Climate change and the EU's regions

EU regions and
cities have come to play an increasingly visible role in the
27-member bloc’s drive to reduce carbon emissions. 

Led by urban areas, local authorities are increasingly taking
matters into their own hands, experimenting with innovative green
initiatives, cooperating with private industry and sharing best
practice with each other in order to lead the fight against climate
change “on the ground”.

While regions and cities have taken a number of steps of their
own accord, there has also been greater recognition from national
and EU authorities that these efforts need to be supported. As
such, the EU is increasingly targeting funds towards these
strategic regional efforts.

Regions make their voices heard

The sub-national level has traditionally not been a player in
the global drive to combat climate change, but this has started to
change (href=””
target=”_blank”>see EurActiv France).

The EU’s Lisbon Treaty for the first time makes a
specific reference to the importance of the regions
in EU decision-making, leading to more assertive action
across the policy spectrum (href=””
target=”_blank”>EurActiv 10/02/10).

“Climate change strategies may be
decided at EU level, but it is at the regional level that
real action is taken,”  argued  Michèle  Sabban,
president of the Assembly of European Regions

In fact, the EU has already gone some distance towards
empowering its regions to fight climate change. For
example, EU structural and cohesion funds for the
2007-2013 period earmarked €100 billion to support eco-innovation,
environmental risk-protection measures, clean technologies and
enterprises at local level (href=””
title=”EurActiv 10/03/09”>EurActiv 10/03/09).

“While lengthy international negotiations take place, the
regions are gearing up to get to work and act on many key energy
related issues, as energy is a multifaceted
domain,” Sabban said. “These include spatial
planning, subsidising local energy investments,
innovation and education policies, public procurement, transport,
awareness-raising and implementing renewables strategies
using local resources.”

Cities lead the way

Research has shown that cities emit around three-quarters of all
greenhouse gases, consuming a disproportionate share of natural
resources relative to their surface area, and must therefore play
an important role in mitigating global warming (href=””
target=”_blank”>EurActiv 24/05/07). Most of the emissions
in cities can be traced back to inefficient energy and insulation

As a result, improving energy efficiency in buildings became a
central part of EU efforts to combat climate change,
first under the Kyoto Protocol, and later with the pledge to
achieve a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The
European Commission estimated that the building sector accounts for
up to 40% of the EU’s final energy consumption.

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive
(EPBD) is the cornerstone of EU legislation on
energy-savings in the built environment (href=””
target=”_blank” title=”LinksDossier”>see EurActiv

Other innovations abound. Stockholm and New York, for example,
are increasingly relying on information and communication
technologies (ICT) to manage low-emission traffic zones (href=””
target=”_blank”>EurActiv 13/10/09).

Covenant of Mayors

London Vice-Mayor Nicky Gavron, who is widely seen as
a pioneer in sustainable city planning,  href=””>
told EurActiv that “cities can have an easier time
filling ambitious environmental objectives”. The reason, she
explained, is that cities “have the planning ability. They in fact
run most of the environmental infrastructure - and build it. They
run transport. They also have that density of property, and
activity, and population, which means that it is going to be easier
- in a way - to reduce emissions in cities”.

European cities have
already taken significant policy steps to reduce their emissions.
Since February 2009, over 350 cities have coordinated action in a
pledge to reduce their  CO2  emissions by more than
the EU’s 20% target for

This so-called href=””
target=”_blank”>Covenant of Mayors, originally a European
Commission  initiative, recognises that cities have
a particular responsibility to contribute to the fight against
climate change.

These initiatives have encouraged the EU to put its
money where its mouth is: in 2009, the European Investment Bank
(EIB) announced a €15 million grant fund to support the
development of energy efficiency and sustainable energy projects in
European cities and regions. The EIB also promised to
strengthen its ordinary lending activities to the sector.

€100 billion in regional funding is also being made available
for the 2007-2013 period to support eco-innovation,
environmental risk-protection measures, clean technologies and
enterprises at local level (href=””
title=”EurActiv 10/03/09”>EurActiv 10/03/09).

Regions cooperate with industry

The private sector has taken note of these developments, and
many large multinational corporations working on green energy
solutions now deal directly with the regional level.

Regional governments have been putting plans in place with
businesses to deploy low-carbon technologies even in the absence of
a global pact on cutting greenhouse gas emissions (href=””
target=”_blank”>EurActiv 04/06/10).

One example is the partnership set up by
the AER and GE Energy, which aims to support the European
Union’s environmental strategy by implementing actual European
solutions on regional and local levels

Ricardo Cordoba, president of GE Energy for Western Europe
and Northern Africa, argued that the expertise of large companies
can play “a vital role in helping accomplish concrete regional

He claimed that relationships such as that between GE Energy and
the AER open gateways “between regional decision-makers
and GE Energy’s expertise, providing a forum for the exchange of
knowledge, experience and benchmarks. The time to act is now and we
feel this relationship is a huge step forward towards
supporting our governments and tackling climate change

In its report, ‘href=””
target=”_blank”>A Vision of Smarter Cities,’ IBM makes the
case for cities to use new technologies to optimise the
use of finite resources such as water and energy or better manage
road traffic.


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