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Key Take-Aways from Multi-Level Collaboration in the Three4Climate Project

Findings on the European Green Deal (EGD) and the role of cities

  • There is a need for participation and commitment on all governmental levels. While the commitment of the national level is crucial since this is where EU policy is implemented, cities themselves need to be engaged already in the design of EU initiatives and funds to ensure that national plans can be translated into concrete local goals.
  • Fit for 55 must mean fitter for cities. The Fit for 55 Package recognises the need to put local authorities under the spotlight and promotes not the one but rather many locally adopted energy transitions. At the same time, supportive measures need to be put in place for the implementation of the envisioned urban transformation in the areas of renewable energy, energy efficiency etc.
  • Everyone – including all citizens – needs to take action. To make progress in the transformation towards climate neutrality, local administrations need to raise awareness among their citizenry to enable them to participate in and contribute to local climate action.
  • Many (particularly small) municipalities face a resource gap. One of the major challenges on the ground is a lack of staff who can handle the application for and implementation of European projects.

Further Information

Insights into funding challenges and opportunities for local implementation

  • Municipalities and the public sector should lead by example, but often lack funding. The legislative proposals of the Fit for 55 package targeting, amongst others, energy efficiency and renewable energy supply, urge local public authorities to lead the way. However, in many cases municipal investment is insufficient, also because of a lack of funding available at the local level.
  • Municipalities need investment concepts to become drivers of innovation and to translate national climate plans into concrete measures. To support municipalities in developing appropriate investment concepts, the European City Facility (EUCF) can be mentioned as a best practice European initiative. One solution proposed to municipalities is to aggregate fragmented smaller projects into larger ones to make them more attractive for the financial sector.
  • Municipalities can profit from expanding their cooperation with other cities. Municipalities could benefit from cooperation projects by establishing new or joining existing networks with other municipalities to tap into their expertise and to develop new projects together.
  • EU funding to support the recovery from the COVID-19-pandemic in the member states is an opportunity for driving the green transition. The Recovery and Resilience Facility, the key instrument of the NextGenerationEU fund, requires that national recovery and resilience plans include a minimum of 37 % expenditure for climate investments and reforms (for more insights into funding opportunities, see the BEACON reports on Financing Climate Action in Municipalities).

Learnings about the needs of schools to engage in climate education

  • Climate education needs to be (properly) integrated into national strategies and the curricula across subjects. As major barriers to enhancing climate education and action in schools, teachers and headmasters identified the lack of climate education and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) requirements in national learning objectives, as well as the lack of a holistic approach to incorporate climate education and ESD in all subjects.
  • Teachers require training as well as financial resources. Further training and guidance for teachers on didactic methods and the provision of learning material for all ages with emphasis on ESD is necessary. Many teachers are promoting climate education and climate projects because of their personal motivation and in their personal time. It is important to establish incentives in terms of payment for extra work and reducing standard teaching hours to free up time for interdisciplinary project work on climate action and sustainability topics.
  • The EU has set up initiatives to promote climate education and climate action in local communities and schools. The Education for Climate coalition seeks to co-create a Europe-wide participatory education community to support the changes needed for a climate-neutral society. The community is to be led by teachers and students with their schools and networks and other educational actors. The European Climate Pact is an EU-wide initiative inviting individuals, communities and organisations to participate in climate action and build a greener Europe. Individuals and organisations can apply to become Climate Pact Ambassadors who act as a bridge between civil society, local stakeholders and the European Commission. The Three4Climate project connected its participating parties with these initiatives to establish further networking.

The main achievements of the Three4Climate project in a nutshell

Despite the COVID-19-pandemic, the Three4Climate project enabled the establishment of an international network between the cities of Loulé and Braga (Portugal), Maribor and Kranj (Slovenia) and Bielefeld and Radolfzell (Germany). This was possible due to a total of ten virtual Three4Climate Campus meetings in 2020 and 2021, three virtual study tours, a student competition, four Climate Action Days at the participating schools, three teacher exchange visits one of which could be conducted in person, as well as a virtual European Dialogue event and the project’s final event.

At the closing event of the project, the representatives of the participating municipalities and schools mentioned knowledge sharing of good practices and ideas as a key benefit of the Three4Climate project. Teachers emphasised that getting to know colleagues in other countries who are actively working on raising awareness about climate change had an encouraging and inspiring effect. Cooperation between municipalities was not only strengthened across borders, but also within the same country through the project activities. Similarly, the ties between municipal administrations and local schools have grown closer which has already sparked future plans. Links to matching EU initiatives and their relevant contacts have also been established with the Three4Climate participants to follow-up on further climate initiatives and respective funding opportunities.

Both teachers and municipal representatives have signaled that they would like to continue the collaboration even after the Three4Climate project’s official end and further cooperation for example in the form of climate partnerships is already foreseen between some of the Three4Climate schools.

