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LANDCARE EUROPE is nominated for the Natura 2000 Award

Peatlands, grasslands, organic soils and agroforestry systems are natural carbon sinks. The way agricultural land is used influences its capacity for carbon storage. A great amount of these areas are located in Natura 2000 sites. Natura 2000 sites are special protected areas in which a good ecological condition must be achieved by the Member States to preserve biodiversity in Europe (EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030). Consequently land use in them is subject to specific regulations which makes farming challenging. With the aim of having 30% of Europe’s land and maritime area covered by the Natura 2000 network till 2030, these areas need special consideration for climate mitigation of agricultural landscapes.
Landcare Associations demonstrate how it is possible to combine the sustainable and agricultural development of these important eco systems. The nomination of LCA’s European umbrella organization “LANDCARE EUROPE e.V.” for the European Commission’s Natura 2000 Award is a special recognition of this cooperative approach. Apart from the nomination as Finalist in the category “cross border cooperation”, there is the possibility to win the Natura 2000 Citizens‘ Award which is decided by a public voting.

Two of the Natura 2000 sites from the award application will function as best-practice examples for the EUKI project “Landcare Europe Captures Carbon”. The Natura 2000 sight and mountain region “Munții Ciucului” in Romania is characterized by a outstandingly high biodiversity. Important elements of the agricultural landscape that foster biodiversity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions are extensively managed grasslands, small scale farming, a high density of landscape elements and wooden pastures as traditional agroforestry systems. The Natura 2000 sight “Nemuno delta” in Lithuania is a best practice example for agricultural activities in peatlands. While organic soils with high water levels store a large amount of carbon dioxide, farming on them is a huge challenge as it requires special equipment and limits the possibilities for crop cultivation.

These and other examples of climate friendly farming are highlighted and multiplied in the project Landcare Europe Captures Carbon – together with recommendations for political decision makers to improve the framework conditions for farmers in this field. In case Landcare Europe wins the Natura 2000 award, it will thus be a great opportunity to better promote the work of Landcare Associations on natural carbon sinks in agricultural landscapes. Vote now.

Online Survey of Experts in the fields of Green Technologies and Education – Results at a Glance

The aim of the EUKI project ‘GreenVOCnet – Vocational Empowerment for a Green and Socially Just Transition’ is to develop vocational skills in two exemplary climate-relevant technologies, heat pumps combined with renewable energies and green hydrogen. GreenVOCnet addresses the shortage of skilled workers, the lack of expertise and also the lack of acceptance that inhibit the green and social transition in the partner countries.

In order to identify the current needs for the design of new vocational training programmes for the two selected technologies, an online survey was conducted in the participating countries – Greece, Slovakia and Spain – from 1 February to 14 March 2024. A total of 173 experts in the field of green technologies from vocational training centres, enterprises and other stakeholders participated.

The survey revealed some very interesting results. In all three countries there are often identical challenges in the labour market and in vocational training. Common solutions are essential to enable and realise the social and economic transformation in Europe.

The results of the survey once again show the importance of cooperation between European countries and the high relevance of joint EUKI projects for the success of the necessary transformation process with the aim of reducing CO2 emissions and becoming climate neutral.

If you are interested in the detailed results, they are available for download here.

Conclusions After the Last Ready4NetZero Web Seminar

The web seminar was organized by PNEC- Association of Municipalities Polish Network “Energie Cités”, the coordinator of the Ready4NetZero project, and hosted by Izabela Kuśnierz. She gave a brief presentation of the Ready4NetZero project and a summary of the 5 web seminars organized so far, with indications of the recorded materials and presentations that can be downloaded from the project website.

The first speaker was Michał Gruszczyński, a lawyer specialized in administrative law and also an inspector in the Energy Management Team at the Bydgoszcz City Hall. He described in detail the city’s goals and ambitions, completed and planned activities and investments in the areas of energy efficiency and production. They started this journey in 2013 with only one position of Urban Energy Manager and in 2016 established an Energy Management Team of 8 members, setting a target for Bydgoszcz city to achieve energy self-sufficiency in 2025.

