• The road to COP26: climate change at the heart of URBACT cities of all sizes

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    Towns and cities must boost local actions to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change. Three URBACT cities show how…


    COP26, the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference, is on its way. In November, governments from around the world will gather in Glasgow (UK) to reaffirm their commitment to tackling climate change. Meanwhile, without waiting for the next COP, many URBACT cities have already been developing their own strategies, activities, and partnerships to move towards greater integration and transversality in their local climate policies.

    Cities are the level at which most emissions are recorded. The world’s cities consume 60–80% of natural resources, producing 50% of global waste and 75% of greenhouse gas emissions. And this is set to increase: 75% of EU citizens live in urban areas; 66% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050; and cities’ global carbon footprint is predicted to triple by 2030. As a result, an estimated 93% of cities face threats such as floods, storms and heatwaves, and although many are taking action to improve resilience, up to 400 million people could be living in cities with no plan to tackle climate by 2030.

    As partners in URBACT networks, Manchester (UK), Mantua (IT) and Clermont-Auvergne Metropole (FR) all recognise the vital role of the local level in defining policies to actively reduce CO2 emissions.

    In light of COP26, these three URBACT cites of very different sizes have committed to going further in their strategies and actions against climate change. The City of Manchester will be represented and aligned with the global movement C40 Cities. Mantua is leading a group of Italian cities to move towards fewer climate emissions, with URBACT support. And Clermont-Auvergne Metropole is promoting the voice of local territories in Glasgow, leading a delegation of 45 representatives of the URBACT Urb-En Pact network, including elected officials from seven cities, all of whom are taking local actions to become net zero energy territories by 2050. They  have, in particular, identified the following responsibilities for cities:

    • Cities can act as brokers of knowledge and ideas and stakeholders by implementing the URBACT methodology and ensuring co-creation of the city of today and of tomorrow.
    • Cities are the place to carry out Living Labs, prototyping and testing new methodologies for policy action. Local territory has to be the architect of the future, the place where a pact for and by society towards a new society can take place.
    • Cities have a high level of independence and should act as local guarantors of leadership and actions, as well as influencers to other governance levels.

    Cities can lead paradigmatic transformation in the way public administration works and the ways to co-design integrated local polices.

    So how are these three URBACT cities tackling climate change locally?

    West Gorton Community Park ©City of Manchester

    Manchester, which led the recent URBACT C-Change network, has a long experience of seeking to mitigate and adapt to climate change. It developed its first strategy in 2009 and declared a climate emergency in 2019. Its latest plan, the Manchester Climate Change Framework, introduced the goal of carbon neutrality by 2038. The UK government also granted the city with a budget for decarbonisation. Yet, says Adrian Slatcher from Manchester City Council: “making climate an important policy statement is key. But even more crucial is to turn ambitions and strategies into a set of actions.”

    As such, Manchester aligned with the Paris Agreement and has sought to develop its own understanding of what science explains about climate change. It has, in particular, developed the notion of carbon budgeting, which it is using through the Manchester Climate Change Agency, while further developing it within the URBACT Zero Carbon Cities network. As a carbon budget aims to articulate the extent of challenges and related actions, Manchester set its own target as a maximum of 15 million tonnes of CO2 emissions from homes, workplaces and ground transport between 2018 and 2100; and a reduction of direct CO2 emissions by at least 50% between 2020 and 2025. Projects include a new ‘sponge park’ in West Gorton, developed during the Horizon 2020-funded Grow Green project. The park features nature-based solutions, such as ‘rain gardens’ and trenches to re-use rainwater and reduce flooding.

    Manchester also works actively with its arts and culture sector on making its practices more environmentally friendly, as well as raising broader awareness of the climate emergency. This has been the scope of the URBACT C-Change network in which Mantua (IT) also participated.

    As a UNESCO World heritage site, Mantua has long been a city with a strong focus on culture, a sector that shapes local strategies and serves as a key economic driver. At the same time, the city acknowledges its role in the reduction of CO2 emissions and energy consumption, for example with the implementation of its Sustainable Energy Action Plan, and various adaptation and mitigation resiliency plans and policies, including a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan, and policies to tackle water pollution and improve energy efficiency in built heritage.

    The success of combining arts and culture with climate action has brought Mantua extra national funding of EUR 300 000 to continue its activities. The city is also coordinating a new URBACT National Practice Transfer Initiative cascading the learnings and methodology from C-Change to seven other Italian cities – Rovereto, Cuneo, Ferrara, Siena, Avellino, Corigliano-Rossano, Sestri Levante.

    As for the newly emerging Clermont-Auvergne Métropole, created in 2018, the focus has been to become a net zero energy territory, focusing on two aspects combined in the URBACT Urb-En Pact network: reducing energy consumption, while increasing the production of green and sustainable energy in and around the city. As the economic hub of the Centre region of France, the metropolis’ industry is largely related to transport, housing, and heating. It can therefore work on changing habits, and adapting the needs of companies, inhabitants, and public services while acquiring new knowledge and research and development (R&D) towards smarter and greener growth.


    Fighting climate change needs to be done together

    More than for any other policy area, working with relevant stakeholders has been a challenge, but also an extremely useful new opportunity for these three cities, in their fight against climate change. Manchester City Council is collaborating with Manchester University on science-based policy-making. While City Council emissions account for only 2% of the city’s overall emissions, the municipality has partnered with other stakeholders responsible for 25% of local emissions – housing associations, hospitals, large businesses, media and communities – as part of the Manchester Climate Change Partnership. All these are working together on setting up carbon budgets and on paving the way to reach agreed targets. Within the scope of the C-Change network, the municipality in particular worked with small community players and the Manchester Arts Sustainability Team, known as MAST, made up of diverse cultural organisations. Last but not least, it also managed to get onboard both elected representatives and civil servants – key in ensuring the success of these actions.

    Excursion carried out by Alkemica during the L.E.N.T.O project, in collaboration with Pantacon @Municipality of Mantua

    Mantua has been able to achieve its results only by working with a group of local stakeholders set up during the URBACT network: one key learning from the URBACT method. Giulia Longhini explains: “CO2 emission reduction and Carbon Neutrality could be reached only with all stakeholders involved! This is also inspiring us for other local policies!” It is already foreseen that this new approach of creating local groups will the biggest challenge for cities in Italy’s new URBACT national transfer network!

    For the first time through the Urb-En Pact network Clermont-Auvergne Métropole gathered energy producers and consumer associations. This brought varied, sometimes conflicting, viewpoints together to contribute to the design of local policies and implementation strategies. “We expected the collaboration to be difficult and it actually appeared to be extremely constructive! We are very proud and happy about the results,” says Virginie Squizzato, project coordinator at Clermont-Auvergne Metropole. “It is only altogether that we can sign a pact at city level for actual change,” she adds.


    Cities are key players in the fight against climate change

    While climate change is an emergency, local and national governments take time to decide and act. Public policies take time to change. However, Virginie Squizatto concludes: “the recent and ongoing pandemic has shown that governments can act fast. If we decide to act fast for climate, we can also decide to do so. It is a question of deciding and prioritising”.


    Further reading

    See the diverse ways URBACT is helping cities tackle climate change.

    This article is part of a series drawing on key sessions at the 2021 URBACT City Festival. Revisit the session ‘The road to COP26: climate change at the heart of URBACT cities, from the smallest to the largest’, with recordings of ‘Clermont Ferrand Metropole on the road to COP26!’ and ‘Manchester on the road to COP26!

    Other articles in the series include:

    Find out more about COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021


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    Viladecans - Spain
    • Trikala - Greece
    • Seraing - Belgium
    • Nagykanizsa - Hungary



    Political Meeting (20/04/2021)


    Kick-off Meeting - TM1 (05/05/2021)


    Transnational Meeting 2 - Seraing (06/07/2021 & 08/07/2021)


    Transnational Meeting 3 - Nagykanizsa (16/11/2021 - 18/11/2021) 




    Transnational Meeting 4 - Trikala (02/03/2022 - 03/03/2022)


    Deep Dive visit to Viladecans (05/07/2022 - 06/07/2022)


    Final Event in Viladecans (18/10/2022 - 19/10/2022) 

    • Vilawatt UTM celebrates the Final Event

      On 18 and 19 October, Viladecans hosted the final event of the Vilawatt-UTM (URBACT Transfer Mechanism) project. These two days featured a shared, participative presentation of the main goals and results achieved during the URBACT-guided transfer of the innovative Vilawatt-UIA action on the energy transition that has been under way in Viladecans since 2016.

    • Political Voices from Vilawatt UTM

      One of the significant features of the Vilawatt UTM project is bringing together a number of key stakeholders; from companies, citizens, municipality departments, to local authorities.

    • VIlawatt UTM reaches the finish line

      We reach the finish line

      After all the joint work carried out and once all the cities that are part of the project - Viladecans (Spain), Nagykanizsa (Hungary), Seraing (Belgium), Trikala (Greece) - have finished their Investment Plan projects (Springboard Plan in the case of Viladecans) it's time to cross the finish line.

      20 months during which we have been able to share and exchange experiences with the aim of drawing up Investment Plans that help cities to advance in the energy transition. An objective that has been achieved thanks to the work of the Local Support Groups, the teams in each city, the project coordinators, the methods and tools of URBACT... We had the opportunity to share it all with the public, professionals and experts from the EU in an event in Viladecans on October 18 and 19, 2022 (click here to read the article about the Final Event).

    • Vilawatt UTM Deep Dive Interviews

      In July 2022 partner cities had the chance to visit for the first time Viladecans to see Vilawatt project on the site. After more than one year since the beginning of the project, we took the opportunity to interview Vilawatt UTM partner cities and ask their opinion on the project so far.

    • Vilawatt UTM Learning Webinars - Sharing experiences and learning in order to build future Investment Plan

      The Vilawatt URBACT transfer process includes five learning webinars, the mission of which is for the partner cities to deepen their knowledge of the five pillars that make up the Vilawatt Innovative Practice, and thus be able to better address the task of building the future Investment Plan of each city.

      Miriam Martín

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    • Vilawatt UTM Learning Webinars - Energy Communities: a joint response to a global problem

      Vilawatt-URBACT partner cities met again for a new learning webinar to find out more about Energy Communities and their possible relationship with one of the Vilawatt project's pillars: the co-governance model (PPCP).



      Miriam Martín

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    • Vilawatt UTM Learning Webinars - Energy Pooling & Citizen Engagement in energy efficiency projects

      At the last Transnational Meeting 3, Vilawatt-URBACT partner cities had the opportunity to discuss two of the main pillars of the Vilawatt project in depth through two learning webinars:

      Miriam Martín

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    • Vilawatt Scorecard: when a picture is worth a thousand words

      At the first Transnational Meeting (TM1) with all Vilawatt Project partner cities, last May 2021, a key element that will help guide the transfer process of the Vilawatt Innovative Practice was introduced.



      Miriam Martín

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    • Vilawatt Scorecard: when a picture is worth a thousand words - TM1

      At the first Transnational Meeting (TM1) with all Vilawatt Project partner cities, last May 2021, a key element that will help guide the transfer process of the Vilawatt Innovative Practice was introduced.



      Miriam Martín

      See more
    • The Vilawatt-UTM project starts the Adaptation Period by sharing the urban energy transition experiences from Nagykanizsa

      The third transnational meeting (TM3 – 16-18 November) has once again brought together the partner cities of the Vilawatt UIA-URBACT Transfer Mechanism (Vilawatt-UTM) project online to start the second transfer period, the so-called Adaptation Period.



      Miriam Martín

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    • The Vilawatt project continues efforts in the city of Trikala to promote the energy transition

      https://bit.ly/3bk5SmhThe 4th Vilawatt-UTM Transnational Meeting was held on 2 and 3 March and hosted by the city of Trikala. The two-days online sessions allowed the partner cities to make further progress in the Vilawatt project transfer.



      Miriam Martín

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    • Viladecans’ innovative governance for Energy Transition

      Smaller cities powering up to fight climate change

      Miriam Martín

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    • The political will: a key point for the success of Vilawatt’s Transferability Plan

      We are always speaking about the main 5 pillars of Vilawatt project: a local energy governance structure; green energy supply; new local currency, new training and assessment services, and increase of retrofitting works. However, political consensus is clearly one additional pillar that we have to keep in mind, as it will be crucial for our project’s success.

      Miriam Martín

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    • Vilawatt project partner cities meet virtually at Seraing - TM2

      The Belgian city of Seraing hosted a virtual meeting on 6 and 8 July - the 2nd Transnational Meeting - involving the four partner cities of the Vilawatt UIA Transfer Mechanism. The gathering was an opportunity to deep dive into Seraing case and focus on the transfer capacities of each of the participating cities to work on the contents and tools that will contribute to a better understanding of the project and to define the next steps to be taken.

      Miriam Martín

      See more
    • ULG Views, Viladecans

      URBACT Local Groups are key in the construction of partner cities’ Investment Plans & Springboard Plan. They represent the different stakeholders, members from the community, local government, and the private sector, that could make the successful transfer of Vilawatt’s relevant pillars. 

    • ULG Views, Seraing

      URBACT Local Groups are key in the construction of partner cities’ Investment Plans & Springboard Plan. They represent the different stakeholders, members from the community, local government, and the private sector, that could make the successful transfer of Vilawatt’s relevant pillars. 

    • ULG Views, Trikala

      URBACT Local Groups are key in the construction of partner cities’ Investment Plans & Springboard Plan. They represent the different stakeholders, members from the community, local government, and the private sector, that could make the successful transfer of Vilawatt’s relevant pillars. 

    • ULG VIews, Nagykanizsa

      URBACT Local Groups are key in the construction of partner cities’ Investment Plans & Springboard Plan. They represent the different stakeholders, members from the community, local government, and the private sector, that could make the successful transfer of Vilawatt’s relevant pillars. 


      Vilawatt live and in person

      A group of representatives from the Vilawatt-UTM partner cities visited Viladecans, the city leading the project transfer, on 5 and 6 July to see the results of the Vilawatt model of energy transition in situ.


      The Vilawatt UTM partner city, Trikala, is one step closer to climate neutrality

      The city of Trikala (Greece) is one of the six Greek municipalities chosen by the EU to be part of the 'Climate Neutral and Smart Cities' mission.


      Vilawatt disembarks in the Energy Cities Forum and the UIA Just Transitions and Climate Adaptation event

      During the month of April the Vilawatt project has been attending some of the European forums and events on sustainability. 


      Vilawatt is in Euronews!

      An episode of Smart Regions programme showcases the Vilawatt project. The report underline how power can be saved and managed as a community by getting all the citizens involved

    The VILAWATT Transfer Mechanism pilot boosts the energy transition process by setting up a public-private-citizen partnership, where citizens and main social actors play a key role. The priority is to increase citizen commitment and sense of belonging to promote a sustainable energy transition process. Main achievements in the Lead Partner city, Viladecans, include citizens got a saying at the Consortium through the associations linked to it, using a participatory strategy, as they did not exist before. When it comes to energy supply, Vilawatt pools the demand for energy and provides energy to all association members (100% Certified Renewable Energy) Faster energy retrofitting of private buildings.

    Innovative local public-private-citizen partnership for energy governance
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  • Carbon Literacy training – an inspirational approach for cities

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    How to build understanding as a launch pad for local action on climate change.


    Many of us have been watching the elections in the United States and maybe thinking about its potential implications for the future of the global Paris climate accord (amongst other issues!). Meanwhile, Europe’s cities have continued to develop practical solutions over recent years for improving their climate performance at local level.

    Such enhanced environmental sustainability is a key part of the sustainable urban development that URBACT seeks to promote. The programme supports a number of networks working directly on key and innovative environmental topics such as net zero energy territories and zero carbon cities. It is also committed to improving environmental performance across all its cities and networks.

    In that context, we present here the concept of Carbon Literacy training – a practical and flexible framework for building understanding and informing local action on climate change – that has come to our attention through the work and exchanges of the URBACT C-Change network.

    So what exactly is Carbon Literacy?

    The UK-founded charity The Carbon Literacy Project – which originated the concept, defines Carbon Literacy as: “An awareness of the carbon costs and impacts of everyday activities, and the ability and motivation to reduce emissions, on an individual, community and organisational basis.” In other words, it is about understanding our carbon footprint and our ability and level of agency in reducing it, individually and collectively.

    The project offers a process for developing the Carbon Literacy knowledge of any individual or group through five broad levels of understanding:

    1. What global warming is and how we know – building understanding of the ‘big picture’ of climate change.
    2. What climate change is and what effects it is having – building understanding of why climate change is important.
    3. What people are doing about it – building understanding that action to reduce carbon emissions is possible.
    4. What people just like you could do about it – building understanding that action to reduce carbon emissions in possible in any specific sector.
    5. Exploration of what you could do – building understanding of how to measure your own carbon footprint and realistic, practical steps to reduce it.

    This approach is based on a firm belief that local-level action can and does make a difference and that increased knowledge and understanding of carbon emissions can change cultures within organisations. This in turn, building on principles of equity and fairness, will contribute to a better world and a better way of life.

    The concept of Carbon Literacy has gained increasing international attention in recent years, particularly when the work of the Carbon Literacy Project was showcased as part of ICLEI’s Transformative Actions Program (TAP) at the COP21 UN Climate Change summit in Paris in 2015, with delivery having already taken place across Europe and even further afield.

    Stakeholders in various sectors have seen the value of working with others on carbon awareness initiatives and that improved Carbon Literacy can make you a leader in your sector.

    How can cities deliver Carbon Literacy training?

    The key to understanding Carbon Literacy training is that it is not a one-size-fits-all course, but instead an approach (defined by a publicly-available standard) that can be adapted and applied consistently in very different contexts. The approach therefore has flexibility at its heart. The training is adapted to make it relevant to the specific sector that trainees come from and work in.

    Practical tools – including those for measuring your carbon footprint – and inspiring examples that can truly drive change need to be rooted in and applicable to the practical everyday experience of the trainees. Otherwise, people might be motivated to improve their environmental performance, but demotivated by their lack of agency – lacking the knowledge and understanding of how they can do so in practice.

    For this reason, peer learning is a key aspect of successful Carbon Literacy training. Hearing about what someone in a similar role has been able to do can lead to more meaningful change than high-level or abstract examples that are hard to relate to. Other key aspects of the learning method required by Carbon Literacy are ‘local’ learning, group enquiry and positivity! It is designed to work in community, workplace and education settings.

    Lastly, participants must formulate or take an action within their own area of control, and an action that involves a wider group of people – so Carbon Literacy can never be passively received. On the basis of evidence submitted on behalf of each learner, successful participants receive Carbon Literacy certification, whatever their sector of activity.

    In practice, cities can develop their own carbon awareness training, find service providers to support them or collaborate with others to share toolkits, materials or resources. If a city wants to formally adopt Carbon Literacy as an approach, the Carbon Literacy Project checks and accredits the training programme and materials of any organisation in order to maintain quality and offers resources, support and connection to other cities and organisations to accelerate action and reduce cost.

    An URBACT good practice story: Manchester

    The Carbon Literacy Project in Manchester (UK) was founded as a direct response to Manchester’s first climate change strategy in 2009. Since then, the concept has become increasingly recognised and is now listed by the Manchester Climate Change Agency as an action for “every resident and organisation in Manchester to help meet our climate change targets”, supporting the new Manchester Climate Change Framework, which includes the aim to reduce the city’s direct CO2 emissions by at least 50%, 2020-2025.

    One of the various sectors to engage with the Carbon Literacy Project is the arts and culture sector,  from museums and galleries to opera houses and arts centres. Here, a big catalyst has been MAST, the Manchester Arts Sustainability Team, a network of over 40 cultural organisations that was first established in 2011 in order to explore how the sector could contribute towards implementing the city’s first climate change strategy.

    In 2016, a number of MAST members carried out a Carbon Literacy training pilot in collaboration with Manchester Metropolitan University, and together, they developed a version of the training specifically for the arts and culture sector.

    Some MAST members have gone on to deliver organisation or department-wide training. For example, HOME – a multi-arts venue – now has two accredited trainers who deliver training for all of HOME’s team, as well as to corporate and private sector organisations in their neighbourhood, who in turn have gone on to adopt Carbon Literacy, and then develop and roll out Carbon Literacy materials for others.

    “Climate change sometimes feels incredibly disempowering, and our role is to empower people to play their part. That’s the strongest thing we can do because it will take all of us together to make the difference,” says MAST Chair Simon Curtis. “Carbon Literacy training been an amazing tool for us to help build action in organisations. It speaks to our sector in our own language, using recognisable examples.”

    MAST achieved an average CO2 reduction of 6% every year starting in 2011-2012, whilst a core group of 13 members achieved a 16% reduction in energy use emissions over three years. In 2017, the MAST model won an URBACT Good Practice award.

    An adaptable tool applied in different European contexts

    Thanks to a successful project application to URBACT, the MAST good practice model is now inspiring five other cities to set up similar actions through the C-Change Transfer Network. We look forward to sharing in early 2021 more details on the full range of exciting initiatives developed by this and other URBACT Transfer Networks.

    Here in this article, what is interesting is to note the adaptability of the Carbon Literacy training approach to different national and local urban contexts. As C-Change Lead Expert Claire Buckley (of ‘Julie’s Bicycle, a charity which supports climate and environmental action in the creative sector) explains: “The partner cities have very much taken on the principles of the Carbon Literacy approach from Manchester, and a good bit of the content. Each city has shaped the training to their needs and local context, but none of the cities have gone for the exact same model.”

    In Wroclaw (PL), trainers from four arts and culture organisations delivered two separate sessions for cultural administration and maintenance staff, and two more in-depth sessions for programming and production people. Participants designed a creative, sector-relevant solution to a specific challenge, such as: a green production rider for an event; or a local cultural project idea on climate change. In total, 48 employees representing all 27 city-run cultural organisations have been trained so far.

    In Mantua (IT), a workshop for about 30 local authority and cultural sector participants, was run by the municipality together with cultural associations, and hosted by an environmental NGO. It looked at how the climate crisis is being felt in Italy, highlighting the Venice floods, and showed a video of a leading Italian climate scientist. Participants mapped ‘spheres of influence’, and discussed the impact of climate change on people’s lives now and in 5-10 years, revealing a huge range of perspectives.

    In Sibenik (HR), the city library ran a half-day training event in October 2020, starting by making a range of environmentally themed books and magazines available. The trainer, a local activist, introduced a ‘climate collage’ exercise as a key interactive element. This has sparked strong interest in further training – for example in the city’s Department of Enterprise and Economic Development – and the library is looking into offering this kind of training as a service for schools and the general public.

    In Agueda (PT), a first training in February 2020 included a site visit to a local cultural organisation to see their good practice. A second training in July 2020 included a visit to the city’s SmartLab neighbourhood where participants investigated scalable solutions such as a solar bench for charging phones. In October 2020, climate change training was part of an open day at Agueda’s Smart City Lab on practical decarbonisation solutions.

    More info

    Interested in Carbon Literacy certification and support? See www.carbonliteracy.com or email info@carbonliteracy.com.

    In addition to the normal capacity building and thematic support provided to networks, URBACT provides the specific additional possibility for any network to access 2 000 € of support to carry out carbon compensation actions. The use of this budget should be agreed with all partners and can include activities such as: community awareness raising and educational activities; tree planting initiatives; Carbon Literacy training; and community projects.

    Listen also to the C-Change Transfer Network story as presented at the European Week of Regions and Cities 2020.

    Thanks to UK government support, all UK local authorities and educational establishments now have access to free-to-use Carbon Literacy toolkits. Already piloted, toolkits for the UK National Health Service (NHS), Police, Fire and Ambulance services, and even the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) are on their way. COP26 host city Glasgow is rolling out Carbon Literacy to its Council staff and members specifically in preparation for this.

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  • 2020, what we’ll be looking out for

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    The URBACT Programme Experts share their thoughts and expectations.


    The New Year is an opportunity to reflect on what URBACT will be working on in 2020. As the Transfer Networks start to share what they have learned and the latest generation of Action Planning Networks move into full operation, we asked the URBACT Programme Experts what they will be looking out for most closely over the year ahead.

    Sally Kneeshaw

    Starting in 2020, I am excited about the potential for us to truly enhance our understanding of gender equal cities across a wide range of urban challenges through the new Action Planning Networks. We did a lot of work already in 2019 with the launch of our Gender Equal Cities report. And now we are building on this by asking all the new networks to address gender-equality issues right from the beginning, including in their local stakeholder groups.

    No-one has all the answers. But now we have 203 cities in our 23 networks developing new thinking and ideas that will give us invaluable knowledge on how to tackle issues through a gender lens. We will also get particular guidance from the new Gendered Landscape network led by Umea (SE), which will specifically explore how gender inequality is manifested at local level and what cities can do to tackle it.

    I am also very much looking forward to the next edition of the URBACT Summer University for the new Action Planning Networks in Dubrovnik in July. It is always a great event, with loads of energy and really useful for building capacity. Together with the team we are busy updating the curriculum to create an interactive and stimulating introduction to integrated and participative action planning the URBACT way.

    Ivan Tosics

    One of my main topics of interest is metropolitan areas, so I am very much looking forward to seeing the work of RiConnect, an Action Planning Network led by Barcelona (ES) in 2020. Th

    is is a network of metropoles exploring how to rethink mobility infrastructure to better connect neighbourhoods and unlock opportunities for urban regeneration. I am particularly interested in how you can extend the territory of the local housing market if you make local transport systems more integrated and make the price less dependent on distance.

    I am also interested to see the findings of URBACT networks working on participatory governance and the use of participatory platforms. For example, Active Citizen, led by Agen (FR), is exploring important issues around the balance between representative and participatory democracy. Too many participatory initiatives still only give lip service to real participatory governance, so hopefully the network can show that participation means something more.

