• A carbon-neutral URBACT City Festival, is it even possible?

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    City Festival 2022 venue signs

    This year's edition of the City Festival brought many novelties, including carbon-neutral measures. Here are the take-aways from this experience!


    With URBACT's growing commitment to the green transition, the core objectives from the French presidency in the Council of the EU 2022 under which the City Festival took place, the programme made the ambitious engagament to deliver its first carbon-neutral event ever. By uptaking this challenge, many lessons were learnt: from planning how to reduce the carbon footprint to engaging and nudging participants, to even eliminating emissions and alternatively compensating them.



    Where to start – a plan to reduce emissions



    City Festival 2022 - Cite Fertile drone view
    La Cité Fertile, the venue of the City Festival 2022



    Where do most of the emissions come from? Several aspects with a strong carbon footprint were identified, including the venue and meals.


    The URBACT City Festival 2022 took place in La Cité Fertile (Pantin/Greater Paris), an ecological place owned by the French public transportation service (SNCF), which experiments with urban transition areas and temporary use. As an old logistics complex that has been provisionally transformed into a common space for leisure, La Cité Fertile uses exclusively renewable energy with no air conditioning. By using dry toilets, a lot of water is also saved. In addition, organic waste is systematically used in the composts.


    Food and catering can be a tricky thing when planning any event. The meals served at the City Festival were either vegetarian or vegan, in order to reduce the carbon-footprint. Whenever possible, local seasonal ingredients were used in the recipes. Meals were precisely calculated and leftovers were distributed at the end of each day.  The packaging for the meals was minimised and the URBACT team is very proud to say that there was no single-use plastic at the event. There is always room for improvement, of course, but these measures set a good reference for future events!


    Unlike any other previous edition, this was a paper-less City Festival. Participants only brought home good memories and inspiration, as no welcome packs were produced. Instead of printing thousands of leaflets that would short-live, all the practical information from the event was gathered in a dedicated website. The URBACT cities, networks and other partners were invited to be creative when showcasing their outputs and results in the Exhibition, refraining from printing and mailing hundreds of long publications.



    Before, during and after the event – communication campaign and travel


    City Festival 2022 estimation of carbon emissions
    City Festival 2022 estimation of carbon emissions



    When it comes to environmentally-friendly actions, it is impossible to ignore the elephant in the room: the travel carbon footprint. According to the French Agency for Ecological Transition (ADEME), on average travelling is responsible for 80% of an event’s emissions.


    Knowing this fact, the URBACT team decided to engage with potential participants and involve them in the carbon-neutral efforts from an early start. An awareness campaign was done prior to the City Festival, explaining the reasons behind the decision to organise a carbon-neutral event, but also on the ways we were doing it. This included a series of articles, messages and even an online guide with a carbon simulator. Participants became aware of the carbon footprint generated by their travel and URBACT encouraged them to choose different means of transportation than a plane.


    Due to the current transportation infrastructure in Europe and the fact that the URBACT community includes urban enthusiasts from a wide diversity of countries, most participants still had to fly to France. Nevertheless, some participants took long-hour trains and alternative means of transportation to commit to our carbon-neutral challenge, with someone even facing a two-day train trip from Finland!



    Looking back – harvesting the results and compensation measures


    The City Festival finished on 16 June 2022, but the URBACT’s team work did not stop there! Now the time has come for the actual calculation of our event’s carbon footprint. The carbon accounting methodology evaluated the event’s emissions across the three scopes: direct emissions, indirect emissions related to energy consumption and other indirect emissions.


    The total emissions amounted to 254 tonnes of CO2, an equivalent of 144 Paris - New York round trips or the annual emissions of 26 French people (Datagir by ADEME). It is therefore not an insignificant amount. The biggest chunk of emissions came, without surprise, from participants’ travels from all over Europe, accounting for 77.7% of the event’s carbon footprint, 78% of which was caused by using the plane.


    Carbon emission rates from the City Festival 2022
     Carbon emission rates from the City Festival 2022


    The efforts to minimise the carbon footprint stemming from meals paid off: they accounted only for 1.4% of the total carbon footprint of the event, therefore 3.5 tCO2. Choosing a sustainable venue also proved to be the right choice, as our energy and building emissions amounted to only 0.6 tCO2 and 0.9 tCO2, respectively.


    While the carbon footprint reductions were properly achieved, to reach the carbon-neutrality goal there was still one step left: compensating for the number of emissions to meaningful projects, as natural carbon sinks, which have the capacity to absorb and store greenhouse gases’ emissions. Two projects for our carbon offsetting were selected: afforestation and transition to sustainable agriculture in France.


