URBACT goes (even) greener

From a carbon-neutral festival to new URBACT IV city support, URBACT is strengthening its decarbonisation commitment at all levels

URBACT has had sustainability at the core of its work with European cities for over 15 years. Supporting urban areas to transform in an integrated and sustainable way, it has practically tested and built up substantial knowledge and identified valuable good practices in the field. In the run-up to URBACT IV, the programme is now going a step further: alongside European and global commitments for climate protection, the green transition will be promoted across URBACT’s actions on programme and network levels.

The new URBACT IV programme, which launches in 2022, will mainstream the green transition as one of its cross-cutting elements. This is an opportunity to embed sustainable thinking and practice in every aspect of the programme’s work, including the future URBACT IV networks and the action plans their cities will develop.

URBACT cities at the forefront of climate action

Over the past few years, the conversation around climate change has accelerated from activist and scientific circles to mainstream media and society, leading to long-overdue political commitments such as the Paris Agreement or the European Green Deal. 2019 started unprecedented citizen mobilisation for climate, with young people at its forefront, taking to the streets weekly to demand climate action.

URBACT cities have been taking the lead on the transition to climate neutrality. For example, the Action Planning Network Zero Carbon Cities led by Manchester (UK) is supporting cities to establish science-based carbon reduction targets, an initiative to align Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission cuts in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. On their carbon-neutral path, these cities are preparing local carbon budgets and zero carbon action plans for their municipalities.

The eight partners of the Urban Energy Pact network, led by Clermont Auvergne Métropole (FR), are working to become net-zero energy territories by 2050. Each city in the network is bringing local stakeholders and citizens together to prepare action plans for local and renewable energy sources in their communities.

Reduction and eradication of GHG emissions requires systemic change on many fronts – from the way we produce energy, food and goods, to the way we consume, travel, design and build our cities and protect nature and biodiversity. While individual commitments to climate protection, whether by citizens or single organisations, are very important, it is systemic thinking – accompanied by political will and ground-breaking policies – that is the real gamechanger. URBACT cities have long understood this.

The RiConnect Action Planning Network is rethinking our transport infrastructures, while the BeePathNet Transfer Network promotes biodiversity and food self-sufficiency through the creation of ‘bee-friendly cities’. The FOOD CORRIDORS network connects European regions for sustainable food production, while Health&Greenspace is enhancing urban greenspaces to improve the mental and physical health of local communities. Name a sustainability-related challenge and URBACT cities are already tackling it.

URBACT IV to provide new carbon-neutrality training for cities

Among URBACT’s new green commitments is a Capacity-Building programme, planned for 2022, to help URBACT IV networks embed carbon-neutral perspectives into their work.

Clémentine Gravier, URBACT Capacity-Building Officer, says: "it's very important that URBACT cities find the right tools and trainings to support them in their carbon-neutral transitions. There is so much we can already learn from some URBACT cities who have led the way to tackle climate change. We will package this learning and add it to the URBACT Toolbox to make it accessible to a wider audience."

Meanwhile, the URBACT Secretariat has decided to evaluate its own carbon footprint to inform its future decarbonisation actions.

The URBACT City Festival, set to take place in June 2022 under the French presidency of the Council of the European Union, is being organised as a carbon-neutral event. This is a challenge in itself – even using an eco-oriented venue powered by renewable energy, with local, seasonal and plant-based food, waste collection and composting, we cannot escape the need for carbon offsetting to compensate for participants’ travels and the remaining carbon footprint.

This experience is not only a practical reminder of the complexity of the carbon neutrality challenge at any scale, but it is also proving to be a catalyst for human creativity and ingenuity to come up with exciting, more nature-friendly solutions. The 2022 City Festival will hopefully pave the way for further carbon-neutral events and project practices throughout URBACT.

Climate action knowledge hub

Last but not least, URBACT gathers and builds on all the sustainability knowledge and good practices developed by its cities, networks and initiatives. Recently, URBACT launched a climate action knowledge hub: a gateway to the good practices, ideas, articles and other resources on how cities are boosting local actions to combat climate change and improve resilience. The climate action knowledge hub is going to gain prominence in the upcoming months towards URBACT IV, so make sure you keep up-to-date!

Submitted by Aleksandra Kluczka on 29/10/2021