Cities and regions are essential to reaching EU climate goals

Written by Markku Markkula on 21 December 2016 in Opinion

Our cities and regions are essential to fulfilling the EU's climate and energy goals, argues Markku Markkula.

Markku Markkula | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

The UN climate talks in Marrakech had a lot to live up to after Paris. Despite concerns following the US elections, the international community was focused on maintaining momentum and delivery. 

In Marrakech my message was clear: given cities and regions implement over 70 per cent of all climate-related decisions, limiting global warming well below two degrees without their involvement is impossible. 

Without the right level of investment, political leadership at all levels and alliances across borders we will continue to struggle to contain global warming.


At the COP22 in Marrakech two initiatives were launched which will further engage local and regional governments within the UN climate governance: the Marrakech partnership for global climate action, which focuses on bolstering investments from 2017 to 2020, and the 2050 pathways platform, which will support long-term decarbonisation action plans. 

Six European regions have already joined the latter: Baden Württemberg, Catalonia, Greater Manchester, North Rhine-Westphalia, Piedmont, Scotland and Wales. While I am certain many more cities and regions will soon present their 2050 sustainable plans, the EU must show the way by updating 2050 national roadmaps and ensure compliance with the Paris promises.

It is clear that it is in our cities and regions - such as my home town of Espoo in Finland recently labelled as the most sustainable city in Europe - where we have to win the battle on climate change and deliver a low carbon, energy and resource-efficient economy. 

As our Committee showcased in Marrakech, the Covenant of Mayors is proof that our cities and regions are ready to go further. Almost 200 of our Committee's members are signatories of the Covenant, voluntarily committed to exceeding the EUs target of 40 per cent CO2 emissions reduction by 2030. The Covenant of Mayors model can be copied worldwide, which is why we will continue to use our networks to take the Covenant global.  

We need to support more pioneering regions to act together and think smart. Local and regional governments understand the social, economic and environmental importance of greening our economies but we need to build a new smart economy, investing in eco-innovation to transform our regions and cities. 

As shown recently by the clean energy package, the EU recognises that technological innovation is one of the foundations to decarbonising our energy system, but this heavily relies on our cities and regions to create the right conditions locally. 

They can raise awareness and incentivise public-private partnerships in our communities, power entrepreneurship, drive technological change and attract investment but these needs cooperation.

Local and regional authorities are collaborating, but we need to close the knowledge-gap and step-up efforts to cooperate across borders by investing more into tools such as the European grouping of territorial cooperation. For example, creating more regional platforms will bring together small-scale energy efficiency projects to maximise the use of and access to financing. 

Greater energy efficiency needs a strong political commitment backed by citizens at European, national, regional and local level and in addition the right mix of funds, energy performance contracts and public-private partnerships.

For regions and cities we are investing smart, thinking green and being innovative. But we need to increase the take-up of the European fund for strategic investments (EFSI) locally and strengthen, not replace, cohesion policy to support sustainable regions and cities across Europe.

Governments at all levels need to strengthen their partnerships, work across borders and use our wealth and knowledge together. Our Committee is committed to working with the other EU institutions to fine-tune the various EU financing instruments available to encourage regions and cities to be pioneers, mobilising strong bottom-up movements. 

This means giving the European Committee of the Regions - the EU's assembly of local and regional representatives - a stronger say in EU energy and climate policy as well as giving the world's local and regional governments a formal role in the UN's global governance structure on climate. This would increase national ambition and help us come closer to reaching the Paris climate ambitions.


About the author

Markku Markkula is President of the European Committee of the Regions


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