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Why cities are a solution to climate change

Submitted by on 29 Sep 2016 – 09:20

What makes a great city? Currently, cities are facing a variety of interrelated economic, climatic, demographic and social challenges. However, they can transform into great places to live and work by achieving smart growth, doing more with less. Here is a review of the steps city mayors and senior policy makers across Europe take to achieve smart growth and transform their cities into resilient and sustainable spaces

Stockholm, Sweden

Sweden’s Stockholm is the fastest growing capital city in Europe and has been working on climate change adaptation since the 1990s. Stockholm has envisioned to be the smartest city in the world by the year 2040. The city has shown that economic development and greenhouse-gas emissions can be decoupled. The city’s quick growth and thriving economy has gone hand in hand with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 44 % per capita during the last 20 years.

Green index

Ericsson has named the city of Stockholm as the top-ranking city in the sustainable development part of the Networked Society Index in 2014 and 2016. The city is also a widely acclaimed smart city. This global ranking of cities measures the cities from both sustainability (economic, social and environmental) and ICT maturity.

Stockholm is now putting more efforts into its work on smart sustainability to keep ahead of the race. The work in the city has been reorganised to reach even higher ambitions and a programme for digital renewal has been produced.

Sustainable pathways

The city of Stockholm is currently involved in the process of renovating more than 30 thousand square meters of primarily residential buildings, co-funded by GrowSmarter project. The buildings, built in the 1960-70ies, used industrialised building technologies and are currently in need of renovation as is the case in most European cities. By building in cost efficient energy efficiency measures, smart information systems and other services, the tenants receive better services.

The city housing company aims to reduce the need for energy by over 60% and the tenants will have the possibility to better follow their energy use in real-time through information systems in the apartments. These measures therefore have a great potential to be replicated in other cities. By using locally produced solar electricity together coupled with reduced energy use and the charging of electrical vehicles, peak loads can be cut and a smarter use of electricity achieved.

Organic waste collection

Collecting waste in different coloured bags and optically sorting these and producing more biogas from organic household waste will help increase material recycling and the production of renewable vehicle fuel. By collecting the waste in a pneumatic system, the need for waste collection vehicles decrease, thereby reducing residential noise and local emissions from vehicles.

Smarter lighting and heating

The street-lights will become smarter by making it possible to dim them when no one is present and also using the poles for the increased need for transmitters for wireless communication. They will also tell the maintenance teams when the lamps need to be replaced. Opening up the district heating system for, and buying surplus heat from server-halls and grocery-refrigerators will create a new business model for the district heating company. Increasing the use of the big data collected in the project to implement new solutions will be demonstrated. Stockholm also plans to develop new tools for better traffic planning, using information from the actual flow of traffic collected from smart-phones.

Smart mobility

Building material accounts for 30% of all goods transported in Stockholm. By introducing a building logistics centre and a building material terminal for the reconstruction works, much energy can be saved while also improving the working conditions at the site.

More people are buying goods on the internet. By introducing delivery boxes right by the entrance of residential building, tenants can easily collect their goods and reduce the need for travel. By using cycle transport for the last part of the delivery chain, emissions are even further reduced.

Stockholm has a long tradition of using renewable fuels. As part of the European Commission’ Horizon 2020 funded  GrowSmarter project, more filling stations for biogas and also electric charging points will be built and demonstrated.

The city will initiate car and cycle sharing facilities in suburban areas shortly.

Giving signal priority to buses and lorries for construction work will support these smarter solutions even further. To find out more please visit www.grow-smarter.eu

Warsaw, Poland

Almost a decade ago, the City of Warsaw, aspired to become the “green metropolis” and set itself  a prospective goal of ensuring a high standard of living for its inhabitants in conditions of sustainable development. Barring a few initial challenges, the city joined the Covenant of Mayors in 2009, and adopted the resulting Sustainable Energy Action Plan in 2011. In 2015, Warsaw adopted the Low-Carbon Economy Plan, envisaging expenditure of 4 billion euros for investments improving both air quality and energy efficiency. Some of its sustainable solutions include production of clean energy (also from waste), in particular in cogeneration; creating energy-efficient buildings and districts; sustainable transportation, including e-mobility; preserving green spaces and conservation of wildlife.

