Author: Elisa Abrantes

At a time when European cities are increasingly at the forefront of tackling global climate challenges, the ambitious Twinning Learning Programme run by NetZeroCities as part of the EU Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities Mission, is a call to action for cities to work together, offering a path towards a more sustainable, inclusive, and interconnected future.

The Programme is designed to facilitate a two-way exchange between cities that are part of the Pilot Cities Programme, and partner cities across Europe with a strong commitment to reaching climate-neutrality.

This is a hands-on opportunity for cities to learn from each other, share knowledge, and collaboratively work on strategies to achieve climate neutrality by 2030.

Meeting, sharing, learning

Site visits are an essential part of the programme, offering the opportunity for in-person visits between Pilot and Twin Cities. The first rounds of visits started in February 2024: find out more about what this meant for cities!

Brenda Roddy (Belfast) and Sharon Carrol (Galway) at a site-visit to urban regeneration project 'Greening the Laneways':

Galway and Belfast, building a climate neutral future in Ireland

Belfast and Galway are on opposite sides of the island of Ireland, with different political realities. However, a shared barrier to climate neutrality in the form of building emissions has become the basis of their relationship as Twin Cities.

The first site visit took place in March 2024, when Galway hosted representatives from Belfast. Both cities share the priority of addressing emissions from buildings in their path to climate neutrality.

The site visit was an action-packed two days for Belfast to learn from Galway’s pilot activity, which aims to implement a retrofit programme for homeowners in a local neighbourhood.

“We’ve just had our first site visit and it’s been very useful from the Pilot City perspective in bringing all our partners and stakeholders together to showcase the work we are doing. We brought in members of our community, our project team, educational institutions, and everyone was able to showcase their work and contribution to the project.
The site visit invigorated everyone and reminded us of the excellent work that’s happening but also where we might have some gaps, and how to address them as we move forward with our Pilot City project,” said Sharon Carrol, NetZeroCities Project Co-ordinator at Galway City Council.

On the benefits of the experience for their Pilot City experience, Carrol added:

“There’s been huge benefits to Galway City, we’ve had the opportunity to learn, share experiences, to brainstorm. We are very much looking forward to visiting Belfast, it’s always good to meet people and see their work in person.
Belfast city has a great history of community engagement, so we can learn from them and see how they have engaged communities and brought them together when it comes to climate action.”

Brenda Roddy, Climate Change Project Officer from the city of Belfast was equally positive about the early experiences as Galway’s Twin.

“We’re delighted that we got paired with Galway, who are slightly ahead of us in retrofitting buildings. It’s a great opportunity to learn which we are really benefitting from. I would definitely recommend the twinning process. I’ve been contacting my counterparts in Galway because we have lots of common interests, and I’ve met a lot of people that I’ll be following up with in future.”

City Hall sign in Irish and English. Galway, Ireland.

Vitoria-Gasteiz, Cologne, Soria

Also in March 2024, the Twin cities of Soria (Spain) and Cologne (Germany) visited the Pilot City of Vitoria-Gasteiz, the capital of the Basque Autonomous Community in northern Spain. An opportunity for all three cities to get to know each other better and for Vitoria-Gasteiz, the host city, to organise a visit to their urban regeneration project in the Zaramaga neighbourhood.

Javier Frades Orallo, Project Officer for Bioeconomy and Biocities in the city of Soria spoke about his experience in the Twinning Learning Programme and site-visit. His city’s interest in the programme involves learning about energy and sustainable rehabilitation of buildings, financing models, and awareness-raising with citizens on the importance of energy efficiency, but also to educate them on how to access loans and financing.

“The Twinning Learning Programme is a valuable experience which allows us to establish connections at a technical level, between municipal teams. The programme facilitates innovation processes and different ways of approaching climate and energy problems, allowing us to ‘think outside the box’ and generate innovative solutions,” said Frades Orallo during the site visit.

Kristina Kebek from the Climate Protection Coordination Office in Cologne praised the in-person opportunities afforded by the site-visits:

“Our programme was a successful mix of professional exchange and networking. In workshop-blocks our project partners form Vitoria-Gasteiz, Barcelona and Valencia as well as the twin city Soria presented their projects and lessons-learned. We had a great time exchanging and learning from each other on a variety of topics, including on how to get citizens involved in the rehabilitation of buildings. We are grateful that we as Twin-City have this opportunity to meet in person, and are already looking forward to the return visit to Cologne in September.”

Site visit to the urban regeneration project in the Zaramaga neighbourhood, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain.

Other site visits are on-going, with many planned until Summer 2024, after which a second round will begin, where Pilot Cities will have the opportunity to visit the Twins they’ve been matched with.

By fostering a network of learning cities, the programme aims to catalyse change, inspire action, and make the goal of climate-neutral cities a reality. We encourage all cities that are eligible to apply and make use of the opportunity!

Stronger together: participate in the Twinning Learning Programme

We encourage all cities that are eligible to apply and make use of the opportunity! The second call for Twin Cities is currently open until 31 May, and selected cities will be paired with cities from the second Cohort of Pilot Cities. They will embark on a 20-month tailored programme, and through meetings, workshops and site visits, Twin Cities will be encouraged to incorporate innovative practices from Pilot Cities, and together they will address barriers to change and make progress towards climate neutrality.

Find out more: