Policy brief : Meeting "Fearless Cities"

By Claire Roumet on 4 July 2017

This month, I have been fortunate enough to meet many local charismatic, committed leaders. Barcelona, Paris, Valencia, Heidelberg, Ghent, Växjo, Atlanta, Cape Town, Chefchaouen, Seoul… The list is too long to give it in full. What I retain from these fruitful meetings (1) are two main points:

  • What is at stake now is our capacity to redesign local governance for the energy and societal transition
  • Cities determined to take action need multi-level partnerships.

Local governance of the energy transition still needs to be invented

In the early 2000s, urban transformations were still a differentiating factor between industrialised and developing countries and between America’s urban sprawl and Europe’s historic centres; today, cities have access to technological solutions to help them solve many of their problems. What is at stake now is our capacity to redesign local governance for the energy and societal transition, to invent new partnerships between municipalities, businesses and citizens’ organisations. This involves changing the decision-making process so as to engage and mobilise all stakeholders in the transition and scaling up by sharing responsibilities. This democratisation process concerns all continents, a common challenge that makes international exchanges even more relevant. For example, we, Europeans, could learn from the citizens of Oakland, USA who have just voted in a referendum to increase taxes to finance transition infrastructures whilst imposing resilience selection criteria (impact on climate change etc.).

A multilevel partnership for committed cities

The commitment of Mayors and Governors following President Trump’s announcement is proof of it: cities are determined to take action, they want to accelerate the transition and they are already managing the necessary adaptation to climate change by making the transition a local development project that creates jobs and improves social inclusion. They are up in arms about their governments when they fail to support this movement and are too slow about decentralising production and divesting from fossil fuels. Policies at different institutional levels have to be aligned, as shown by the discussion between the European mayors of the Covenant of Mayors and the European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, Miguel Arias Cañete. The Commissioner was seeking the support of mayors to roll out electric car charging stations. During the lively exchange that followed, the mayors retorted that the Commission’s role is to set ambitious targets and a vision of future mobility; but for them, this vision cannot be defined by simply one single clean energy medium. What they want is to drastically reduce the number of cars and lorries in cities. Signs of tension between the different institutions are also present in the discussions between Member States, the Parliament and the European Commission on the Energy Market Directive. With the Member States looking to dispense with small producers (community energy), the challenge is to invent a new form of multilevel governance.

Local energy transition governance and multi-level partnerships: Two avenues that remain to be explored. They are not new, but they are now widely acknowledged and there are too few successful experiments that could be used as a source of inspiration. It is now time to move from theory to full-scale tests. And the cities are ready to carry out such tests. Kasim Reed, Mayor of Atlanta, said: “We are not Paris, we are not NY, but we are doing the transition: if Atlanta can do it, everybody can do it”. The cities are “fearless” as they showed at the first “Fearless Cities” summit in Barcelona earlier this month.

The primary driving force for action is, in fact, not being afraid of getting involved, of making mistakes, of standing up to other institutions and sharing decisions. All the Mayors I have met share this resolve.

by Claire Roumet, Executive Director of Energy Cities

(1) The Fearless Cities summit in Barcelona ; The European and Global Covenant of Mayors Boards in Brussels; the City Action Lab of the German Marshall Fund in Turin ; EUSEW 2017 in Brussels

Copyright photo: punklupin

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Vilvoorde Belgium | Wien Austria | Krizevci Croatia | Sustainable City Network (GR) Greece | CEDEF-Central European Development Forum (RS) Serbia
Events to come
EU Sustainable Energy Week
From 17 to 21 June

Covenant of Mayors training on project financing
Monday 17 June

Capacity-building workshop - Providing energy retrofit packages to private homeowners – business models and project implementation
Wednesday 19 June

10 years of ELENA - Supporting investments in energy efficiency and sustainable transport
Thursday 20 June 15:30-18:30

Designing smart and efficient energy policies with citizens
Friday 21 June 13:30-16:30

Rénovation énergétique des bâtiments et ensembles d’immeubles - Voyage d’étude, région de Lille
From 25 to 26 June

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