Sustainable solutions

Warsaw has implemented several measures in order to achieve its current strategic goals. For example, extension of the existing municipal solid waste incineration plant will give the city an additional source of renewable electricity and heat. Since plans predict another such plant, both investments combined will lead to solid waste satisfying 8% of our energy demand.

Moreover, projects conducted in public-private partnerships and energy performance contracting provides significant savings. A project has been started on the modernisation of street lighting, which will cover at least 22,000 lamps. This will allow the city to save about 57% of energy costs, reducing CO2 emissions by 20,000t per year. Another PPP-EPC project will cover thermal retrofits of schools.

The largest investments have been dedicated to public transportation, including construction of the first stage of the next metro line for more than 1 billion euro. The city highlights its pro-environmental policies of MZA municipal bus operator, which purchased 4 hybrids, 35 gas buses and 10 electric buses. The company’s plans for 2020 envision at least 130 EVs/HEVs, which shall make it one of the largest European operators of clean buses.

Thanks to the EU project Sharing Cities – SHAR-LLM, Wawsaw will learn how to implement complex smart cities solutions, which will assist the city in preparation of a low-carbon area.  Project ADAPTCITY aims to help the city create a comprehensive strategy of adaptation to climate change, making it truly resilient.

The largest challenges that the city is currently facing are connected with waste management and air pollution, mainly resulting from private cars. The waste management belongs to competences of Polish municipalities only since a couple of years, so it takes time to implement and perfect the system, especially in a city as large as Warsaw, which produces more than 700,000t of municipal waste a year. However, the situation has been improving in this field.

The city is tackling this challenge by further strengthening and prioritising the public transportation system. Warsaw has also become friendlier for bikers and pedestrians. An example of this, is a successful Veturilo public bike system, covering more than 200 stations and 3,000 bikes. Currently, the city is preparing a similar car-sharing system.

Rotterdam, Netherlands

As a harbour city with a large petrochemical industry, climate change affects the economy of the city of Rotterdam to a great extent. As a consequence, there is a large awareness that energy transition has to be quickly achieved. The city of Rotterdam has the ambition to lead Europe’s sustainable revolution and plans to connect its climate adaptation strategies and ambitions to a strong economy and the collaborative process to become the most sustainable world port city. As an innovator in climate change strategy, including green energy production and CO2 storage, the city is committed to the knowledge sharing process at the regional and international level.

Together with Jeremy Rifkin, the internationally acclaimed economic strategist, Rotterdam is developing the Roadmap Next Economy in a metropolitan context. This roadmap describes in five transition paths the way in which Rotterdam, together with its regional partners in a triple helix context, is planning to shape the transition to a sustainable and modern economy, resulting in an implementation agenda. Naturally an implementation agenda is part of the Roadmap, as the future is starting today.


For decades, the city of Rotterdam has been known to have a practical approach to challenges. Practical examples of this are the innovative water storages in order to catch waste rainwater via so-called water squares, parking garages with water storages and the overflow areas near the canals.

The installation of thousands of charging stations for the charging of electric cars and the installation of solar panels on (public) buildings are contributing to this. And for new houses a great deal of effort has been invested in ‘zero-on-the-meter’ (no energy bills).

Rotterdam is now a home base for many young companies which are working on ground-breaking innovations. Together with them the city will keep building its knowledge and is willing to share it with the world!

Rotterdam will be collaborating with Glasgow and Umea over the next five years on the RUGGEDISED project, demonstrating a series of 32 smart solutions aimed at creating urban spaces powered by secure, affordable and clean energy, smart electro-mobility, smart tools and services.