Photo by OER, Michał Gruszczyński.

The first innovative solution that made a real difference for the Bydgoszcz administration was launching a unique 100% digital database, the “Energy Management Database”, based on an RPA (Robotic Process Automation) which automatically collects invoices, calls for payment, contractual penalties, interest notes and other data; extracting all needed figures from these documents and transmitting alerts and feedback. Another important measure was established following the introduction by the Polish state of a new tax in 2019 for the consumption of reactive energy. Conceding that Reactive power can account for up to 40% of the monthly electricity distribution invoice, Bydgoszcz Municipality invested in installing 30 active reactive energy compensator devices. In conclusion, Mr. Michał Gruszczyński emphasized that the new challenge now is finding solutions for energy storage, as building storage units remains a problem to be solved.

Dora Biondani, the second speaker, is a Project Manager at Energy Poverty Advisory Hub (EPAH) – Climate Alliance, the leading EU initiative run by the European Commission at the request of the European Parliament, to eradicate energy poverty and accelerate the just energy transition of European local governments. She explained that in the current context, “Energy poverty means a household’s lack of access to essential energy services that provide basic levels and decent standards of living and health, including adequate heating, hot water, cooling, lighting and energy to power appliances, in the relevant national context, existing social policy and other relevant policies, caused by a combination of factors, including but not limited to non-affordability, insufficient disposable income, high energy expenditure and poor energy efficiency of homes”, a broader definition encompassing the whole issue of home heating at European level. EPAH offers tailored support to 85 municipalities, out of which Zagreb – Croatia and Metz – France were given as an example.

Photo by OER, Dora Biondani.

It also offers an e-learning platform (elearning.energypoverty.eu) which can be used, 3 online courses and some very useful publications (like the Energy Poverty Guide – a practical guidebook aiming to give local governments and practitioners concrete procedures and a clear path on how to address energy poverty), that can be downloaded from the website. Mrs. Dora Biondani concluded her presentation by emphasizing that awareness on energy poverty is growing across Europe. She also mentioned a big upcoming event, “Empowering Local Governments: Bridging Policy and Practice in Tackling Energy Poverty”, a Policy Conference co-organized with the European Parliament on April 10, 2024, in Brussels.

The complete recording of the web seminar can be accessed here.

This web seminar was the last one from of a series of 6 other similar events, all part of the Ready4NetZero project. This capacity-building programme targets the municipal administration staff from the project pilot cities, but also other local authorities in Croatia, Hungary, Poland or Romania. Throughout the project, the team will organize in-person workshops to address country-specific needs, online train-the-trainer events, as well as a study visit to several forerunner cities in Germany, for a good practice transfer and experience sharing among local public administrations converging on developing and implementing local long-term climate strategies.

Ready4NetZero is a EUKI funded project coordinated by the Polish Network “ENERGIE CITÉS”, with a consortium formed of the Ecologic Institute from Germany, ENERGIAKLUB from Hungary, REGEA from Croatia and Energy Cities Romania. Ready4NetZero aims to support cities from the participating countries in developing and implementing 2050 climate neutrality strategies and seeks to do this by building capacity, knowledge and skills among local leaders, municipal staff and local stakeholders, facilitating experiences exchange and dialogue between local authorities.

MediterRE3: Another Opportunity to Share

Fire-prone landscapes in the Mediterranean

In the framework of the MediterRE3 project, led by Istituto Oikos (Italy), 4 partners and 8 members of the Medforval network (Network of Mediterranean Forest Landscapes of High Ecological Value) gathered from 2nd to 5th October 2023 at the Luberon Natural Regional Park (France).

The purpose of the meeting was to disseminate the outputs of the project across the Mediterranean region and to address common challenges and explore possible solutions related to the implementation of fire-smart landscapes (FSL) measures.

