European cities on the front lines to respond to climate change

European cities on the front lines to respond to climate change

May 24, 2018

European cities on the front lines to respond to climate change

A wide-ranging research on local and urban policies for climate change within the European Union, shows that the most active local administrations are those located in countries where national rules require them to make provisions.

Repairing the damage caused by climate change is one of the priorities of the European Union. The results that the EU is set to achieve in the short and long term are very ambitious goals: a 20% reduction in harmful emissions by 2020, 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2080. Achieving them would increase the probability of meeting the key target of the Paris Agreement, which is to contain the rise in global temperature well within the 2 °C increase recorded since industrialization.  

Local policy in different countries

Cities play a key role, particularly in Europe, where 70 per cent of the population lives in urban areas. According to research published on the Journal of Cleaner Production, carried out by several EU institutions and universities under the leadership of the Dutch University of Twente, out of 885 cities in 28 EU Member States, 66 per cent has a Local Climate Mitigation Plan (LCP), 26 per cent has a Local Climate Adaptation Plan (LAP) and 17 per cent have an integrated plan covering both. There are virtuous examples, like Slovakia, where the largest cities and local administrations have a duty to develop local climate mitigation plans, or like Denmark, which aims at local adaptation plans, and finally France and the United Kingdom, where cities are required to produce both.


Virtuous cases

Some countries stand out for their high proportion of cities developing independent mitigation plans (over two thirds). For example, Poland (97.8 per cent coverage), Germany (80.8%), Ireland (80%), Finland (77.8%) and Sweden (76.9%). 

Several factors could explain the wide diffusion of LCPs: the level of awareness of the impact of climate change, local expertise, decentralized administrations, institutional capacity or political commitment, the impact of political parties and the financing available. 

National rules may also make a difference to local initiatives: cities in Denmark, France, Slovakia and the United Kingdom, where designing LCPs is a statutory duty, are 1.8 times more likely to have a Mitigation Plan, and 5 times more likely to have an Adaptation Plan compared to cities in countries that have no such requirement. In fact, it appears that without national rules, local authorities are reluctant or unable to produce common plans. 

In other countries, a significant number of LCPs has been developed under the aegis of European networks like the Covenant of Mayors. These include Italy, and also Cyprus, Denmark, Slovenia, Latvia, Finland, Belgium, Ireland, Sweden, Estonia, Portugal, Romania and Spain. The case of Spain is particularly interesting, as is Italy, because of the high number of signatories in these two countries. 

The importance of collecting policy data

First presented at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) conference recently held in Canada, the research is the most comprehensive analysis of European climate plans to date, furthering the study published in 2014 on Climate Change Letters. “It is important to regularly update this research, supporting decision making at the national, EU and global level with data on local climate planning, thus providing an invaluable contribution to this important current issue" reiterated researchers at the Institute of Methods for Environmental Analysis (Imaa-Cnr) in Potenza, Italy, among the first signatories of the research.

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