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European cities and carbon neutrality

One hundred European cities have been selected to take part in an EU program to rapidly reduce emissions in urban areas, with the aim of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030.

Selected cities in each Member State will take part in the programme, representing approximately 12% of the EU population. Twelve other cities outside the European Union will take part.

The European Union will invest €360 million to help cities in their greening mission in 2022 and 2023, which – hopefully – will incentivize the private sector to invest more.

“The ecological transition is making its way across Europe at the moment. But there is always a need for pioneers, who set themselves even higher goals. These cities show us the way to a healthier future”said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.

About three quarters of Europeans now live in cities, after decades of urbanization. Cities are responsible for some 70% of global emissions, making them the ideal ground for implementing climate action, explained Frans Timmermans, EU Climate Action Manager.

“Cities are at the forefront of the fight against the climate crisis. Whether greening urban spaces, combating air pollution, reducing energy consumption in buildings or providing clean mobility solutions, cities are often at the heart of the changes that Europe needs to successfully transition to climate neutrality”did he declare.

The cities participating in the program cover the geographical and demographic diversity of the continent, from metropolises like Rome and Paris to smaller cities like Gozo in Malta and Kranj in Slovenia.

Some 377 cities have applied to participate in the scheme, known as the “Climate Neutral and Smart Cities Mission”and independent experts narrowed the list down to 100.

Each selected city is required to develop a plan outlining how it intends to achieve climate neutrality, including in terms of sources of investment. The EU will provide cities with technical, regulatory and financial assistance when developing their plans.

During a press briefing, the architects of the mission “Cities” underlined the capacity of local climate action to directly improve the quality of life of Europeans.

“This is one of the miracles of climate change action: by reducing our greenhouse gases, we can reduce our air and noise pollution, we can reduce our traffic jams and road deaths. We can also, over time, reduce our energy bills, reduce our dependence on Russian hydrocarbons and create greater energy independence for cities”said a senior Commission official.

Challenges

As things stand, the transformation of cities towards carbon neutrality represents a major challenge, all the greater as the timetable is ambitious. The situation is further complicated by the fact that local governments are accountable to national levels in certain carbon-emitting areas, such as energy infrastructure.

Asked by EURACTIV about the gap between national and local skills, those behind the mission highlighted the ability of cities to help national leaders achieve binding climate goals.

“Why would national governments listen to cities? Well I hope [les villes] are listened to very carefully, as these cities are committed to taking a large part of the climate mitigation effort and putting it on their shoulders… I think there is every reason for people to cooperate, and we are there to try to facilitate this cooperation”said a senior Commission official.

Carbon offsetting should also play a role in cities’ journey towards climate neutrality. According to mission rules, up to 20% of emissions can be eliminated by offset systems.

So-called Scope 3 emissions, i.e. carbon emissions that fall outside the direct jurisdiction of the city, are additionally exempt from the cities final carbon emissions tally.

This means that emissions generated by international transport hubs located on the outskirts of cities, such as airports and shipping ports, will not be counted.

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