    I am also intrigued about the findings of the Transfer Networks and the possible relationship between the complexity of a good practice and the ability of cities to transfer it successfully.

    Eddy Adams

    2020 is an important year for the URBACT Programme, when we will hopefully get some more clarity on what the post-2020 European urban policy framework is going to look like. URBACT has been working through a series of City Labs to feed into the updated Leipzig Charter and we are pushing for more clarity from the European Commission on how we’re going to engage cities directly in the decision-making.

    2020 is also the big year for the Transfer Networks to share their results. We will have a series of events where we’ll hear about the content of the good practices and also what cities have learned about how you can transfer them effectively in practice. I am particularly excited to hear more about some of the small-scale innovation that I know has been going on to make ideas work in different contexts.

    For the new generation of Action Planning Networks, I also think it is really exciting that they have explicit scope in 2020 for small-scale experimental actions as part of their work. I think this can create some real lessons and inspiration from URBACT on what can be achieved by local-level action in cities.

    Laura Colini

    I am delighted that URBACT now has for the first time a network on homelessness (ROOF), that I hope to follow really closely in 2020. The ROOF Action Planning Network, led by Ghent (BE), emerged as a result of our work with the EU Urban Agenda Partnership on Urban Poverty and the City Lab we organised in Paris at the end of 2018.

    We are also currently working on a joint activity on housing with ‘Urban Innovative Actions’ that aims to share knowledge about municipal schemes for implementing the right to housing. It will be looking at: community-based models (such as cooperatives and community land trusts); ‘no one left behind’ models supporting the most vulnerable members of society; and fair financing schemes.

    I am also really keen to see what messages and lessons we can draw out in 2020 on topics of education, migration, anti-discrimination and integration of ethnic minorities, which are present to different degrees in several URBACT Transfer Networks, such as Rumourless Cities, OnStage, ON BOARD and Volunteering Cities.

    Marcelline Bonneau

    I am particularly excited that the circular economy is going to be such a strong focus for URBACT in 2020. We have two new Action Planning Networks focusing on issues that will support a real reflection on how cities can move further away from a linear economy to more circularity: Resourceful Cities and URGE.

    Resourceful Cities led by The Hague (NL) will be promoting ‘next generation’ urban resource centres that recover unwanted materials to create resource loops at local level. We need to see what can be learnt about integrating such resource centres into city strategies covering all aspects, including waste management, citizen involvement and behaviour change. Meanwhile, URGE led by Utrecht (NL) will be focusing specifically on the re-use of materials in the construction industry.

    I will also be interested in the ongoing progress of URBACT networks working to transfer good practices that incorporate important aspects of circularity. Tropa Verde aims to transfer a good practice from Santiago de Compostela (ES) on encouraging citizens to re-use and recycle. BioCanteens is working to transfer Mouans-Sartoux’s (FR) good practice on sustainable local food and reducing food waste.

    Ania Rok

    I am really pleased that the new Action Planning Networks will be making the environment a much stronger topic for URBACT in 2020. Networks focused specifically on the circular economy and climate are exciting new topics for URBACT. We can play a key role in sharing examples and lessons not just from the bigger cities with the most experience, but also from smaller cities and those working in a different context, including where the national level is not so favourable to climate action.

    Marcelline has already talked above about some circular-economy-related networks. I will also be interested to see the progress of the Zero Carbon Cities, Action Planning Network led by Manchester (UK) which is focused on climate action and specifically establishing science-based carbon reduction targets contributing to the EU’s strategic vision for carbon neutrality by 2050.

    I also want to mention Tourism Friendly Cities, Action Planning Networkled by Genova (IT), which is a great example of how URBACT can address crucial urban issues that can fall through the cracks between other programmes. It’s about so many social, economic and environmental aspects, including affordability of housing, safety and security, jobs, the local economy and environmental sustainability – with crucial impacts on the sustainable use of local resources and waste management.


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  • What now for the EU’s urban policy agenda?

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    Camelia Coporan tells us about Romania's EU presidency, the benefits of transnational city networks and territorial cooperation.


    As Finland step-up to lead the EU Council, Jamie Mackay spoke with Camelia Coporan, Deputy Secretary-General of the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Administration in Romania, about her country’s outgoing presidency, the benefits of transnational networks for cities, and vital role of territorial cooperation in tackling the climate emergency.

    JM - Looking back on the last six months of Romania’s EU presidency, what do you see as its biggest achievements for cities?

    CC - Our biggest success was to secure the continuation of interregional programmes in the 2021-2027 period. This is a big chance for European cities to continue networking, increase cooperation and exchange experiences with the aim of improving urban development policies, using the method and governance process of the URBACT programme.

    JM - What are the biggest challenges facing Romanian cities today? How do they reflect and differ from other European contexts?


    CC - After a difficult economic transition period, small and medium cities in Romania are struggling to find an identity and keep pace with modern development. Differences, especially compared to western European cities, are not only economic but also reflected in the way that urban policies struggle to put people first. Romanian cities need ideas from across Europe or a validation of their ideas by other cities facing similar challenges. Mutual learning by common experiences and experimenting with new informal procedures and solutions using imaginative approaches is absolutely vital.

    JM - The URBACT Monitoring committee met in Alba Iulia (RO) this year. How did you decide on it as a venue?

    CC - Alba Iulia is not only a Romanian but one of Eastern Europe's most impressive success stories. URBACT and EU funds have contributed to the restoration of the Alba Carolina citadel and the transformation of the historic part of the city. This has made the city one of Romania’s most important tourist destinations, with more than 500,000 visitors a year. In the process it has created an economic environment in which local entrepreneurs can develop businesses and generate employment. Alba Iulia is also the first Romanian lead partner of the URBACT Programme, so we wanted to highlight these achievements.

    JM - What other urban solutions have been pioneered in Romania over the past few years?

    CC - There are many examples of quality projects in which Romanian cities are involved. Slatina has been developing a long-term strategy to clear up the city’s roads and encourage public transport use. Thanks to participation in URBACT CityMobilNet network, they formed a local group to finalise their Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan and received EU funding to build a fleet of hybrid buses.

    Another example is Baia Mare, a municipality that is restructuring its economy away from industry towards services and manufacturing. As part of the URBACT BoostInno network, the city experimented with new tools to help stimulate civic engagement, starting with a participatory budget.


    I’d also like also to mention Cluj-Napoca as the first Eastern European city to benefit from European funding through the Urban Innovative Actions program. The EUR 5.6 million project aims to analyse and test scenarios that allow the cultural, academic, business and administrative sector as well as the community more generally to prepare for the inevitable changes to the labour market which will be seen over the next 20 years.

    JM - The Finnish presidency have just published their programme. One of their priorities - along with security, promoting social inclusion and strengthening common values - is to further position the EU as a global leader in climate action. What role can cities play in that process?

    CC - 55 % of all humans live in urban areas, where they account for about 70 % of all annual carbon emissions. Cities are therefore a key contributor to climate change. At the same time, cities have the power to change the world. It’s important that decision makers at all levels acknowledge that we are facing a real environmental emergency. Our Presidency’s motto was Cohesion, a common European value. We chose this to demonstrate our belief that cohesion is as important an element as competitiveness for the European paradigm. The European territorial cooperation policy that we advocate can likewise build this trust between cities. This will be essential for taking climate action among other things. 




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  • From URBACT to H2020: how 2 cities are scaling up citizen-powered projects for greener communities

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    Manchester (UK) and Poznań (PL) are just 2 of many European cities building on their URBACT experiences in integrated, sustainable urban development to boost local participation and improve results in bigger national and EU projects.
    We asked coordinators in Manchester and Poznań how their city’s involvement in URBACT networks is improving green projects in the Horizon 2020 programme – from an inclusive, locally-driven approach, to valuable international collaboration and expert support.


    These projects link social and environmental issues, and reflect a growing understanding that environmental projects benefit from broad stakeholder involvement. Environmentally-themed applications rose to 25% in URBACT’s latest call.

    Jonny Sadler and Mark Duncan in Manchester, and Agnieszka Osipiuk in Poznań, all give an interesting glimpse of URBACT’s continuing benefits in both cities, both directly, for example through improved integrated policies and active local groups, or indirectly by increasing the City Hall’s capacity as an organisation.

    Manchester: strong collaboration centred on the city’s needs

    Manchester led an URBACT network called CSI Europe (2013-2015) – about using financial instruments through the European Investment Bank, and later SmartImpact – on smart sustainable development.

    As for the Horizon 2020 programme, one of the partnerships the city coordinates is GrowGreen, a seven-city, EUR 11.2 million project that helps cities develop and implement strategies for green infrastructure – things like trees, parks or green roofs. Since its creation in 2017, GrowGreen has launched pilot projects for greener, healthier, more sustainable neighbourhoods in Manchester, Valencia (ES) and Wroclaw (PL).