Does the FSL management work?

The National Observatory of Athens, partner of the MediterRe3 project, presented the effectiveness of FSL in reducing GHG emissions (WP2), showing how the FSL management in the three target landscapes, will delay and reduce the projected increase in burnt areas due to climate change, and consequently in GHG emissions from wildfires, especially in Greece and Montenegro.

Photo © Istituto Oikos

Innovative approaches to Identifying and managing fire-risk areas sustainably

Representatives from the Luberon Natural Regional Park presented a cartographical technic to identify high fire risk areas based on overlaying a map of different combustibility levels of vegetation with a map depicting various risk categories for fire ignition. This methodology serves as a valuable tool for strategically planning Fire-Smart management across the landscapes. 

One of the measures already implemented in the Luberon Natural Regional Park is the establishment of a network of firebreaks. In alignment with the project objectives, experts from the Durance Luberon Verdon Intercommunity, recommended employing pastoralism as a sustainable alternative to maintain a low biomass fuel load in the firebreaks network. This approach not only effectively reduces the risk of fire ignition and spread but also brings additional benefits to the local farmers and contributes to the overall biodiversity of the region.

First-hand experience in the field

Participants had the opportunity to gain first-hand experience during the field visit which was organised across three distinct locations. Firstly, they explored 240 ha of burnt forests in order to understand the dynamics of fire evolution and restoration operations aimed at encouraging vegetation regrowth. Subsequently they visited a firebreak, understanding its practical implementation and effectiveness. Finally, the field trip concluded at the Saint-Michel Observatory, where participants observed oak (Quercus pubescens) adaptation experiments to climate change.

Photo © Istituto Oikos

Think globally

The workshop was also an occasion for the Medforval network to discuss the main challenges and barriers in addressing fire-smart landscape restoration, distinguishing between economic, governance, know-how transfer and cross sectoral fire management barriers. All agreed on the importance to influence policies and to attract funds for the restoration of our landscapes rather than to focus on single landscapes benefits of FLR principles.

Ownership, laws and responsibilities fragmentation as well as lack of cooperation and knowledge gap emerged as key topics during the discussion. This, led to the consciousness that common challenges require a global perspective. Participants acknowledged the need of “think globally”, beyond regional boundaries, drawing inspirations from case studies also far from Europe.  Cross-countries collaboration facilitated through networks as Medforval, plays a vital role in collecting experiences and sharing solutions.

Study Visit on Bulky Waste Management to Denmark and Sweden

The purpose of the study visit was to get acquainted with the structures and initiatives of Copenhagen, Gothenburg and Malmö in the recycling of bulky waste and the operation of material reuse centres. The visit included six material reuse centres: three in Copenhagen, two in Gothenburg and one in Malmo. The material recycling centres that hosted the mission mainly operated on municipal land, in the vicinity of the Municipality’s recycling plants, and in most cases, the Municipality also covered the salary costs of their operation.

The best organized and closer to the Greek reality were those managed by the Municipality, having created a unique service for their operation. The partnership between the Municipality, the waste management and reuse companies and the social services in Gothenburg was impressive, where, in addition to the collection, sorting and reuse unit, a social restaurant operated in the same area, staffed by vulnerable social groups, the unemployed and people in reintegration and open to all the “customers” of the material unit.

The participants were also interested in the Malmo municipal reuse unit, which gave the feeling of a well-organised supermarket of reused materials, with full sustainability, minimal staff (only eight people for a 500 sq. meters space) and profitability, which was returned as income to the Municipality. It is worth noting that all the examples of plants included in the visit were sustainable and with high reuse rates of their materials in countries where the culture of reuse is, of course, well established.

