Deep transformation as a way out of the crisis

Municipalities across Europe are intensifying their ambition

The 1.5 degree limit, climate neutrality by 2050 and getting greenhouse gas emissions to 55% below 1990 levels by 2030 – there are numerous climate action targets both internationally and Europe-wide. In order to achieve these goals, great ambition and determined action at all levels is of the essence; the local level is no exception. Now, on the tail of both the European Covenant of Mayor’s celebration of its revised goals and our network’s adoption of the Climate Alliance Charter as well as with November’s UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow right around the corner, the time is ripe to translate those high-level targets into concrete local action.

Networks and initiatives working for and with municipalities such as Climate Alliance or the Covenant of Mayors can provide guidance in this maze of ambitions and reduction goals. While targets can point us in a general direction, we need to break these goals into concrete measures and define the question of HOW. How can ambitious targets be achieved at the EU, national and local level? Climate Alliance has taken a further step in this sense with the adoption of the Member Charter in September, providing members with clearer paths towards at times quite vague targets as well as concrete recommendations for action.

"Be it flood disasters, extreme heat or the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the events of recent months have made it clear how important ambitious climate action is. Acting now is essential, but what that action looks like is at least as important. The adoption of the charter is a milestone for our network and a big step towards the future", comments Andreas Wolter, President of Climate Alliance and Mayor of the City of Cologne, Germany.  

The European Commission’s Covenant of Mayors – an initiative for which Climate Alliance has been a driving force since its launch in 2008 – has also set more ambitious goals in response to the climate crisis, calling on the support of mayors across Europe. Back in April 2021, the Covenant of Mayors published its renewed targets with a bold vision and demanding ambitions. Covenant signatories now commit to reaching climate neutrality by 2050 as well as to implementing adaptation measures and alleviating energy poverty through a just transition – the latter two being key issues brought to the attention of the Covenant and to EU circles more generally in part by Climate Alliance’s tireless work. Since then, the Covenant of Mayors has called on its signatories across Europe to renew their climate commitments. Like Climate Alliance, the Covenant stresses the importance of intensifying action on the ground in the long term to instigate a just transformation in Europe as a way out of the climate crisis.

This call was reinforced by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, in a recent open letter to local representatives. "Energy and climate targets must translate into concrete actions on the ground, for which you play an essential role,” she writes. “We will need your assistance in carrying out the Ren-ovation Wave and protecting vulnerable citizens from energy poverty, ensuring a just transition to a cleaner, greener society."

Both von der Leyen's message to European municipalities and the new commit-ments of the Covenant of Mayors set the framework for climate action at municipal level throughout Europe. Climate Alliance’s new Charter compliments this framework, showing that not all climate protection is created equal: it is of the essence that climate protection be fair, nature-based, local, resource-saving and diverse. The Charter shows how fair and effective climate action can look. After all, the measures taken to achieve the defined goals have a major influence on the quality of the results. "Climate protection" based on CO2 compensation mechanisms, for example, can lead to diluted results and thus jeopardise goals in the long term. In a catalogue of approaches, Climate Alliance now makes concrete recommendations on how a just transformation can be shaped on the ground. The topics range from climate neutrality, 100% renewable energies and energy poverty to the introduction of a CO2 price and citizen participation as well as responsibility for climate justice.

The European Green Deal, the renewed commitments of the Covenant of Mayors and the new Climate Alliance Charter – all these developments are responses to an intensified climate crisis. They clearly show that it is time to act – also and especially at the local level!

"We can only achieve what we need to achieve if we act together, in solidarity. This is the European spirit." Ursula von der Leyen's message to local representa-tives from across Europe should motivate us to take our common responsibility seriously and follow our ambitions with meaningful action.

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written October 2021