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Urban Issues at stake

Under the series of themes in the menu, you will find an inventory of the various programmes and initiatives which are funded by the European Commission and which have an urban dimension. A link to the relevant web addresses on Europa or beyond is provided under each entry. In addition, some recommended links are provided to European associations or research consortia.

Green cities

Sustainable mobility in cities

The urban dimension of the EU transport policy

The European Commission promotes sustainable urban mobility and the increased use of clean and energy efficient vehicles, to help strengthen Europe’s economy and improve the quality of life of its citizens.

New political challenges have emerged in recent years: climate change, energy policy, air quality legislation, and the difficulties of tackling congestion are just some examples. The objective now is to improve mobility while at the same time reducing congestion, accidents and pollution in European cities.

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ELTIS: the main European portal on Urban mobility

ELTIS is Europe's main portal on urban mobility, which helps to facilitate the exchange of information, knowledge and experiences in this field. It is aimed at individuals working in the field of transport, as well as in related disciplines, including urban and regional development, health, energy and environmental sciences.

ELTIS supports the creation of urban transport systems that use less energy and produce fewer emissions, while improving the competitiveness of urban areas and the mobility and quality of life of its citizens.

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The CIVITAS Initiative (‘City-Vitality-Sustainability’, or ‘Cleaner and Better Transport in Cities’) supports cities in introducing ambitious transport measures and policies promoting sustainable urban mobility. Its goal is also to achieve a significant shift towards people using sustainable transport, through encouraging both innovative technology and policy-based strategies.

Almost 60 European cities have been co-funded by the European Commission to implement innovative measures in clean urban transport. an investment amounting to well over EUR 300 million. The larger CIVITAS Forum network comprises almost 200 cities that are committed to implementing and integrating sustainable urban mobility measures.

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Environmentally-friendly cities

The urban dimension of the EU environmental policy

Many environmental problems are concentrated in cities, and the causes are often interrelated. These include changes in lifestyle (growing dependence on the private car, increase in individual households, increasing resource use per capita) and demography.

Many EU environmental laws and other initiatives exist to protect and improve the quality of the urban environment. For instance, EU legislation on air quality, a significant urban concern, establishes targets and limits values for different pollutants. There are action plans to reduce citizens’ exposure to noise and to protect quiet areas, and legislation on waste management and urban waste water treatment has helped reduce cities’ impact on the wider environment.

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European Green Capital Award

The European Green Capital Award (EGCA) rewards local efforts to improve the environment, the economy and the quality of life in cities. Each year the EGCA is given to a city leading the way in environmentally friendly urban living and which can act as a role model to other cities.

The European Commission has already selected the following cities as European Green Capitals: Stockholm, 2010; Hamburg, 2011; Vitoria-Gasteiz, 2012; Nantes, 2013; Copenhagen, 2014; and Bristol, 2015.

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Funding for sustainable cities in the next phase of LIFE

The LIFE programme is the EU’s funding instrument for the environment. The general objective of LIFE is to contribute to the implementation, updating and development of EU environmental policy and legislation by co-financing pilot or demonstration projects with European added value. LIFE began in 1992 and to date there have been three complete phases of the programme (LIFE I: 1992-1995, LIFE II: 1996-1999 and LIFE III: 2000-2006). During this period, LIFE has co-financed some 3104 projects across the EU, contributing approximately €2.2 billion to the protection of the environment. The new LIFE Programme starting in 2014 will co-fund projects on air quality and emissions, including urban environment. The new LIFE Programme starting in 2014 will co-fund projects on air quality and emissions, including urban environment.

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7th Environmental Action Programme

Environmental Action Programmes (EAPs) have guided the development of EU environment policy since the early 1970s, and the 7th EAP should be seen as part of a continuous process spanning 40 years. The new EAP is more strategic in nature than its predecessors, ‘setting out priority objectives to be attained’ (art. 192.3 TFUE) in environment policy in the context of the Europe 2020 Strategy. One of the Priority Objectives of the new EAP is to enhance the sustainability of EU cities.

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Thematic strategy on air pollution

The soon to be proposed air quality package replaces current legislation and will establish objectives for air pollution and proposing measures to be achieved by 2020. It will not only modernise existing legislation, but placing emphasis on the most harmful pollutants, and better involve the sectors and policies that may have an impact on air pollution.

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Urban-related Research & Innovation on environment

EU research and innovation has addressed issues such as: air pollution and climate change and linkages to health and cultural heritage; megacities; integrated tools for assessment and mitigation; urban disasters; spatial planning; urban water and waste management; and soil remediation. The new EU framework programme for research and innovation, Horizon 2020, will support action in this field under the 'Tackling Societal Challenges' pillar.

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Renaturing Cities

The initiative Renaturing Cities is promoted by Directorate I "Climate Action and Resource Efficiency" of DG Research & Innovation in order to investigate innovative tools, strategies and best practices in the field of Nature-Based Solutions that European cities are adopting. This initiative aims to show how renaturing of cities can lead the greening of the European economy by combining greater productivity and innovation capacity with lower costs and reduced environmental impact. Renaturing cities is set-up in line with a systemic, multidisciplinary and multistakeholder approach in order to link greening of cities with other key issues, notably resilience, urban risks, climate change adaptation, ecosystems restoration, human health and wellbeing.

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Cities targeting zero CO2 emissions

Covenant of Mayors

With almost 6000 signatories, the Covenant of Mayors is the biggest movement involving local and regional authorities in the fight against climate change, affecting the daily life of over 191 million people in Europe and beyond in a total of 53 countries.

Local authorities which sign the Covenant of Mayors make a formal voluntary commitment to meet and exceed the EU target of 20 % CO2 reduction by 2020, through increased energy efficiency and the development of renewable energy sources. Each local authority prepares and implements a Sustainable Energy Action Plan (SEAP), which is made public and submitted to the European Commission for evaluation. The cities also commit to encouraging the participation of its citizens and to report regularly on progress to achieving the goals set.

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European Local Energy Assistance (ELENA)

The ELENA scheme, run by the European Investment Bank and financed under the EU’s Intelligent Energy-Europe Programme, provides grants (up to 90 % of eligible costs) to local and regional authorities covering technical assistance costs related to the development of bankable large-scale sustainable energy investments. ELENA also assists local and regional authorities in the efficient spending of cohesion policy funds for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

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Intelligent mobility

Intelligent transport systems (ITS) play a crucial role in the development of cities and benefit drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike. These technologies allow vehicles to ‘talk’ to each other and communicate with the road infrastructure. They can improve traffic fluidity by offering alternatives to congested routes, as well as help to prevent crashes and reduce emergency response times in the case of accidents.

ITS applications can also help commuters to combine different modes of transport and rationalise passenger and freight transport by enabling informed trip decisions. Watch the iMobility video for examples of connected city mobility.

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Research and innovation in the field of construction

The Energy-Efficient Buildings Public-Private Partnership was set up by the Commission in 2009 to tackle the consequences of the global economic downturn. The initiative examines energy-efficient construction and the refurbishment of existing buildings, as well as the design of new neutral/energy-positive buildings and energy-efficient communities.

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EU Regional Policy: Stay informed