    The first project, Bois de l'Etang in North-eastern France, is focused on afforestation of plots currently used as meadows. A tree absorbs on average 25 kg of CO2 per year, therefore, developing forests is one of the best ways to support natural carbon dioxide absorption. The second chosen project focuses on the transition to sustainable agriculture. Supporting biodiversity is not only crucial for preserving life on Earth, but also soils can be powerful carbon sinks absorbing emissions.



    At last, what lies ahead for URBACT events?


    2022 City Festival participants doing some guerrila gardening in Pantin
    City Festival participants doing some guerrila gardening in Pantin (FR).



    This year’s City Festival was the URBACT first, but certainly not the last, carbon-neutral event. With the upcoming URBACT IV, green transition will be mainstreamed across programme- and network-level activities. URBACT will continue to reduce its emissions by replacing some physical events by online ones, which have proliferated already during the Covid-19 pandemic. Whenever organising programme-level face-to-face events, the principle of carbon-neutrality will be kept, and strongly recommended for events organised by URBACT cities and networks.


    So, yes! To reply to the title's question, it is possible to organise and deliver a carbon-neutral event, even if it's a large one for over 500 attendees.










    Green transition subjects are strongly present in capacity building activities for cities, with new tools enriching URBACT’s Toolbox, and in the URBACT Knowledge Hub. The URBACT IV Programme (2021 -2027) will retain the principle that cities will be free to select their own network themes according to their needs and priorities. Nevertheless, it will also explicitly aim to build the awareness and capacity of all programme actors “to better include cross-cutting considerations such as digital, environment and gender equality” in their work and activities both at programme and network-level.

    From urbact
  • Managing climate change in the city


    A climate adaptation plan designed and implemented with local stakeholders to increase resilience on a metropolitan scale

    Giovanni Fini
    Senior expert
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    Within the framework of the EU Life+ Project BLUEAP (Bologna Local Urban Adaptation Plan for a resilient city), the City of Bologna (IT) identified and analysed risks, hazards and main vulnerabilities related to climate change, water scarcity, heat waves, extreme weather events. Drawing on its local vulnerabilities, Bologna's Adaptation Plan in 2015 outlined the strategy and actions in the management of green space and water by the different levels of government in the territory. The Plan consists of a local strategy and an Action Plan that translates these strategies into measures. Strategy and Plan make reference to a medium-term time frame until 2025. In the light of the plan a package of integrated pilot actions has been launched: drinking water saving and water treatment, collection and storage of rainwater, targeted use of plant species to improve the microclimate and reduce air pollution, pre-emptive insurance against risks. The plan was the final step of a participatory process which started with a study of the urban area in terms of ecosystems, population, population distribution and census, production activities, natural resources and of its main vulnerabilities related to climate change. The process continued with the ranking of potential risks and with stakeholder engagement to define actions for the Climate Adaptation Plan.

    The solutions offered by the good practice

    The Bologna Adaptation Plan can be considered a good practice for results achieved not only as a planning instrument, but also as a concrete collaborative action plan of the City which represents an example for cities that share Bologna’s climate conditions and urban and social environment. The structure of the Plan can be replicated in other medium-size cities, as well as some actions which are more suitable to their uses and needs. As the Plan is the final step of a participatory process which led to its editing, the whole process can be considered a good practice. The process starts with a downscaled climate analysis, a study of the area in terms of ecosystems, population, population distribution and census, production activities, natural resources and its main vulnerabilities related to climate change. Ranking of potential risks are derived from such vulnerabilities. Afterwards the stakeholder engagement process led to the identification of actions for the bottom-up editing of the Plan, together with a top-down engagement leading to more effective governance through collaborative problem solving, also with public-private partnerships.

    Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

    Adaptation to climate change needs a cross-cutting approach for successful implementation, as many issues and actors are involved. Adaptation is also strongly linked to sustainability in a broad sense, as every action has to be considered in terms of its economic, human and social costs and benefits. From this perspective, the Bologna Adaptation Plan is committed to the values of a more sustainable environment for urban living and health. The decrease of vulnerable populations exposed to the effects of climate change is one of the key pillars of the Plan. All the actions aiming to increase resilience to heat waves, for example, also have an important impact on social cohesion. As already pointed out, Bologna’s practice takes a holistic approach to improving resilience actions, whose effectiveness is considered in relationship with the environmental compartments and the social and environmental tissue. For example, all the actions to strengthen resilience to drought take into account the interaction with bodies of water and are strongly related to measures to increase soil permeability in more vulnerable areas. The integration of actions and measures from a local to a metropolitan scale was possible only through a strong stakeholder involvement of decision-makers, public bodies, companies, citizens and research institutes. They all were involved in different roundtables with specific themes, in restricted sessions and workshops.