Three4Climate Final Event

The conference opened with welcome remarks of the project team and a video review of the project, highlighting major milestones and key achievements. The Three4Climate (T4C) project was set up to run in parallel to the current trio of the EU presidencies of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia with the aim of fostering multi-level collaboration for climate action and translating the spirit of the trio presidency into tangible cooperation at the local level. The event gave an opportunity to representatives of the Ministries of Environment of the three countries to reflect on their efforts in moving towards climate neutrality during their trio term. As Caterina Salb from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) noted: “During the German presidency, the EU was able to agree on a -55% reduction target, Portugal managed to turn this into a Climate Law, and now Slovenia is already busy implementing the FitFor55 package.”

The continuation of the program addressed the issue of the role of cities in achieving the European Green Deal goals. Professor Sonia De Gregorio Hurtado from the Polytechnic University Madrid, in her inspiring keynote speech, pointed out several aspects that she believes should be central to moving from simply recognizing the role of cities in the sustainable transition to mobilizing their capacities and engaging local authorities in EU policy and decision-making. Some of these include: providing cities with economic resources to implement existing solutions, but also to test and try out innovative ideas; promotion of “explicit and institutionalized support for cities’ participation in policy prioritization, decision-making and budgeting”; promotion of the strengthening of their “administrative and social capacities” and supporting “social innovation and co-creation with citizens and local actors”.

Interesting points raised in the keynote speech formed the basis for the rest of the program and were echoed in the following two sessions. The first session, dedicated to the topic of co-designing climate neutral cities, offered insights and learnings about participatory processes in urban development directly from practice. Alina Schütze, from Zebralog, a Germany- and Luxembourg-based agency for consulting and implementation of citizen participation processes, underlined that by using flexible and diverse online and face-to-face formats (barcamp, on-site info kiosks, social media challenges, etc.) and by engaging and collaborating with local politics, initiatives, and young people, bridges can be built between technical expertise and the everyday needs of city dwellers.

Gordana Kolesarič and Cristina Costa from two Slovenian municipalities participating in the T4C project, Maribor and Braga, reflected on their participatory urban development and climate change projects, highlighting lessons learned and success factors, such as starting the project planning and participation process in a timely manner, establishing good working groups and communication in the municipality, initiating awareness and support from media and citizens early on, and involving stakeholders with whom close contact or collaboration already exists, such as local schools or other educational institutions.

In the concluding panel discussion, particular attention was paid to the challenges and opportunities for advancing citizen participation in shaping future carbon-neutral cities. João Morais Mourato, research Fellow at the Institute for Social Sciences University of Lisbon, pointed out that some of the biggest challenges lie in the mismatch between ambition, policy discourse, and implementation; that there is little time to engage the public to meet the 2030 targets without there so far being an adequate answer on how to do so quickly; and that the current model of public administration is not adequate (including being faced with more responsibilities and having to work with fewer staff). Areas for improvement may include increasing resources for local governments (financial, personnel, technical expertise), redesigning its current decision-making model, and including the academic community as a consultative voice.

The second session was dedicated to the in-country and cross-border alliances needed for joint climate action. Frédéric Boyer from the Covenant of Mayors Office for Europe touched upon the obstacles faced by municipalities, such as legal hurdles, and presented several projects and initiatives that support new governance models for climate action. Some of them are: the Swedish Climate City Contract – a contract that provides for long-term cooperation on climate change between nine municipalities, national agencies and soon the EU; the European Capital of Innovation Awards – an annual recognition and financial prize for the European cities that best promote innovation in their communities; the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy in Europe – enables and promotes multi-level governance in climate action; and the TOMORROW project.

In the following course, Linda Beyschlag (Guidehouse) presented a brief summary and key lessons learned from the multi-level collaboration in the T4C project. Conclusions include the need to involve cities in the design of EU initiatives and funds to ensure that national plans can be translated into concrete local goals; the recognition of the potential to use EU Covid-19 recovery funds to drive green change; the need for better integration of climate education into schools and for its inclusion in the curricula of all subjects; and the need to provide training and funding to dedicated teachers who organize extracurricular climate action activities on a voluntary basis.

In the panel discussion that followed, city and school representatives participating in the T4C project, Bruno Reis (Municipality of Loulé) and Jens Olenmeyer (Bethel Highschool Bielefeld) shared their experiences and views with Mr. Boyer and Ms. Salb (BMU) on creating and supporting connections along best practices. Mr. Reis talked about the importance of good communication with the public about projects and actions already implemented and those still in the planning stages to get them on board and ensure their support and participation. Mr. Ohlemeyer emphasized the importance of will and consistency, as well as having a circle of people with similar visions and having support from the “upper levels” – principals and mayors – to persist and move forward with climate action.

The conference program was rounded off with a short video made by students from Maribor’s III Highschool as part of the T4C project and a Q&A discussion with some of its makers, Lora Lorenčič and David Hovnik. The video features sustainable projects in Maribor and is intended to raise awareness of the impact of our lifestyle, food production and eating habits on the environment and will be distributed to the youth.

With the concluding remarks of the project team, the T4C project officially ended. The project has shown that involving municipalities and schools at the local level can make an important contribution to advancing the climate agenda in Europe. At the same time, it confirmed that learning from each other and networking across borders is an important impetus for the development and implementation of specific local actions, laying the groundwork for possible joint actions in the future.