In the midst of the turmoil caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, lies Rivne — a city with a bold vision for a sustainable future. Despite the shadow of war and the nation’s ongoing struggle for stability, Rivne has taken a courageous step forward on the eve of the EU accession by committing to the EU Cities Mission’ and joining the Pilot Cities Programme run by NetZeroCities. These initiatives aim to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, an unprecedented initiative in Ukraine that reflects the city’s determination to take ambitious action on climate.

For over two years, Ukraine has faced relentless attacks, with regular fighting in the east and south and missiles and drones striking all over the country. Meanwhile, it is on track to begin its journey toward European Union membership, slated to commence later this year. So, while many Ukrainians are focused on protecting their country, there are also initiatives underway to envision Ukraine’s future.

Rivne stands out as a beacon of resilience and forward-thinking ambition, as the country’s sole participant in Pilot Cities Programme led by NetZeroCities as part of the EU Cities Mission, aiming to significantly reduce its emissions and move towards climate neutrality. The challenge they want to tackle systematically by joining the programme is the lack of quality data and the lack of long-term planning, including with regard to climate neutrality. The city has already worked on implementing sustainable solutions such as solar panels and building retrofitting but this initiative, which aims to improve the energy management system of the entire city, underscores Rivne’s commitment to shaping a brighter and greener future.

“Our ambition is to become the first Ukrainian city to achieve climate neutrality. We decided to participate in NetZeroCities and the Pilot Cities Programme to plan a low carbon development of the city, especially from the perspective of reducing energy costs, which is absolutely related to our current emissions and poor energy efficiency. In order to successfully implement this, we need external help, experts and expertise, which we look forward to accessing through the programme,” said Illia Yeremenko – Project Assistant, Learning and Sensemaking Specialist

Municipal Energy Passport to develop green scenarios 

The aim of Rivne’s participation in the Pilot Cities Programme is to improve its energy data management system through the development of a ‘Municipal Energy Passport’ Pilot, using it to model the net zero vision for the city. Their project builds on previous activities carried out by the municipality since 2015, such as the implementation of the “Energobalans“ system, which enables the manual collection of energy consumption data – and the aim is to develop this into a tool that serves decision-makers and other stakeholders.

“We believe that to make better decisions, or any decision, and especially for long term investment planning, which is absolutely crucial for the transition to climate neutrality, we need data first and foremost. That being said, developing this data management system, capturing data modelling and energy development scenarios for the city was a need that we can’t really fulfil on our own, and that’s why we decided to include this in our Pilot activity,” Yeremenko explains.

The aim is to organise all data into a single, regularly updated and maintained online tool to support the development of all future plans and strategies. Once the data is consolidated, energy development scenarios for Rivne can be modelled and decisions on likely paths to climate neutrality can be taken. Rivne has already developed initial visualisations of the system and collected the data that will be used for modelling.

“This system will collect and connect all available data on energy and then create an accessible visual representation for the public, deputies and all decision-makers. Another functionality will be a module to estimate energy savings through the implementation of different measures. It will work in such a way that if I am the headmaster of a school, I can find my school there and check if they can save more energy and money. It will contain data on building parameters such as building materials, insulation, number of windows, etc. Then the consumption of the main energy resources (electricity, thermal energy, water and sanitation) and hopefully the system will also include a self-reporting for businesses so they can voluntarily submit energy data. In the future, we would also like to include transport data in the system,” continues Yeremenko.

Emerging solutions in the face of war related challenges

Implementing the Pilot project comes with a set of additional challenges for Rivne. The war is forcing them to include energy development solutions in their plan, such as diversification of energy sources to avoid power cuts caused by bombings. They are also unable to take part in site visits with other European cities and have to deal with many more technical and operational issues.

Together with building the vision of climate neutrality for the city, and the energy data system, capacity building is the third component in Rivne’s Pilot project. Indeed, the ongoing impact of the war has led to severe challenges such as limited resources, a shortage of skilled personnel, fewer available contractors, and difficulty accessing investments due to heightened risks and uncertainty. This project thus aims to help not only the city, but also all its contractors and various projects.  

Recognising the scarcity of skills and labour for the energy transition, the project will develop training programmes and workshops focused on renewable energy usage and energy efficiency measures. These initiatives will target stakeholders such as building managers, public institutions and students.

“So far, we have successfully developed a training course for building managers and have trained the first hundred building managers from apartment blocks and public institutions,” concludes Yeremenko. 

Being an inspiration to others 

On the eve of EU accession, Rivne aspires to become a role model and inspiration for other Ukrainian cities declaring their ambition towards climate neutrality through the Pilot Cities Programme, the Twinning Programme and other activities under the EU Cities Mission umbrella. They have just opened a local branch of the National Decarbonisation Centre to gather projects across the region aimed to increase energy efficiency and utilising alternative energy sources. The branch will also provide educational and advisory services to citizens, businesses and the public sector to promote cooperation and strengthen resilience to climate change.

Rivne’s Pilot activity also runs in collaboration with the local business community, civil society and the municipality. According to Yeremenko, the reduction of climate emissions could become a point where the interests of different stakeholders intersect and help to build cooperation that will span over other areas in the future. To inspire other cities, they organised an on-site conference “Rivne EUROFORUM: Energy Efficiency, Sustainable Community Development” on 26 March, where to share ideas with others and promote climate neutrality.

“We realised that many people are interested in what we’re doing here. They already know that something important is happening, but they don’t know how they can get involved and what they can do, especially small businesses.  That’s something we want to address with both the project and the platform,” says Yeremenko. 

In order to have extensive knowledge and expertise, Rivne has invited various stakeholders to collaborate on its Pilot activity. The most important partner is the National University of Water Management. Larger local companies such as factories producing clothing and energy equipment, smaller companies such as retail centres, the service sector and associations of co-owners of apartment buildings are also involved in shaping the city’s green future. In addition, Rivne is trying to attract other Ukrainian cities to include the climate agenda in their development plans.   

“We already have smaller towns in our region, some of which took part in the event, that are interested in Rivne’s developments towards climate neutrality. We can share our experience and the energy data management system with them once it is ready. Other cities might be interested in it once we roll it out.” – said Yeremenko 

Justyna Wieczorkiewicz-Molendo, Rivne’s City Advisor, added: “We are proud to observe the city’s activities in the field of climate transformation. We see the extraordinary determination of the city team in its intentions to develop Rivne towards climate neutrality and to be a model for other Ukrainian cities despite the difficult situation in Ukraine. Rivne’s pilot project is very interesting and its results will certainly be a great inspiration for other cities. Moreover, the team’s knowledge, experience and willingness to learn from other European cities is very impressive and valuable for us, considering that the Pilot Cities Programme is focused on learning and testing innovative solutions. We keep our fingers crossed for the Rivne team!”  

Rivne is definitely facing more challenges than other cities participating in the Pilot Cities Programme, but in the face of adversity, however, they stand as a testament to resilience and determination.