    Based on a participatory approach

    Bologna enjoys a tradition of environmental protection and the creation of participation pathways aimed at developing action plans, the sharing of objectives and the definition of steps. The Adaptation Plan has been built with a participatory course of collaboration, in which individuals are also actors of the plan’s steps. Starting with documents prepared within the project, a map of stakeholders in the territory was created. The individuals involved in the plan belong to Public Authorities, public and listed companies, the world of training, universities and schools, specialist agencies, service managers, multi-utilities, consortia, trade associations, consumer associations, environmental and territorial protection associations, businesses and foundations. From the intersection of vulnerabilities and individuals involved, a course of involvement was developed. The course included various meetings according to the categories to which the stakeholders belong (politicians, citizens, representatives of the production sector) and the phases of implementation of the steps outlined in the Plan. The political commitment was essential for the implementation of the actions, first of all because it involved directly many decision-makers and the city council as a whole, which officially approved the Plan. Moreover, an active political involvement strengthened the efforts made with all the stakeholders, as it gave full legitimacy to the process leading to the Adaptation Plan itself.

    What difference has it made?

    The Bologna practice achieved some results, as 10 pilot actions carried out successfully. Some of them are described below and concerned the Municipality Regulations, with the insertion of “New targets for water saving in the Building Code”, the “New arboreal varieties more adaptive to climate change in the Municipality Green Code”, and the “New guidelines for sustainable drainage” aimed at integrating the municipality guidelines for public works with SUDS technologies applicable to the local context of Bologna. A promotional campaign (“Green-up Bologna”) focused on the promotion of planting and terrace horticulture. The “Sustainable management of rain water in a new commercial building (Via Larga)” was planned within the Urban Building Plan (PUA). An agreement with an important insurance company increased information and knowledge transfer in the reduction of damages and losses in the Bologna area. A very important goal, even if not directly measurable, is the impact of the Adaptation Plan on the planning activity of the local authorities. Resilience is starting to become a point of discussion in decision-making and technical planning on the ground. Furthermore, thanks to the BLUEAP project, a new project called “RAINBO” started in 2016 and some actions of the Plan are now under evaluation for financing by the EIB (European Investment Bank).

    Why should other European cities use it?

    Our practice would be interesting for other European cities committed to climate change adaptation. Even if adaptation topics need to be assessed locally, the methodology used for vulnerability and adaptation strategy assessment and implementation can be shared and discussed with other cities. The city of Bologna successfully experienced an exchange of good practices related to adaptation to climate change within the “City Twinning” programme promoted by the Mayors Adapt initiative. The two visiting cities (City of Lleida, Spain, and the Union of Terra di Leuca, Italy) came for a two-day visit to learn from Bologna’s experience with urban adaptation to climate change and to share common challenges as a result of climate change: water management (water scarcity, storm water, waste water, water supply, flooding); heat waves and urban heat islands, extreme water events that affect urban agriculture and biodiversity as well as posing hurdles to public health. The twinning visit was very fruitful for all the partners, and highlighted the need to build closer contacts between cities engaged in climate change adaptation topics. Knowledge transfer and peer-to-peer networks represent an important step to spread the good practice and to learn from other city experiences, with a special regard of methodologies used and problems encountered.

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  • Culture for climate change


    Mobilising arts and culture sector to contribute to local climate change policies

    Jonny Sadler
    Programme Director, Manchester Climate Change Agency
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    511 852


    Arts and culture sector collaboration on climate action and engagement in a city which recognises the value of culture and is itself demonstrating climate change leadership, linked to two of the key local challenges that run through the city’s climate change strategy:
    • mobilising business action on climate change through a sector-specific approach
    • engaging and mobilising citizens to act on climate change

    The solutions offered by the good practice

    This model of sector collaboration is rooted in the city and enables members to meet face-to-face on a regular basis, share common challenges and opportunities and link directly to what is happening on a city level. The group is chaired by members on a revolving basis, and able to fund small projects and reporting through an annual membership contribution of £7,000. Action on energy has led to a 16% reduction in emissions over three years, avoiding 2,800 tonnes CO2 and £0.9 million, largely through zero to low-cost measures. The group also works on a range of topics from green energy procurement to sustainable materials Members are using creativity to engage employees, audiences and communities, with many bringing climate change themes in programming and learning activities. The group is taking an active role in shaping and delivering city climate change strategy.

    Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

    MAST’s external-facing activities involve Manchester citizens in both the development and the implementation of local climate change policy. For example, MAST’s “Our City, Our Planet” event worked with young people to help define the sustainable city they want. Climate Control at Manchester Museum focused on climate change and how people can take action. Over 90,000 visitors attended and were encouraged to contribute towards Manchester’s Climate Change Strategy 2017-50. Integrated and participative approach Manchester has an overarching strategy for 2016-25, Our Manchester, which was developed based on the views of local citizens and organisations. The strategy’s delivery is overseen and driven by the Our Manchester Forum, a partnership of senior politicians, public sector, the private sector and NGO leaders. Manchester’s arts and culture sector is represented on the Forum through the chair of the Manchester Cultural Partnership. MAST enables the Partnership to focus on Our Manchester’s climate change objectives, as part of the city’s wider social, economic.

    Based on a participatory approach

    Manchester’s cultural community has been working together through MAST (Manchester Arts Sustainability Aeam) since 2011, to understand, share, solve and scale climate change action. MAST brings together diverse arts and cultural organisations, about 30 in total, from community-based arts centres and iconic cultural venues to an internationally renowned festival and national broadcasters, in a participatory and non-prescriptive way. Different activities have also been carried out to engage with citizens: • Practical action and creative responses - productions, exhibitions, events, etc. – which engage audiences and communities on environmental and climate change themes, now go hand in hand, for example, • HOME Manchester and the Whitworth Gallery’s wide- ranging environmental programmes across buildings, procurement, transport, public engagement and programming • Manchester International Festival‘s organic urban farming partnership with the Biospheric Foundation, engaging thousands of community volunteers • Contact Young Company’s ‘Climate of Fear’, a show exploring the emotion of anger through themes of climate justice, social inequality, memory and the body ITV’s inclusion of climate change in Coronation Street’s storyline, the UK’s most popular soap opera • Arts and culture-based activities proved particularly effective and popular in 2016’s Climate Lab, an experimental programme, run by the Manchester Climate Change Agency, to test different ways of engaging citizens in developing its 2017-2050 climate change strategy. One of ClimateLab highlights was Climate Control at Manchester Museum, a six-month long series of exhibitions and events, attended by over 90,000 people, exploring what kind of future people hope for and how to make it a reality.

    What difference has it made?

    MAST is getting support in different forms: • MLA Renaissance North West. a museum programme: provided external funding for the MAST group in its first two years • Julie’s Bicycle, a charity supporting climate action in the creative community: facilitated the group in the first two years; supported MAST in defining joint commitments and an emissions reduction target; did annual tracking and progress reporting; supports MAST development; disseminates the MAST model and achievements in the UK and abroad • Arts Council England: environmental reporting, policy and action plan requirements for funded organisations since 2012 – including the majority of MAST members – and an accompanying environmental support programme, delivered in partnership with Julie’s Bicycle, further reinforces MAST commitments and provides MAST members with a range of exchange and learning opportunities • Carbon Literacy Project (CLP): carbon literacy training undertaken by a number of members; a few members, such as HOME and Manchester Museum, now deliver organisation-wide training; in 2016, MAST partnered with CLP, Manchester Metropolitan University and HOME to adapt the training for the arts and culture sector MAST grew from the Manchester Cultural Partnership’s desire to explore how arts and cultural organisations could contribute to the city’s first climate change strategy 2010-2020 In 2013 MAST set a target of an annual 7% emissions reduction in line with the city’s target of a 41% reduction by 2020 – over three years it achieved an annual 5% reduction MAST supported development of the city’s 2017-2050 climate change strategy MAST’s chair is now a member of the Manchester Climate Change Board, a stakeholder group which oversees and champions delivery of the 2017-2050 climate change strategy MAST is now working with the climate change agency and board to establish how the arts and culture in the city can make its fair contribution to the Paris Agreement, and align with Greater Manchester’s 2038 carbon neutrality ambition – announcement expected in 2019.

    Transferring the practice

    Over 2.5 years, Manchester has led the C-Change network, transferring its practice to 5 other cities: Wroclaw (Poland), Mantua (Italy), Gelsenkirchen (Germany), Sibenik (Croatia), Águeda (Portugal). You can, in particular, check Mantua’s Good practice here. The approach was based on Manchester’s experience adaptable to each city’s reality and focused on: Sector collaboration on climate change, Sector support on climate change understanding, action and engagement, Sector involvement in city climate change policy and strategy and/or other related city policies and strategies and Citizen engagement, awareness-raising and public participation. The final outputs are all available here: https://www.g-mast.org/c-change. The practice of Manchester is also currently being transferred in a cascaded way from Mantua to other Italian cities.

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