2020 has brought significant progress for the EU’s environmental goals. In October, the European Parliament voted in favour of upping the EU’s greenhouse gas emission reduction target to 60%. This forms part of the wider European Climate Law, which is seeking to enshrine the EU’s goal of climate neutrality by 2050 into legislation.
These targets are critical to limit warming in line with the Paris Agreement. In a recent paper, the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) found emissions must fall by 4.2% annually until 2030 to cap warming at 1.5°C.
To deliver this, cities have an integral role to play. Cities cover less than 2% of the world’s surface, yet account for roughly 70% of emissions. In Europe, 36% of greenhouse gas emissions come from houses, offices,shops, and other buildings. Transport represents almost a quarter of emissions, with 72% of those coming from road transport.
Meanwhile, cities are on the frontline of climate change. With three quarters of Europe’s population in cities, the increase of extreme weather events leaves a huge number of people vulnerable to these impacts. CDP analysis shows 85% of cities are already reporting on climate hazards.
How are European cities doing so far?
Five years on from the Paris agreement, CDP’s 2020 Cities A List
reveals the cities leading on environmental action. From the 120 European
cities that disclosed their data to CDP, 33 scored an ‘A’.
Some, like Berlin, Paris and Barcelona are the most populous in Europe, and together the 33 cities house 6% of the continent’s population. These cities are playing a vital role in building the green recovery from COVID-19 urgently needed.
To score an A, a city must have a city-wide emissions inventory, an emissions reduction target, and have published a climate action plan and adaptation plan, among other actions. Cities report to the CDP-ICLEI unified reporting system, which is one of the official reporting platforms for the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.
All the A List cities in Europe have an emissions reduction target - 14 have set a net zero target and 10 are working to be powered by 100% renewables by 2050 or earlier. The City of Lahti has already achieved 41% of its target to reduce emissions to 80% of 1990 levels by 2025.
What actions are the leaders taking?
To achieve this, many cities are transforming their energy, transport, and housing sectors. Cities such as Berlin and Helsinki are phasing out coal stations by 2030, in favour of renewable energy. For Berlin, this will result in an annual reduction of 2 million tonnes CO2 emissions. In Paris, 50.000m2 of solar panels have been installed over a ten-year period and in Porto, 100% of the electricity used by the municipality is generated from renewable sources.
Electric transport is mainstreaming across cities, particularly Barcelona, Heidelberg, and Stockholm. In Barcelona, only electric buses will be purchased from 2025, and in Heidelberg, the first electric bus line is already in operation. Similarly, cities are encouraging cycling; in Turin, 200km of cycle paths have been built. In Berlin, cargo bikes have been introduced, aiming to transform urban mobility.
The European A List cities are also taking action on adaption. With the continent set to experience more extreme weather events, cities are putting in place measures to manage this risk. Barcelona is constructing green roofs, and cities such as Paris and Porto are creating ‘cool islands’ during higher temperatures. Flood plans and monitoring systems are also being put in place. To deal with the risk of flooding, Malmo requires the lowest level for new buildings to be +3.0 m above sea level.
These cities are seeing the benefits of this action, noting the opportunity for jobs in the green sector, building a resilient economy and working closely with business to make the sustainable transition. A report from the Coalition for Urban Transitions shows implementing low-carbon measures in cities could be worth almost US$24 trillion by 2050 and support 87 million jobs annually by 2030.
Policymakers at all levels should encourage cities’ environmental disclosure and ambitious targets
The CDP Cities A list is encouraging, but European cities need to continue to take the lead for a climate resilient future. With EU parliamentarians calling for the 60% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, policymakers must play an active role in encouraging cities to disclose their environmental impact, so they can measure their footprint, and drive the action needed for a climate-safe, deforestation-free and water-secure world.
It will be in Europe’s main cities that the new EU emissions target is delivered. Setting science-based targets (SBTs) will be key in the future. SBTs ensure that companies, cities, and financial institutions are setting targets in line with the latest climate science and set a roadmap for emission reductions. Already, 115 European companies have set 1.5°C targets. Policymakers can help deliver the EU’s targets by supporting cities to set their own.
The EU’s climate neutrality target and soon-to-be-implemented emissions target are ambitious. We need strong, urgent action in place to ensure they are achieved. The European cities on CDP’s Cities A List 2020 are taking the lead; if more cities can ramp up their environmental action, these ambitious new targets can be achieved.