A key lesson from the 2021 COP26 summit was that less words - or “blah blah blah” as climate activist Greta Thunberg said - and more action is needed. The session ‘Facta, non verba: How cities & regions can deliver the EU Green Deal for a climate neutral future’ led by ICLEI and co organised by DG GROW echoed this message and highlight how cities can take concrete actions to achieve goals in the European Green Deal.

Valentina Superti, Director for Tourism and Proximity at the European Commission’s DG GROW, highlighted how cities represent almost ¾ of humanity’s emissions. This astounding figure clearly shows there must be rapid changes in the ways in which people in cities live, work and move to meet the carbon neutrality goal by 2050. She emphasised that individual cities play an important role in climate action through initiatives and projects like Intelligent Cities Challenge’s (ICC) Local Green Deals.

The panel saw a lively discussion, which included a representative from the ICC city of Aarhus (Denmark). Niels Hojberg, Chief Executive Officer of City of Aarhus spoke about the city’s achievements and challenges in its journey to achieve climate neutrality.

“We’ve actually achieved a total refurbishment of our heating system by using sustainable energy and biofuel, which means we have actually halved our CO2 emission,” Mr Hojberg said. However, he observes that the more difficult part is now approaching. To mitigate this, Aarhus has formed business alliances with four major companies where they encourage CEOs to come up with sustainable solutions with their teams and to collaborate with other businesses.

Looking ahead...

All speakers offered interesting insights on the next steps for cities as they addressed the question of ‘how will cities address radical change in the next 10 years?’

  • The importance of having “everyone on board, including the consumers, the end users” in addition to policy, framework and investment was noted by Valentina Superti.
  • Collaboration through the coalition of territories was suggested by Charles Fournier, Vice President of Centre Val de Loire.
  • Wider awareness of similar initiatives, best practices and sharing this knowledge with citizens was encouraged by Richard Sjolund, Vice President of Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CPMR).
  • The acceptance of cities as key players and partners in policy making on a national and international level and the availability of more resources was seen as crucial to pushing progress in the eyes of Christian Specht, Deputy Mayor of Manheim.
  • Creating an understanding that a sustainable city is a better city so that people create a demand for this and that the political debate catches up to the business debate were some of Mayor of Lahti Pekka Timonen’s suggestions.
  • Quickly implementing change after the COVID-19 pandemic proved that taking such immediate action was possible was Niels Hojberg’s final reflection.

The recording of the session is available here. The ICC looks forward to pushing this discussion forward and turning this verba into facta.