The final conference of the EUKI project Three4Climate (T4C) took place on November 24, 2021 in a virtual format. Over 40 representatives and local climate action experts, including municipal and school officials, teachers and pupils, ministry representatives, non-governmental organizations and associations, as well as university professors from five different countries participated in the event. In addition to a review of the project activities and successes, the event offered latest insights and solutions for a local transformation towards climate-neutral urban living.
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.
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