The visit concluded with a summary of what was presented during the trip and highlighting examples that could be adopted in Kavala city. In the framework of this project, Kavala has created an electronic platform for the management of bulky materials, which is expected to be presented in the coming weeks, and in the next phase, a small workshop for the processing of materials will be attempted. Municipality of Kavala is implementing EUKI project CURE+ in cooperation with the Riga Energy Agency (leading the project), the City of Tartu, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and Elisava Barcelona School of Engineering and Design. The project aims to improve the management of municipal waste through the reuse of useful waste by respecting the principles of the circular economy

Implementing Lessons from MENERGERS

The training aimed to prepare the expert teams of the three pilot municipalities in Bulgaria – Ruse, Sapareva Banya and Svilengrad for the implementation of the compiled model of the Energy Manager Services. This model, developed to enable municipalities to fulfil their role as local energy managers successfully and thereby contribute to national climate goals, was created through an intensely interactive process that combined 2 workshops, a study visit to Germany to exchange good practices, face-to-face meetings with municipal mayors and teams and guided needs assessment in each municipality.

Photo © NTEF.

As a result of the training, the relevant experts now have the needed knowledge and skills, as well as the relevant materials and sample documents to launch the implementation of the institutional model as effectively as possible. Also, a manual for implementing ISO 50001 for Municipal Energy Management systems and the original software for its implementation were developed in the frame of a previous EUKI-supported project for Bulgaria. This original information system will serve the functions of information management and analysis as a basis for decision making in the field of municipal energy management.

This photo shows the people participating in training, sitting at their desks and listening to the expert.
Photo © NTEF.

The training team includes experts from SOFENA, NTEF, the Center for Energy Efficiency EnEffect and a currently active Municipal Energy Manager from a Bulgarian municipality. All the Bulgarian municipalities involved in the project have already made the necessary changes in their structures and from 1st of March, they are applying all the lessons learned.

This image is a group photo of the training participants, took inside the building.
Photo © NTEF.

Click here for an infographic on MENERGERS.

Public Call for Local Self-Governments in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Montenegro

SECAP is a key document that represents the way in which local authorities will contribute to the implementation of specific activities aimed at mitigating the capacities at the local level, in relation to climate change, as well as efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Based on predetermined criteria, five municipalities/cities will be selected in each project country, to work on the development of SECAP in the coming period. The selected LSGs will receive support for developing these strategic documents as technical assistance, including advisory services and engagement of experts for document preparation. During this process, activities will also be organized for employees in local governments concerning capacity building, such as training and workshops.

As a condition for preparing SECAP, selected municipalities/cities will accede to the Covenant of Mayors – the world’s largest movement of cities and municipalities focused on local activities affecting climate and energy. By joining this covenant, LSGs demonstrate their commitment to achieving EU climate and energy goals, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The call is announced within the three-year project “Green Kick,” which is simultaneously implemented in three countries of the region and aims to strengthen the influence of civil society in the field of decarbonization and climate change protection. Some of the main activities of the project include capacity development, improving cooperation between civil society organizations and LSGs, and the public campaign “Green Transition has no alternative.” The project is implemented in partnership with the Center for Development and Support CRP from Tuzla, Smart Kolektiv from Belgrade and FORS Montenegro from Nikšić.

More information about the public call and application process is available in the Serbian and Montenegrin language.

Conclusions Webinar 5: “Climate Neutrality Awareness, the Key to Society Involvement in a Sustainable Future”

Izabela Kuśnierz, from PNEC – Association of Municipalities Polish Network “Energie Cités”, the coordinator of the project, welcomed the participants to the 5th webinar of the project, which delved deeper into the concept of Climate Neutrality. The main objectives of the project were mentioned, including the capacity-building webinars, workshops, study visits, the communication campaign and also the guidance document that will be published in the spring.

The webinar, moderated by Mariana Țînțărean together with Alina Alexa, invited three very relevant speakers, who explore how local authorities and citizens can work together to achieve Climate Neutrality, discussing the available instruments for implementing Climate Neutrality initiatives making them accessible and achievable for everyone.

