Cities and climate change


Home to 80% of EU citizens and 70% of greenhouse gas emissions, urban areas play a key role in fighting climate change; but cities' access to funding for green policies is proving a major stumbling block.

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The EU does not have direct competence in urban affairs, but its cohesion policies and sectoral policies in the areas of transport, environment and social affairs, for example, can have a significant impact on cities and their capacity to deal with these challenges.

The European Commission launched a 'Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment' in January 2006 to underline the importance of cities in both adapting to climate change and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. The policy was one of seven thematic strategies in the Commission's 6th Environmental Action Programme (6th EAP) and called for action in four priority areas: urban management, sustainable transport, construction and urban design.

On 24 May 2007, ministers responsible for urban and spatial development signed the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities (EurActiv 24/05/07), laying the foundations for an integrated urban development policy.

Moreover, the EU's legally binding objective of slashing greenhouse-gas emissions and boosting renewable energies by 20% by 2020 have sprouted legislation whose successful implementation hinges partially on cities.

In December 2008, EU lawmakers agreed on an ambitious energy and climate change package to deliver the bloc's 2020 climate targets. It is also currently reviewing the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, as well as the Energy Labelling Directive, as part of its Second Strategic Energy Review (EurActiv 14/10/08).

On 10 February 2009, over 350 European cities committed to becoming frontrunners in the EU's fight against climate change by signing the Covenant of Mayors, pledging to exceed the Union's climate targets for 2020 (EurActiv 11/02/09).