The Paris agreement recognised European cities and regions among the non-party stakeholder entities that can address climate change. Their contribution is focused on reducing emissions, building resilience and decreasing vulnerability to climate change and promoting cooperation for exchanging best practice.
A precondition for achieving any of the above is complete ownership of an energy transition and climate change adaptation and mitigation agenda. Therefore, all proposed measures that I refer to are interdependent pieces of a long-term strategy that have multiplying effects and sustainable outcomes. This strategy has four pillars.
First, improving the energy mix through a stronger contribution from renewables will be vital. This applies not only to reducing emissions but also to ensuring energy security and sustainability of supply.
For example, local public transport could begin using biofuels. All but three member states are below the 10 per cent threshold for 2020 when it comes to energy from renewable sources in transport. There is clearly room for improvement.
Second, the circular economy plays a large part in a long-term climate strategy for cities and regions. Efficient waste management remains a priority, since despite significant improvements over the past decades, more than a quarter of municipal waste is still landfilled and less than half is recycled. This also creates a window of opportunity for smart solutions.
For example, in Vilnius, the European fund for strategic investments is backing up the greenfield construction of a combined-heat-and-power plant in the city of Vilnius. The project, which is expected to leverage €226m, will lower municipal landfilling, reduce emissions in comparison to fossil-fuels and subsequently improve Lithuania’s energy security.
Any measure to improve the energy efficiency of buildings has an impact on the local economy. Energy renovations and the construction of new nearly zero-energy buildings will reduce energy demand and therefore also energy costs.
Improving energy efficiency will have an indirect effect on the economy, since energy renovations are estimated to add almost twice as much value to the economy as the construction of new buildings.
Several projects funded through the investment plan could be replicated for public buildings. Renovations of existing residential buildings in France and Finland will deliver energy savings and boost the local construction economy. Similar projects, which would pool public buildings for energy renovation, could be deployed at local and regional level.
Local and regional authorities may be at the forefront of adopting energy and climate initiatives, but sometimes lack the resources or capacity to implement them. This requires support at national or European level. Here are two examples from Greece.
First, the country’s beautiful but energy-hungry islands, which cost Greek citizens an average of €800m annually for their energy needs. This is because their energy infrastructures are fossil-fuelled and there are limited interconnections with continental Greece and the central grid. We must push for energy interconnections at national level, and we must also support the increased contribution of renewables in islands’ energy mix.
My second example is drawn from a recent visit to western Macedonia. This region is the main producer of lignite, the basic component of Greece’s electricity production.
Europe is pushing for decarbonisation, whereas the local economy’s strong dependence on a finite resource lignite, to the extent creating of monoculture. This paints a smoggy picture for the area’s future.
The Commission’s pilot initiative, ‘Coal regions in transition’, is extremely helpful and replicable. It aims to facilitate the transition of regions and cities, through economic diversification, the improvement of air-quality and the re-education of the local workforce.
Cities and regions have the opportunity to think and act outside of the box and improve citizens’ lives while implementing the COP21 Paris agreement.
However, it is important for member states to encourage them in their plans. For this reason, change in national planning on climate change adaption and mitigation is needed, particularly for countries in southern Europe.