    In 2018, just as GrowGreen was getting started, Manchester and its EU city partners formed a new URBACT network, C-Change, encouraging arts and cultural organisations to boost citizen engagement on climate change.

    Jonny Sadler is Programme Director at Manchester Climate Change Agency, working with the City Council and other partners to help Manchester set and meet Paris Agreement-aligned climate change targets. He highlights four main ways that URBACT is inspiring better, longer-lasting results in GrowGreen…

    1. A new URBACT project boosts stakeholder engagement

    Stakeholder engagement is fundamental to developing and implementing city-wide green infrastructure strategies, but I’ll challenge any city in the world to tell you they have a really effective comprehensive programme for engaging their citizens!” says Mr Sadler. “This is where we saw an important role for URBACT: as a result of GrowGreen, Manchester and Wroclaw put together the C-Change URBACT proposal to find new ways to get people engaged and inspired around the subject of climate change, and then mobilise them to take action.”

    GrowGreen is quite different to traditional Horizon 2020 projects which can be quite academic. We realised the most effective programmes from a city perspective are those that place cities at their heart. And URBACT is a prime example of how cities get maximum value when a project is designed around their needs.”

    2. URBACT methodology for transnational cooperation

    GrowGreen partners are using an URBACT-style methodology to improve collaboration, starting with their General Assembly in June. “We’ve identified about six key themes and we’ll cluster the cities around them. We’re going to sit down and say ‘this project is about you’. You want to develop green infrastructure strategies to help green your cities. Let’s talk in detail about where your city is today, where you want to get to, and what you are able to do by collaborating with each other with support from an expert partner.

    In the “Financing Green Infrastructure” cluster, for example, cities will compare current and expected sources of financing, pinpoint possible shortfalls, and share interesting solutions – such as Wroclaw’s tax incentive for green roofs on new buildings.

    Along with its inclusive methodology, URBACT has provided city council staff with “extremely high quality professional development” and senior expertise, says Mark Duncan, Manchester City Council’s Strategic Lead on Resources & Programmes: “The URBACT approach is embedded across my team, and that’s seen in all their project work, not just URBACT.” As well as valuing ideas from all city partners in large-scale transnational projects, they have gained the skills to manage complex public-private consortia in nationally-funded development projects.

    3. Inspiring interactive events

    GrowGreen learnt from “hugely valuable” URBACT City Festivals to design an annual conference featuring urban practitioners, smaller sessions, and ample time for informal face-to-face discussions.

    Some conferences can be quite abstract and academic, with plenary sessions on the theory of creating green cities, and ‘what might we need to do at some point in the future’. But we got cities and practitioners in the room to say ‘this is what I’ve done, this is what is what went well, this is what didn’t work well,’” says Sadler.

    4. Sparking wider change

    Just as URBACT encourages cities to share good practices for others to use, GrowGreen hopes its pilot initiatives will spark green infrastructure improvements around the world. With this goal, they’ve agreed to work with ICLEI, IUCN and the Nature Conservancy through an initiative called Cities with Nature.

    Poznań: URBACT as a stepping stone to H2020

    URBACT seems to be one of the most suitable and practical programmes to introduce new cross-sectoral topics, exchange knowledge and test new approaches and concepts,” says Agnieszka Osipiuk, who works on the Horizon 2020 project Connecting Nature for the City of Poznań.

    Poznań has taken part in dozens of ERDF and ESF co-financed projects, including URBACT networks ranging from HOUS-ES in 2006 through to URBACT REFILL Network on reusing vacant urban spaces (2015-18) and the current URBACT On-Board Network on local education policy.

    According to Ms Osipiuk, REFILL was the last stepping stone in this long line of URBACT experiences that helped Poznań become a so-called “Front Runner City” in the EUR 12 million, multi-partner, Connecting Nature project in 2017. This H2020 project helps cities implement nature–based initiatives – such as community gardens, pop-up events or innovative land reuse – and measure their impact on climate change adaptation, health and well-being, social cohesion and sustainable economic development.

    In the first few months of Connecting Nature, Ms Osipiuk coordinated the project simultaneously with REFILL.

    A bigger, five-person team needed to be built, as well as larger scale activities and much more deep research insight than for previous EU projects.

    Both international and local levels of our H2020 project were inspired by the way we worked in REFILL,” recalls Ms Osipiuk. “Activities such as international meeting organisation, local actions in co-creation, effective presentations, reports and storytelling, and many others are used in both programmes.

    Of the benefits URBACT brought to Connecting Nature, the capacity to work internationally and across sectors was particularly valuable. REFILL gave the City of Poznań experience acting as a broker between bottom-up initiatives and other city departments and units. It was a chance to try out various approaches in city involvement. And it showed the value of sharing URBACT experience with colleagues and other Polish cities.

    Through Connecting Nature, Poznań is now integrating small-scale environmental solutions into densely built-up neighbourhoods – for example natural playgrounds in kindergartens and open gardens for public institutions. In the long term this will help Poznań become a city of interconnected green spaces that reconciles high quality of life with sustainable infrastructures and rapid economic development.

    Here again, the H2020 project will benefit from REFILL’s work in supporting citizen-led nature-based solutions. During REFILL the City of Poznań worked with an URBACT Local Group (“another big lesson on cooperation with different types of stakeholders that’s very precious in the Connecting Nature project”) – and together they prepared a “Toolbox For Places”. This set of tools helps residents take the initiative to plan various neighbourhood activities, from local meetings to cultural events. Poznań hopes to take aspects of this toolbox further in Connecting Nature.

    The integrated approach Poznań learnt through URBACT is also helping prepare a framework document to collect and share multilevel experiences from Connecting Nature’s Front Runner Cities as they implement their nature-based solutions.

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  • Tropa Verde: recycling - the gift that keeps on giving

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    Yvan Corbat, URBACT Lead Expert, says rewarding good behaviour still works! Case in point, in Santiago de Compostela (ES) local citizens are rewarded for recycling.

    As part of the “Tropa Verde” Good Practice, encouraging environmentally responsible behaviour, citizens recieve  gifts and discounts from local shops, restaurants or public services from different local sponsors through a multimedia platform.


    Recycling and the circular economy

    The European Union’s fundamental values include the respect of human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. Furthermore, looking back in time to the creation of a united Europe (after WWII and further to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community), I like to bear in mind that the promotion of peace and of economic growth is also among key European values.

    Lately, further to different political, economic and migrant crises - Brexit included - many people are arguing about the meaning of European values? I, myself, am not sure I have a clear answer to this question, but am quite convinced that, one of the key differences between Europe and the rest of the world is the awareness of its citizens with respect to the protection of environment and cultural heritage. Within that framework, the different efforts and challenges towards waste management and recycling are also clear examples of real commitment from European citizens and their public and local administrations.

    Urban waste management: common objectives for European cities

    Waste management is typically a local competence and therefore local actions are critical for an effective implementation of the “EU Waste Strategy”. This strategy, which has been developed by different EU regulations and guidelines. It has evolved towards the prevention of waste, the increase of product re-use and the improvement of waste separation as well as recycling in order to reduce the volume of waste and increase the efficiency in the use of resources.

    As part of Europe’s effort to transform its economy into a more sustainable one, in January 2018 the European Commission has adopted the so called “Circular Economy Package”. A concrete and ambitious EU Action Plan that  covers the whole cycle: from production and consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials.

    Among the package’s targets, several are challenges that directly affect Urban Waste Management (UWM) and, consequently, the citizens and neighbourhoods, among them:

    • Recycling 65% of municipal waste by 2030
    • Recycling 75% of packaging waste by 2030
    • Reducing landfill to a maximum of 10% of municipal waste by 2030
    • A ban on landfilling of separately collected waste
    • The promotion of economic instruments to discourage landfilling

    The Tropa Verde Good Practice and experience from Santiago de Compostela (hereafter, “Santiago”) (ES) contributes to reach these common European objectives. The transfer of Good Practices between cities could significantly contribute to reach these goals, especially for some waste streams, such as used cooking oil and electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

    But what is Tropa Verde, the “St James Way to recycling”?

    Background information

    Like many European cities, Santiago has been committed to improving the environment of its inhabitants and developing green campaigns and strategies for several decades, including through public awareness activities to improve its ratio of recycling. Despite its efforts, in early 2015, the municipality carried out a survey that highlighted, among other conclusions, that:

    • 36,6% of citizens do not recycle due to a lack of habit
    • A lack of information and environmental motivation was clearly palpable

    It was considered that these attitudes damaged the beginning of the recycling chain, promoting low recycling rates and increasing the costs of Urban Waste Management. “Tropa Verde” was born in May 2015 to achieve the goal of creating a more sust

    ainable city focussing on optimising the management of waste.

