How European cities are turning the energy crisis into an opportunity to drive Europe towards a climate-neutral and just future

The 2023 Covenant of Mayors Europe Conference showcases how local leaders are carrying out the EU’s objectives of energy sovereignty and climate neutrality, and what they need to continue leading the way

How European cities are turning the energy crisis into an opportunity to drive Europe towards a climate-neutral and just future

On March 30, the 2023 Covenant of Mayors Europe Conference brought together high-level representatives of EU institutions and Mayors from cities across Europe. The exchange highlighted how cities’ response to the energy crisis is setting an example for Europe’s long-term efforts in matters of energy and climate, and how the EU and cities can work hand in hand to reach common objectives.

Cities’ essential role in “Repowering the EU”

EU Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson started the conversation by emphasising the essential contribution of cities and towns. Beyond this year’s efforts, she discussed more broad and long-term efforts in building a clean, affordable, and secure energy system, once again giving cities a key role, especially with in reaching targets in building renovation and energy efficiency.

“With emergency measures and the REPowerEU, we reacted quickly and decisively to cushion the impact of the energy crisis. However, we also owe these results to each and every European, and to our towns and cities. For example, the Covenant of Mayors Cities Energy Saving Sprint implemented in over 50 cities.”

Kadri Simson, Commissioner for Energy

The mayors’ stories testified to cities’ vital contribution to reducing Europe’s dependency on Russian gas, while minimising the impact of the crisis on citizens and continuing to push towards the EU’s ambitious objectives of climate neutrality.  In support REPowerEU, the Covenant of Mayors Europe’ Cities Energy Saving Sprint campaign provided practical tips to mobilise local governments everywhere in Europe to reduce their energy consumption with a similar approach: multiplying renewables, increasing energy efficiency and accelerating the energy transition. 

Mayors and Deputy Mayors of Milan (Italy), Freiburg (Germany), Pedreguer (Spain), Łódź (Poland) and Grenoble (France) presented the diversity of emergency measures that they put into place to face the crisis: from green taxation, to building renovation, promotion of energy communities, education and awareness, transport and mobility… You can hear more about the measures cities have been taking here.

From Energy Saving Sprint to Climate Neutrality: turning short-term action into long-term policy

Despite the miraculous success of Europe in responding to energy demand and filling up gas reserves for this past winter, the situation for upcoming winters is not so clear. REPowerEU efforts need to continue. To do so, cities must persist in their efforts to reduce energy consumption on the long-term – making the Sprint into a Marathon. However, they cannot continue to lead the way without support from their national governments and the European Union.

Vice President of the Committee of the Regions, Apostolos Tzitzikostas, highlighted the importance of ensuring multilevel governance in an era of instability and crisis such as now.

“2050 Green Deal objectives will not be achieved if we don’t move quickly into implementation.  In this context, we need to secure the support to local and regional authorities with funding and innovative investment mobilisation strategies. And I call for a further linkage between the initiatives of the Covenant and the cohesion funds, which are the only instruments available to all the EU’s regions, bringing a long-term vision and investment plans for sustainable development, and which are shaped from the bottom-up.” 

Apostolos Tzitzikostas, Vice President of the Committee of the Regions

In echo to Tzitzikostas words, Mayors called upon the EU to put pressure on national governments to involve local decision-makers and stakeholders in national climate and energy policy making. They emphasised that cities implement the action, and that without cities, national governments will not reach their targets. Martin Horn, Lord Mayor of Freiburg, Germany, called the European institutions to work with them on pressuring local governments to listen to them.

Besides involvement of local governments at national level, Mayors also called on the EU to consider more direct funding. In the situation that many cities find themselves in blocked by national legislations and lack of funds, one of the best ways the EU can accelerate implementation is by helping cities directly.

Getting everyone on board: the essential ingredient

Besides support from national and EU governments, for cities to embed REPowerEU efforts into long-term climate strategy, they also need to ensure the essential support of their citizens. Local governments are the closest line of government to the people. Popular support is indispensable to make these measures long-term. Thus, the EU’s efforts will only be successful if local governments are themselves successful engaging their citizens. 

Mayors and Deputy Mayors from Clermont-Ferrand (France), Stockholm (Sweden), Križevci (Croatia) and Warsaw (Poland) presented the diverse programmes and initiatives that they put in place locally to directly involve citizens in their transitions, which took on entirely new importance with the energy crisis. From energy communities to citizen conventions, youth forums, and energy offices offering advice on energy savings, Mayors made it clear that the only way to tackle the energy and climate crisis, was to do it in a holistic way – a way that is democratic and fair.

The Vice-Minister-President of Flanders, Bart Somers, closed the conference by encouraging municipalities from across Europe to form an alliance, to unleash this potential of mobilising all local actors. Through their Local Flemish Pact, the regional government of Flanders has embraced the Covenant of Mayors Europe to multiply and massify climate action at the local level across its territory, by setting concrete and tangible objectives for all Covenant signatories. A total of 293 of the 300 Flemish municipalities have thus signed the Pact, and with it, the Covenant of Mayors Europe.

The Minister announced that in the occasion of next year’s EU Belgian Presidency, the Flemish Government will put cities in the spotlight. You can already mark your calendars for March 12, 2024, for a joint conference between the Belgian Presidency and the Covenant of Mayors Europe.