Cologne, Germany

Although many steps are still to be taken, the city of Cologne is well on its way to sustainability. Cologne is the first German city to be awarded the title of “LighthouseCity” with the EU funded GrowSmarter project. For the city of Cologne, a key component of a sustainable city is the two-way approach: top-down and bottom-up are both simultaneously necessary to make sustainability happen. It is important to support strong leadership in the Mayor’s office, the city council and all levels of administration to demonstrate sustainable ideas. At the same time, it is crucial to involve citizens and allow for sustainability to happen from the bottom up.

Another key element is the topic of investments. On the way to becoming a sustainable city, capital expenditures need to be reinvested into sustainable infrastructure. Because of recent budgetary difficulties and changing priorities, the city had to suspend a number of projects. A mid-and long-term plan is now underway to reinvigorate sustainable investment.

The city believes in the need to engage the entire community in order to ensure that not only citizens, but also corporations, organizations, universities, schools etc. will implement sustainability goals and therefore turn our city into a sustainable city. The city offers a platform to companies, organizations and individuals to test sustainability projects, intelligent ideas and technologies of the future.

Citizen-centered solutions

Cologne’s green and smart approach attracts intelligent, creative, young people and companies who are important players on the path of a sustainable revolution. Cologne especially promotes citizen participation. Enabled by its participatory budget, the city encourages citizens to comment on problems or inspire solutions by providing an app on the city website, therefore fostering co-creation with each citizen.

To engage and excite all parties, the city believes it is important to create a vision for itself. This needs to happen in collaboration with experts, politicians and citizens. At the same time, the administration needs to leave behind the outdated form of thinking in silos and instead cooperate across departments, cross-linking and integrating with each other. We need to think outside the box. The city can instigate and help create that atmosphere and process of restructuring the way we operate.

A practical example for the city’s sustainable pathway is the SmartCity platform, where diverse sustainability projects, intelligent ideas and technologies of the future are developed to make the City of Cologne even more liveable, step by step. Anyone can join: private citizens, corporations, associations, initiatives etc. The EU project GrowSmarter as well as the neighborhood project Climate Street are just two examples within SmartCity that demonstrate smart and resilient projects.

Every year, the Mayor of Cologne invites organizations, companies and start-ups involved in smart and resilient projects to meet at the city hall for the annual SmartCity Day. This year’s motto was “A Good Climate for Cologne.” It was a very successful event with participation from various stakeholders and parties involved.

Opportunities and challenges

While the city finds opportunities with many groups involved, it worries that challenges arise in the same context: The dialogue between different actors, such as citizens, companies and the city administration is not always easy when diverging objectives like city design or smart devices that are potentially “ugly” are in discussion.

Another challenge for innovation is national or regional legislation, for example fire protection laws, procurement regulations and road traffic regulations, to name just a few.

To the city of Cologne, the transition and path to more sustainability is not as much about technology as it is about governance and people coming together, talking and working with their joint goal of sustainability in mind. It is about increasing the quality of life in a city with its many facets.

Smart initiatives

With the GrowSmarter project, the city tests integrated solutions and a neighborhood management system that will allow for management of multiple data sources, including energy management from apartment buildings such as photovoltaics, battery storage devices and home energy use as well as from electric cars at the mobility charging stations, and a virtual power plant. It is designed to be replicable in other neighbourhoods in Cologne and other cities. Together with multiple other projects, these ventures foster the green revolution in Cologne.

 San Sebastián, Spain

In Europe, about 75% of the population live in cities. By 2030, 60% of the global population will live in urban areas, which means we need to make urban development sustainable. Urban sustainability means avoiding environmental damage while ensuring high living standards for citizens.

The concept, which has economic, political and scientific implications, can only be implemented by taking a comprehensive approach to it, for the challenges we face in urban areas – economic, environmental, climatic, social, demographic, and so on – are intertwined. Furthermore, if we are to reach an acceptable sustainable urban development level, we must get citizens and the civil society involved, along with the local economy and institutions.

San Sebastián has already embarked on this journey, implementing a process that requires the participation of city authorities, local economic agents and citizens to design and carry out sustainable projects.