The first speaker of the event was Oliver Hölcke, Advisor for Communications at the European Climate Initiative (EUKI). Oliver is a trained journalist and before joining the EUKI communications team, he worked at various radio stations in Germany, he was also responsible for public relations at the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the Federal Environment Ministry and he worked for corporate communications at GIZ.

Oliver Hölcke presentation, Photo: © OER.

After a brief presentation of EUKI, and the financed projects that focus on energy efficiency Oliver introduced himself, and his presentation, called “KISS – Keep It Short &Simple”, focused on some of the simplest and most effective ways of communicating.

He shared with the participants tips & tricks about how to effectively transmit a short but powerful message. One very important aspect mentioned by Oliver on successful communication was the “Target Group Analysis”, as it is always worthwhile asking yourself who the audience is.

In conclusion, Oliver pointed out that external communication is crucial for the image and reputation of a company, an institution, or a project. It builds and maintains relationships and trust with citizens, partners, stakeholders, and the public. Communication conveys the values, goals, and services, and offers an increased level of visibility, awareness and competitiveness.

When the participants asked him about some tips for climate communications, Oliver highlighted the importance of tailoring your message to your target audience. A simple message can be the key but if an image is also used, the message regarding climate emergency will be more powerful.

The second speaker was Allison Le Corre, Communications & EU Policy at Energy Cities. Allison joined Energy Cities in May 2022. As a communications specialist working on EU policy, she is intent on making climate politics more understandable to all and firmly believes in the power of storytelling to advance climate action.

Allison Le Corre presentation, Photo: © OER.

Her speech focused on “How can cities mobilize and empower citizens in their journeys to climate neutrality?” while municipalities are only responsible for 5-15% of their city’s emissions. The solution proposed by Allison to engage the 90% left, comes in 3 steps: Raising awareness (Making the journey understandable), Engagement (Making the journey interactive), Empowerment (Making it everyone’s journey).

Facilitation. Photo: © OER.

Another important element in citizen engagement is the citizen assemblies, which consist of randomly selected groups of individuals at the local or national level who convene to deliberate on an important issue. A very useful resource is KNOCA’s Guide to Climate Assemblies.

Corina Murafa, an independent public policy expert, activist and university lecturer in climate, energy and sustainability was the last of the three speakers. She has been collaborating with large non-profit, public and private organisations, giving a voice to civil society organizations in Brussels and Bucharest, as a member of the European Economic and Social Committee and of the Economic and Social Council of Romania. Her work focuses mostly on the just energy transition, energy poverty and ESG transformations in corporations. She is a member of the Romanian Energy Poverty Observatory and a lecturer, PhD, at the Faculty of Business Administration at Bucharest University of Economic Studies, having a solid academic background through studies and long-term fellowships in energy and climate economics and policy.

Corina Murafa presentation, Photo: © OER.

Corina gave another perspective on the challenges regarding the Climate Neutrality communication approach in 2024. She talked about misinformation, how fake news travels faster than true stories and how we can distinguish the truth from a myth. She selected and presented to the participants some relevant examples of fake news that propagated very fast lately all over Europe. But, in this context, Corina emphasised that inaction is more costly than action, so a solution may involve the citizens and several examples and ideas were presented for the municipalities to take into consideration: Idea #1: A Climate Assembly, Idea #2: An Energy Community, Idea #3: Green schools.

Facilitation. Photo: © OER.

The last part of the webinar was a more interactive one, dedicated to the Q&A and open discussions. Râmnicu Vâlcea Municipality, a Pilot City from Romania, shared some great news, they are going to organise the first Citizens Assembly in March-June. This year! They will send 2000 letters to 2000 citizens in the coming week to invite them to a civic lottery, then they will choose 20 members of the first citizens’ jury.

Q&A session, Photo: © OER.

The questions raised by the participants were mainly about the challenges that the municipality are facing in their Climate Neutrality journey. The increasing number of extremist parties across the whole of Europe and their messages against the European Union, and the energy resources crisis generated by the war in Ukraine.