    It was awarded the URBACT Good Practice Label in June 2017, and selected in December 2018 together with another 23 Transfer Networks, to be transferred to other European cities.

    Santiago then built partnerships (networks) with the district cities of Zugló (HU) and Pavlou Mela (EL), and extended it to the Municipality of Guimarães (PT), the Agglomeration of Opole (PL) and the Metropole of Nice Provence Côte d’Azur (FR).

    Tropa Verde defined

    It is important to highlight that the idea of Tropa Verde was created and promoted first by a local technological spin-off, Teimas. The company’s CEO Miguel Varela would define it as “an online gaming platform that aims to promote recycling and environmental responsibility among the citizens by rewarding good environmental practices”.

    Although technology is essential to implement this Good Practice, from the municipal perspective, Tropa Verde is to be considered as a “civic movement fully committed to sustainability, environmental awareness and the circular economy, where citizens and local partners cooperate”, according to Xan Duro Fernández, Local Councillor for Environment, Coexistence and ICT.

    Both definitions are correct, and in fact complementary. In Spanish, “tropa” means “troop” and “verde” means “green”. We are indeed talking about the creation of “green troopers” promoting recycling habits monitored and rewarded through an online platform, where citizens can accumulate “stars” (equivalent to “points”) to be exchanged against vouchers, and use these vouchers for rewards from public and private offers (mostly, municipal services and local retailers, shops and restaurants).

    How does it work?

    The existing website tropaverde.org connects the three axis necessary to achieve the objective:

    • Citizenship
    • Collecting points
      (the places where citizens can deposit their waste and be rewarded, such as green points, civic and social centres, recovery points, etc.).
    • Shops and other local businesses and services that collaborate providing gifts or discounts

    Once the citizen/user has registered in the platform, he/she can start to “play and win” (recycle, get stars and use vouchers). But since a human check of what is being recycled is necessary, so far and as far as Santiago is concerned, it has to be underlined that the practice is only possible when the material is deposited in collecting points, where collaborators can control the kind, volume and quantity of waste being recycled.

    Santiago has established a growing network of some 30 collaborating “collecting points”, with different levels of collaboration, depending on their storage capacity (e.g. to collect paper, cardboard, batteries, used vegetable oil, plastic caps, etc.). The network includes different kind of partners, such as the 2 official waste collection points, a mobile green point (an adapted vehicle that collects small domestic waste that cannot be recycled in public bins), local NGOs, sports and educational facilities and, above all the 19 socio-cultural centres distributed within the municipal geography.

    In Santiago, for each waste delivery, one cheque (either 30 or 50 stars) is given, regardless of the number of waste and type, always respecting the minimum quantities specified in the following table:


    Minimum quantity*

    • Used oil

    1 litre

    • Batteries

    10 units

    • Plastic caps

    1 full bag

    • Papercardboard

    1 large paper bag

    • Toners

    3 units

    • Clothes

    6 large garments or 12 small garments

    • Green points (almost any kind of waste, incl. WEEE Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment )

    Min. 0,5 kg of waste

    For the transferability of this Good Practice, however, it is important to stress that the platform allows a certain flexibility: different rewarding criteria (and kind of waste) can be applied, depending on the necessities and priorities of the promoters.

    Finally, the voucher received will include a code that, uploaded on the registered account of the citizen-user, will accumulate the “stars” that can be used as rewards. The kind of rewards available can be checked on the platform, and can vary from a free coffee in a restaurant to a free haircut, free shoe repairs or discounts in a dance academy,  dental treatments - among other gifts offered by over 125 sponsors.

    Some key data/results of the Good Practice in Santiago
    (after 2 years of implementation)

    • Good citizen participation, with over 3 000 users subscribed
    • 125 sponsors, 3 000 rewards offered, more than EUR 20 000 in prizes and rewards
    • 29 centres and 1 mobile centre issuing vouchers: Over 23 800 vouchers given and over 1 400 rewards delivered
    • Several workshops for children: Recycle, Reutilise and play with the Tropa Verde to commemorate the European Environment Week
    • 100% growth of used oil recovery on civic centres during S1-2017, when compared to S1-2016
    • 12% increase in the number of visitors in the waste collection or green points

    The Municipality itself offers attractive gifts against Tropa Verde “stars” as well, including tickets for its Concert Hall, Theatre or European Film Festival (CinEuropa). But from the launch of the initiative, the most requested gifts are free invitations for 20 environmentally engaged citizens, to sit at the VIP “lounge”, together with the public authorities, and enjoy Santiago’s Apostle’s Fireworks, that take place on the 24th July at night!

    … and who knows? Hopefully thanks to the exchanges and learning activities among the Tropa Verde Transfer Network partners, green troopers from Guimarães will get discounts to support their local football team “Vitória” in the stadium thanks to recycling their batteries; citizens from Zugló will have free access to enjoy a relaxing spa session at Szechenyi Thermal Bath against the re-use of furniture; students from Pavlou Mela will collect used olive oil and be invited to the cinema, while kids from Opole will get an entrance to the local zoo thanks to their campaigns to recycle plastic caps, while neighbours from Nice who are alpine skiing aficionados might get a free lift pass to reward their re-use of Electrical and Electronic Equipment Waste…

    What we know for sure is that they will all contribute to the European initiative of protecting our environment!


    Visit the network's page: Tropa Verde

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  • What on earth do the arts and culture have to do with climate change?

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    Claire Buckley, URBACT Lead Expert and Director of Environmental Sustainability at Julie’s Bicycle says time is of the essence.

    In the grander scheme of things, the arts and culture sector is not the biggest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. And so, the question from Radio Wrocław “What on earth do the arts and culture have to do with climate change?” to representatives from Manchester (UK) and Wrocław (PL) during a day of exchange on this issue, did not come as a big surprise. It is, however, well worth unpacking and, one at the heart of a new project on how the arts and culture can lead climate action in cities, funded by the EU’s URBACT programme.


    Human activity and our dependence on fossil fuels is changing our climate. This is taking an increasing toll on the natural systems which sustain us, on our health, wellbeing and prosperity. Climate change is a systemic issue, rooted in global economic, social, cultural and value systems locking in unsustainable consumption, inequality and a disconnection from nature. Policies, technology and investment alone will not be enough to address it. We need hearts, minds and a shift in our cultural values. No sector is better placed to bridge the gap between what we know and what we feel and support a values’ shift than the arts and culture. This is particularly relevant when it comes to cities, on the front line of climate change, and where art and culture connect citizens to the cultures which define them.

    According to the World Bank’s 2017 Urban Development Overview, cities generate over 80% of global GDP and more than 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Rapid urbanisation (with predictions of 60-70% of the world’s population living in cities by 2050), coupled with the effects of extreme weather and sea level rise, are putting increasing strain on city infrastructure and resources, exacerbating challenges such as air pollution and impacting on people’s health and wellbeing. Urgent and rapid city action is crucial if we are to limit global temperature rise.

    While the economic and social value of the arts and culture is increasingly recognised in cities, there has been much less recognition of how they can contribute to creating future-proofed, sustainable cities. This is starting to change, as evidenced for example through the World Cities Culture Forum’s Culture and Climate Change Handbook for City Leaders (2017).


    Manchester is one city that already demonstrates what the sector can achieve by working together on climate action and how it can support city climate change strategy. The Manchester Arts Sustainability Team (MAST) has become one of the city’s, and indeed the UK’s, most successful examples of environmental collaboration and, in 2017, Manchester was awarded URBACT Good Practice City status in recognition of MAST’s work.

    MAST is a network of about 30 arts and cultural organisations – from community arts centres and iconic cultural venues to an internationally renowned festival and national broadcasters - working together on climate action and engagement. It has come a long way since it started out in 2011. From a small group taking practical action, with external facilitation and funding, it has evolved into a network funded and run for and by its members, actively contributing to city climate change strategy and targets. MAST enables members to meet face-to-face, share common challenges and opportunities and link directly to what is happening on a city level. MAST’s five-year report (2017) tells its story, shares its achievements and learnings as well as a wealth of good practice.  

    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 - Manchester A Certain Future 2010-2020. The group went on to support development of the Manchester Climate Change Strategy 2017-2050, including through Climate Lab, run by the Manchester Climate Change Agency, to test different ways of engaging the people of the city in strategy development. MAST is now represented on the Manchester Climate Change Board. In 2018 Manchester updated its commitment and adopted a science-based target to become zero carbon by 2038. MAST is one of the pioneer groups now developing a zero carbon roadmap in line with this target and Manchester’s draft Zero Carbon Framework 2020-2038.


