This was also evident in the Policy Challenges Exchange session, during which participants were able to not only ascertain existing policy challenges, but also take a deep dive into the best practices and proposed steps to tackle them in a collaborative way. For this session, six city representatives from Copenhagen, Oslo, Paris, Stockholm, Helsinki, and Lisbon presented their city’s urban climate action initiatives that require collective policy action as well as effective policy coordination at the European level. During the session, participants were invited to consider policy needs, implementation challenges, and desired outcomes in groups using the climate action initiatives presented to them, as examples.
[Credit: Philippe Caneau]
The second day of the conference was dedicated to both mayors and city practitioners, and welcomed several members of the European Commission and other European institutions. The day was kicked off by Marc Lemaître, Director-General DG Research and Innovation, European Commission, Lemaître noted that “throughout history cities have been at the forefront of innovation and change… Europe needs cities like yours that are ambitious and bold, striving towards climate neutrality,” and emphasised the importance of a systems perspective. The day continued with a session called Cities as Frontrunners of the Climate Transition with introductions from Barbara Trachte, State Secretary for the Economic Transition and Scientific Research, Brussels Capital Government. Trachte stressed the importance of cities in the energy transition and the urgency of action as they tackle their climate goals. This was followed by Kim Jørgensen, Director General and Permanent Representative Office of the European Investment Bank (EIB) to the EU Institutions, who highlighted the work of the EIB in its efforts to support cities with financial assistance, for instance through the ELENA programme.
The rest of the day focused on the political side of city action with a Climate-Neutral Cities by 2030: A Political Reality Check session moderated by Patrick Child, Cities Mission Manager. Speakers included Anders Almgren, Mayor of Lund, Minna Arve, Mayor of Turku Emil Boc, Mayor of Cluj Napoca, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, Chair of the Cities Mission Boar, and Karen van Dantzig, Dutch Urban Envoy. The discussion focused on the role of collaboration across all sectors, particularly to politically align multi-level governance at local and national level to allow cities to overcome the barriers that they face. Emil Boc, Mayor of Cluj-Napoca noted that, “every decision should make a positive impact on a climate-neutral city,” and that it is critical to promote synergies and opportunities for cities. A group call to action evoked the sharing of best practices with all cities to scale up.
To close the morning of day two, a second panel discussion took place: The European Green Deal at Local Level: Challenges and Co-benefits, facilitated by Rosalinde Van der Vlies, Director Clean Planet, DG Research and Innovation, European Commission, and Deputy Mission Manager. Panellists included Tanya Hristova, Mayor of Gabrovo, Olivera Injac, Mayor of Podgorica, Anna Lisa Boni, Deputy Mayor of Bologna, Coordinator of the Italian Mission Cities, Allan Pilgaard-Jensen, Deputy Director, Project Zero Sønderborg, and Giorgia Rambelli, Director, Urban Transitions Mission of Mission Innovation. This session tackled many challenges including systemic transformation, behavioural changes, leveraging private funding, and involving citizens in the co-creation of climate strategies.
From there, participants split into two tracks, one for political representatives and one for city practitioners. The political track attended an Investment Roundtable followed by a Meeting of the Mayors with MEPs of the Urban Intergroup with Patrick Child. Meanwhile, two sessions were held for the practitioner track, Pilot Cities: In the Spotlight and Cities Mission – Funding Opportunities and Partners. During the Pilot Cities session nineteen cities presented their Pilot Activities in a short, sharp, and pithy pitch! To end the session, NetZeroCities announced the launch of two Calls for Pilot Cities which will be open to Mission Cities, one within the next two months and one in early 2024 to enlarge the Pilot Cities portfolio. Further, there will be a call in the future for advancing and deepening Pilot Activities, details of which will be made available later in 2024.
As the day came to a close, Patrick Child commented on the criticality of co-creative and collective action, a recurring theme during the conference. He underscored its importance in creating a united sense of purpose against shared challenges to reach climate neutrality. Dovydas Kaminskas, Mayor of Tauragė commented that, “we should not use the word ‘crisis’ to refer to climate challenges as it takes the accountability off of politicians, let us take responsibility and take action to achieve the climate transition”.
“We may be too small to change the world, but we are big enough to make an example”. – Dovydas Kaminskas, Mayor of Tauragė
Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President, European Commission then made final remarks to bring the conference to a close. His concluding speech evoked motivation, togetherness, shared strength, courage, and inspiration, encapsulating the hard work undertaken by Mission Cities, Pilot Cities, the Mission Team, Mission Board, and NetZeroCities over the past year.
“Prove together with us that we can do this without leaving anyone behind. Let us ensure that the benefits of the Mission can be felt by everyone”. – Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President, European Commission
In the end, the gathering demonstrated how much ambition is bubbling up on climate neutrality. The NetZeroCities Climate-Neutral City Advisors commented on how enthusiastic cities were to engage with one another over the two days, gleaning many fruitful discussions and insights.
We are excited to see what next year’s conference in 2024 will bring and what another year’s progress of the Cities Mission will look like. Without a doubt, the 112 cities are just as, if not more, motivated one year after embarking on their pioneering journey towards climate-neutrality.
If you would like to watch the sessions from the conference, please find them here:
[Credit: Philippe Caneau]