All three speakers concluded that the fight for Climate Neutrality is not a short-term challenge, it requires a long-term approach that starts with the education of the younger generation. As for the crises that arise along the way, they should not change the long-term goal, but on the contrary, are challenges that make us find new solutions and be resilient

  • Oliver emphasized that the abundance of news, mixed with so much fake news makes it difficult for people to remain connected to the truth.
  • Allison also considers that education could be the key, but in the meantime, communication and dialog is also very important to prevent fake news spread.
  • Corina concluded that prevention is better than cure, schools can be involved in the dialog to prepare the next generation of citizens. While awareness of the benefits of green technologies can increase the citizen’s involvement, climate solutions are solutions not only for the good of the planet but also for the well-being of citizens.

The webinar recording can be accessed here.

Ending the webinar, the host concluded that effective and targeted communication is essential for climate action and any similar sustainability-related initiatives, or in short “Building the right message to the right target”, and announced the next webinar, which will be the last in the series of 6, it will take place on March 12.

Municipality of Kavala Invests in Knowledge Transfer on Bulky Waste Management

The study visit aimed to get acquainted with structures and initiatives in the Netherlands to recycle bulky waste. The participants were interested in the CIEPs involved in processing and reusing MSW materials and the highly organized system of reuse, meeting the furniture needs of vulnerable social groups at the neighborhood level, and creating jobs for unemployed people through this activity. Large Dutch private companies in the building materials sector are actively contributing to the system of reuse by supporting the efforts of local CSOs in processing and recycling their products as part of reducing company’s carbon footprint. Kavala’s interest was focused on the reuse center in the Hague, where architects and professionals in the cultural industries sector, in cooperation with the bulky waste collection service, operated workshops for processing and reusing bulky objects for use in their design projects.

The meeting concluded with a summary of what was presented and highlighted examples that could be adopted in Kavala as well. The next study visit is scheduled for the end of February 2024, this time to cities in Denmark and Sweden.

Municipality of Kavala is implementing CURE+ project in cooperation with the Riga Energy Agency (leading the project), the City of Tartu, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and Elisava Barcelona School of Engineering and Design. The project aims to improve the management of municipal waste through the reuse of useful waste by respecting the principles of the circular economy.

Carbon Sequestration by Composting around Mount Etna

Within our EUKI project Humus per la Biosfera we promoted and realised organic composting in schools, for private households and municipalities.

Following environmental education lessons and outdoor activities with 4500 students, a total of 19 school composters were installed in 11 municipalities. Each year, we calculate that more than 12 tonnes of CO2 eq. will be sequestered thanks to them. The 4500 schoolchildren who were taught took home special instructions and recommendations for small garden and balcony composters as well as fermentation using the “Bokashi” method. Subsequent surveys revealed an implementation in the households of (extrapolated) 495 own humus productions to date (11% of the total students involved).

Randazzo students start using school composter donated by GV during the Humus project. Photo: © Giacche Verdi Bronte

GV volunteer Lennart Jech looks after the composter set up in the garden of the volunteer house. It is also used by neighbours and provides humus for the neighbourhood flower pots. Photo: © Giacche Verdi Bronte

The HUMUS project encourages municipalities to provide and promote communal composting areas for their residents. Together with local experts and a model municipality in southern Sicily, we explain to the 27 municipalities participating in the planned biosphere reserve “Terre della Biosfera” why and how to set up such an initiative on a permanent basis and how much money could be saved by recycling their own organic waste.

A growing amount of today 3 community composters are promoted and partly already installed in cooperation with municipalities with a realistically estimated sequestration quota of 45 tonnes of CO2 within the next 10 years.

In total, the carbon sequestration achieved so far is about 30t and in the next 10 years we expect it to reach 165t thanks to school and community composters.

GV Collaborator Dr. D. Pulvirenti and Architect M. Terranova explain design methodologies for communal composting sites during a webinar of the Humus project. Photo: © Giacche Verdi Bronte