    For Dave Moutrey, Director and Chief Executive at HOME Manchester, a MAST member, and Director of Culture for Manchester City Council, it is no surprise that the sector has come together to act on climate change and shape the city’s climate change strategy. “Culture is in Manchester’s DNA. We understand the value of culture to our well-being, prosperity and vitality as a city, and the arts and culture sector has a well-recognised part to play in contributing to all city priorities.

    As an URBACT Good Practice City, Manchester is now leading a transfer network - C-Change: Arts and Culture Leading Climate Action in Cities - with five other city partners - Wrocław (PL), Mantova (IT), Gelsenkirchen (DE), Šibenik (HR) and Águeda (PT). Together they have a combined population of 1.6 million people and greenhouse gas emissions of about 9 million tonnes. Together they are working to build on and learn from Manchester’s experience with cultural collaboration on climate.

    Like Manchester, all partner cities - including two former European Capitals of Culture, four UNESCO World Heritage sites and one former national Capital of Culture - have the arts and culture at their heart. They all recognise the sector’s contribution to city life, well-being and prosperity. Águeda, for example, has over the last 10 years, seen the economic and social benefits of nurturing its arts and culture scene, through i.a. a city-wide urban art programme, its AgitÁgueda festival, artist residency programmes and investment in a new contemporary arts centre.


    All are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, from rising sea levels in Šibenik and flooding in Wrocław, to urban heat island and health impacts in Mantova, Wrocław and Gelsenkirchen and forest fires around Águeda and Šibenik. Most already have well-developed climate change strategies and are signatories to the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.

    While all cities are experiencing the impacts of climate change, people’s perception and level of awareness varies greatly. For those moving from an industrial past, many, and older generations in particular, have actually perceived an improvement in environmental conditions. While in Gelsenkirchen, there is generally a higher level of climate change awareness, there is also a certain ‘climate fatigue’. Each city has different levels of experience with climate change engagement. While in some cases individual organisations are taking action, none of the cities have yet actively involved the sector in climate change initiatives. Crucially, all cities share a recognition of the role the arts and culture can play in engaging citizens on climate change and inspiring and mobilising action.

    Climate change is one of the greatest challenges we face as a society, a challenge which requires an urgent and rapid response. As a city to which the arts, culture and cultural heritage are central - to our past, present and future - I can think of no better sector than the arts and culture to take on this challenge.” Petar Mišura, Head of the Department of Economy, Entrepreneurship and Development, Šibenik

    C-Change will require a new way of working, which brings both opportunities and challenges. In Wrocław, one of the key issues will be building sector collaboration. According to Katarzyna Szymczak-Pomianowska, Wrocław’s Head of Sustainable Development “We now aim to support arts and culture in our city in coming together to act on climate change and support us in helping our citizens understand the issues we face and take action themselves."

    For Gelsenkirchen, at the heart of the Ruhr conurbation, developing a collaboration model that works for both the city and other cities in the Ruhr region will be both the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity. For Šibenik, which does not have a climate change strategy, its involvement in C-Change is an opportunity to learn from other cities as it starts to build climate change in new city strategy and link in culture from the start.


    Mantova is particularly excited about how exchange with other European cities can help us bring our cultural and our environmental strategies closer together with active involvement of the arts and culture and help us in working towards our priorities as a city, from climate change to urban regeneration, heritage conservation and public participation.” Adriana Nepote, Councillor for Research and Innovation, University and European Projects

    In Águeda, both city and sector are already active on climate change. C-Change is a chance to accelerate progress, in particular engaging and mobilising citizens in a way which directly supports the city’s ambitious sustainable development goals. "Art, culture and creativity can be a particularly effective means of engaging the public on climate change and cultural actors are playing an increasingly significant role in this area. We welcome the opportunity provided by C-Change to exchange experience on climate action and engagement, for the enrichment of all.” Elsa Corga, Alderwoman of Águeda Council and Councillor for Culture

    As the C-Change partners embark on this innovative and timely collaboration, one thing is absolutely clear. There is no time to waste.


    Visit the network's page: C-Change


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  • How to design and co-create greener cities?

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    Chantal van Ham, European Programme Manager Nature Based Solutions and Katharina Dropmann of International Union for Conservation of Nature Brussels European Regional Office share their enthusiasm for the EU Horizon 2020 project GrowGreen and nature based solutions as seen at URBACT City Festival, through examples from Bologna (IT), Manchester (UK) and Stavanger (NO)


    Building cities may be humans’ greatest achievement, but at the same time they pose great threats for the future of the planet. For hundreds of years, people have called cities their home. Settlers started to make use of land alongside of rivers, in coastal areas and on fertile soil, providing increasing prosperity and wealth. Cities became the centre of commerce, culture and livelihood. Today, we depend on these complex systems.

    Cities are an essential platform for communication, interaction, creativity and innovation, however, the relation between humankind and cities has always been a double-edged sword. As a result of industrialisation, the overexploitation of natural resources and unsustainable land use, cities face rising temperature and sea levels, natural disasters and extreme levels of pollution. Cities consume more than half of the world’s energy and cause over 70% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. At this critical crossroads, it is essential to benefit from the creative and innovative power of cities in responding to these challenges and exploring the value of nature as a part of the solution in combatting climate change and its impacts.

    Not only vital for the world’s major capital cities, it is also vital for small and medium-sized cities, to have a platform for exchange, as they are equally important in creating sustainable change: “think global, act local”. The URBACT City Festival gave cities a unique chance to be in the limelight and exchange experiences. On the 13th of September 2018, Bologna (IT), Manchester (UK) and Stavanger (NO) presented their approaches to using the ground-breaking concept of nature-based solutions to respond to a range of challenges in their cities, and to meet national, as well as global sustainable development goals. These cities understand that nature-based solutions adapted to their unique local context, are highly valuable in fighting climate change impacts and improving quality of life for their citizens.

    Introducing nature-based solutions

    Many cities are already active in improving their green footprint and creating a more sustainable attitude for future development by cutting emissions, using renewable energy and reducing pollution. However, we need to think further. Now, more than ever, there is a need to reconnect with and integrate nature in the urban fabric. Nature-based solutions are actions to protect, manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems that aim to support addressing society’s challenges in sustainable ways. Nature-based solutions are a new and largely untapped opportunity for cities to obtain not only ecological but also social, economic and health benefits. By delivering multiple co-benefits through enhanced ecosystem services, such as air and water quality and biodiversity, climate mitigation and adaptation, jobs and economic opportunities, nature-based solutions are crucial to increase the quality of life in urban areas.

    Bologna – how to combine cultural heritage with today’s most pressing environmental challenges

    In Roman cities, the sense of dense urbanity is distinctive. Winding alleys, towers and especially archways characterise Bologna and reveal its great history. In the face of increasing water scarcity, extreme weather events like heat waves and heavy rainfall in urban areas, Bologna is an outstanding example of a city that is able to protect its cultural heritage while adapting to climate change by implementing highly innovative solutions. Bologna is a coordinator city of the EU Urban Partnership on Sustainable Land Use and Nature Based Solutions and strives to promote nature-based solutions as a tool for building sustainable and liveable urban areas. The Bologna Local Urban Environment Adaptation Plan (BLUEAP) was developed as a template to identify vulnerabilities related to climate change and to design a scalable information system about the risks of climate change. This EU Life+ Project can be considered a good practice for results achieved and the methodology used can be useful for other cities.

    The City of Bologna shaped different nature-based solutions pilot actions, which explore and test the concept of the Adaptation Plan and assesses their efficiency on a small scale. The EU Horizon 2020 project ROCK implements measures including a roof garden for the historical Opera House and “greening” the University’s Scaravilli square. The project considers historic city centres as extraordinary laboratories to demonstrate how cultural heritage can be a unique and powerful engine of regeneration, sustainable development and economic growth for the whole city.

    Manchester - how to prevail naturally over flood risks 

    As one of the frontrunner cities of the EU Horizon 2020 project GrowGreen, Manchester focuses on tackling high surface water flood risks by increasing sustainability and business opportunities to create a healthy, liveable and climate resilient city. The project supports local partners and stakeholders to design and deliver a detailed green infrastructure masterplan for one of the neighbourhoods, West Gorton. To create green and blue spaces in urban areas with the overarching aim to manage water through water cycles and enhance the quality of life in the city, Manchester has developed several funding schemes and programmes. Since 2016, businesses and government in Greater Manchester promote green and blue Sustainable drainage solutions (SuDS) as an opportunity to manage wastewater more effectively and save costs. If implemented at a city wide level it not only improves mental and physical health, air quality and decreases surface flood risks, but it also offers direct financial savings, which can be re-invested. This successful concept can serve other European cities and sets an exceptional example to invest in nature for solving water management problems.