Sustainable projects

A series of projects are being carried out in the city framed within the 7th European Framework Programme – Systems Thinking for Efficient Energy Planning (STEEP) and the Donostia-San Sebastián Smart Plan 2016-2020. For instance, SmartKalea (Smart Street), whereby government agencies, businesses, shops and citizens work together to make a wiser use of the resources (mainly energy and water), improve street infrastructure and create opportunities for local companies (tech testing, e.g. small living lab).

There is also Replicate, the EU Lighthouse project (Horizon 2020) that got the highest evaluation marks from the Committee in 2015. These projects have led to the development of several initiatives to be implemented at city or district level in the areas of energy management (housing rehabilitation, district heating, smart lighting), mobility (promotion of electric vehicles: coaches, cars/taxis, motorbikes, etc.) and ICT (smart information management platform for the city, improved connectivity, and so on). All these initiatives, carried out in the district of Txomin, were aimed at its being a zero-emission district in the near future and to improve a variety of issues in the city at large.

Opportunities and challenges

The city of San Sebastián has focused on local knowledge and capacities to identify problems, design solutions and obtain more sustainable results. This requires participation and cooperation, and so it may affect internal coordination within and between institutions, local agents and external actors. They are complex processes indeed, demanding great efforts but having outcomes that are worth `while.

The planning and development of smart city projects must be led by the local city government, implementing participatory processes on the basis of public-private partnerships and getting citizens involved while striking a balance between the interests of the city and those of private corporations, and optimising technology investments through the promotion of socialisation.

At the European level, connections should be encouraged between experiences and cities, along with coordination between different institutions. Likewise, city governments should get funding and ties strengthened between businesses and technology centres. Replacing the 7th European Framework Programme with Horizon 2020 was a good idea, resulting in a closer relationship between the technological and industrial spheres on the one hand and the needs of cities on the other, and enabling us to work on real-life developments.

There are but a few significant comprehensive experiences in cities undergoing this kind of processes based on intangibility and socialisation. We have to bear this in mind.

 Rome, Italy

The City of Rome has joined the Covenant of Mayors in 2010. Since then, Rome is strongly engaged in sustainability policies, including, for example, the adoption of rules on air quality indicators that are often more strict than those utilised in many other European cities. Moreover, Rome is in fact currently building up its resilience index and is involved in sustainable solutions relating to energy and water management and critical infrastructures.

The current participation of Rome in several projects focused on sustainability/resilience aim to creat a “Resilience Office” of the city of Rome. This work unit, under the responsibility of the City Council, would contribute to consolidate all the policies and guidelines that respond to the challenges the city is facing. An example of a challenge that this work unit would face is water management at city level, today a commitment of different authorities operating independently, thus creating at times obstacles and reciprocal interferences.

Resilience projects

Through these projects, Rome is currently implementing a comprehensive knowledge of sustainability/resilience issues gained and accurately evaluated in terms of:

1. Outlining the “big picture” of challenges faced,

2. Stakeholder identification and subsequent involvement,

3. Better definition of the challenges and their delimitations,

4. Scenario analysis for the next 20-30 years,

5. Definition of a Field of Opportunities deriving from the correct identification of the challenges faced by the city.

Rome is currently undertaking three outstanding initiatives on this theme: 100 Resilient Cities – 100RC (the programme launched by the Rockefeller Foundation for its centennial) and two H2020 projects, Smart Mature Resilience – SMR and Smarticipate.

The three projects are aimed at defining the resilience level of urban areas by means of innovative modeling of many interlinked variables. In particular, SMR and 100RC make use of slightly different methodologies to measure the general level of urban resilience, while Smarticipate is focused on the re-use of abandoned properties, by strongly involving the participation of the public by means of the new ICT applications

Claudio Bordi, Patricia Hernandez and Pierluigi Potenza, belong to the EU Projects team of Risorse per Roma SpA, which is an in-house company of the City of Rome collaborating with the Urban Planning Department of the City.