    Stavanger – a green city that is leading the way

    Stavanger, the fourth biggest and most densely populated city of Norway, is one of the nation’s leading oil industry cities and its Continuous Urban Green Structure is a true green miracle. As member of the EU Urban Agenda and thanks to a very strong leadership and dedicated network of planners and initiatives, Stavanger developed over a period of more than 50 years a continuous public green infrastructure throughout the whole city. Since 1965, several legally binding green infrastructure action plans were adopted, undergoing multiple stages of implementation with the vision to create a coherent green trail system across Norway supported by the Norwegian Trekking Association and the central government. Since then, Stavanger’s responsible communities have put a lot of effort into preserving green areas and constructing new trails.

    Today, more than 99 % of the citizens have access to the green trails within 500 meters from their home. Stavanger’s green structure is based on sound knowledge of the relationship between green urban infrastructure, public health and the health of the urban environment at large. Secrets for its success are: a great vision, political determination and courage, as well as the ability to implement the plans. Stavanger’s next steps focus on targets and indicators for nature-based solutions and green infrastructure and to collaborate with other cities to invest in new solutions.

    What could be easier than just helping nature in what it does best?

    Nature-based solutions present an innovative approach that respects the usability, multi-functionality and ecological benefits of green and blue spaces in urban areas. Through their integration in complex urban systems, we are one step closer to ensure human wellbeing and economic benefits to society. Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go – more cities need to develop and test new ways of integrating these solutions in their planning processes to improve strategies, spread ideas and build alliances for action. It is pivotal to attract public and private stakeholders to invest in nature-based solutions and to improve assessment methods for mapping ecosystem services to be able to make the business case. In order to attract more investors and raise financing to scale up the implementation of nature-based solutions, GrowGreen is organising a conference on innovative financing for creating greener cities in March 2019.

    Magda Kubecka, one of the trend spotters who actively followed the discussions at the URBACT City Festival to identify ground breaking ideas and solutions for the future concluded: We need to deliver nature as part of everything we do in cities - it’s not a nice to have, it’s essential and crucial.” Nature-based solutions allow us to breathe fresh air, clear our heads and co-create greener more liveable cities. They benefit us all now and beyond, will benefit future generations.  

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  • BLUACT: Why the Blue Economy is an increasing sea of opportunity

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    A report by Darinka Czischke, Conor Moloney and Catalina Turcu

    The origins of the Blue Economy concept can be traced back to the mid 90’s, when the Belgian businessman turned author, Gunter Pauli, was asked by the United Nations to think about innovative business models of the future.

    Originally conceived with the aim of reconciling the shared goals of stimulating entrepreneurship whilst also preserving marine eco-systems, today, the term ‘Blue Economy’ covers a range potential policy interventions ranging from;

    • Practical programmes for delivering any form of economic growth which is linked to the marine and maritime economy;
    • More complex economic philosophies which draw on a range of ‘circular economy’ concepts and frameworks to deliver growth in such a way which preserves, maintains and enhances the marine environment (and therefore delivers more significant, long run benefits to society).

    The latter concept is an ever-evolving model, which has come to particular prominence recently, over growing concerns about the invasive impact of single use plastics on the marine environment.

    In 2012 the European Commission estimated that the Blue Economy represented over 5 million jobs and a gross added value of around €500 bn per year – a figure which is roughly equivalent to 4% of the EUs total economic output. It also affects a large number of the EU residents with an estimated 40% of the EU population living within 50km from the sea.

    Over the last decade, some member states have seen the Blue Economy grow faster than their national economies. One city that has been at the forefront of trying to stimulate innovative, new Blue Economy businesses is the city of Piraeus in Greece.  

    Helping Blue Growth Entrepreneurs become ‘investment ready’

    The Piraeus Blue Growth Initiative (BGI) is a structured entrepreneurship and innovation competition focussing on the marine and maritime economy. It was the first EU level innovation competition for the marine and maritime economy (Blue Economy) originally established in 2014. It was successfully awarded an URBACT Good Practice status, last year.

    The BGI helps early-stage entrepreneurs develop and realise innovative business concepts and create jobs in the Blue Economy. Operating as an annual business plan competition, the initiative is effectively a programme of activities to help aspiring Blue Growth entrepreneurs get ‘investment ready’ – to effectively prepare their business ideas to the stage where they can secure external investment.    

    The Blue Growth Initiative is structured around a number of elements;

    1. Governance: Establishment of a strong multi-agency Blue Growth governance structure for overseeing the delivery of the programme.
    2. Competition preparation: Building the partnership-based delivery programme and developing the marketing collateral;
    3. Competition delivery: Includes business plan idea generation, proposal evaluation, preparing the successful applicants for a demo day; and organising the demo day/award ceremony 
    4. Incubation Programme: Supporting the successful entrepreneurs to scale their business; and
    5. Ongoing celebration and promotion: to build the profile of the exercise, to recreate it again the year after.

    Transfer of the practice to other cities across Europe

    Having been awarded with the URBACT Good Practice Label, the City of Piraeus was subsequently successful in securing funding to work with Burgas in Bulgaria, and Matosinhos in Portugal, to explore the potential to establish an URBACT Transfer Network, to examine how best to transfer the programme to seven other cities across Europe.

    This process will conclude in October this year when Piraeus submits its application for Phase 2 of the URBACT Transfer Network programme with its seven partners cities.

    If successful, this project could establish a pan-European Investment Readiness programme for aspiring Blue Growth Entrepreneurs and a network of cities keen to build on their marine and maritime assets.

    A European Platform for Investing in the Blue Economy

    What makes this URBACT project particularly timely is that the European Commissioner for the Environment, Karmenu Vella, announced at the 2018 European Maritime Day in Burgas, that DG Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries is building a European investment platform dedicated solely to the blue economy.

    This builds on the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027, in which the Commission proposed;

    • That the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund will focus on ‘promoting the blue economy in fisheries and aquaculture, tourism, ocean energy or blue biotechnology, in coastal communities, at EU level to provide real EU added value by encouraging EU governments, industry and stakeholders to develop joint approaches to drive growth, while safeguarding the marine environment’.
    • That ‘synergies for the maritime and blue economy will be exploited in particular with the European Regional Development Fund for the investment in blue growth sectors and for sea-basin strategy, with the European Social Fund+ to re-train fishers in acquiring skills and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development for support to aquaculture. The collaboration and synergies with Horizon Europe for marine research and innovation will be achieved, for instance by supporting small and medium-sized enterprises for the deployment and market replication of innovative solutions for blue growth and by supporting a thematic investment platform for research and innovation in the blue economy.’; and
    • That ‘the InvestEU Fund will play an important role with financial instruments for market related action, in particular by supporting a thematic investment platform for research and innovation in the Blue Economy’.

    The same document goes on to explain that one particular element of the EUInvest Programme InvestEU Assistance will be established by partners, to provide advisory support and accompanying measures to foster the creation and development of projects, helping projects get off the ground and make them investment-ready.

    However, InvestEU Assistance will need to reach deep into the Blue-Growth entrepreneur community across Europe, if it is to be successful at stimulating innovative, new businesses ideas that possess the potential to add value to the European economy. That’s where a close integration with initiatives like Piraeus’ Blue Growth Initiative can really help.

    As Petros Kokkalis, the Councillor for Local Economic Growth & Entrepreneurship in the Municipality of Piraeus remarked “The Piraeus Blue Growth Initiative has created a value for the city and for Europe, in that it has created a platform for bringing together different parts of the innovation eco-system, to support aspiring Blue Growth Entrepreneurs”

    “One of the major challenges for many of the early stage businesses that we see is raising the funds they need to develop and scale their business. We welcome the establishment of a central Blue Economy investment platform, as it will help address this critical area of market failure and look forward to working with it to support Blue Growth Entrepreneurs.” 

    An increasing sea of opportunity?

    It’s actually a little-known fact, but the word ‘opportunity’ comes from a Latin seafaring phrase, ‘ob portus’, which is made up of the terms ob, meaning “toward”, and portus, meaning “port”. The word came about, because sailors used to have to wait for the right combination of wind, current, and tide to successfully sail into port. They had to seize the right opportunity.

    Today, the opportunity presented by the Blue Economy across Europe is significant and growing. Despite the well-developed nature of the blue economy, there is a scope to further increase its productivity, potential and contribution to the European economy.

    Whilst a wide range of opportunities exist to further this aim, expanding Piraeus’ Good Practice in the field of Investment Readiness to a range of other cities across Europe and connecting this into a central Investment Platform like the one being developed by the Commission will help to establish a coherent cross-sectoral strategy to tackle one of the major obstacles to growth in the sector.


    Visit the network's page: BluAct


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