Today, around 75% of Europeans live in cities. Urban areas account for 60 to 80% of global energy consumption and around the same share of CO2 emissions. Climate change has the potential to influence almost all components of the urban environment and raises new, complex challenges for quality of urban life, health and urban biodiversity. Some cities will experience droughts and increased temperatures. Others may experience floods. Climate change will affect many aspects of urban living from air quality to consumption patterns. The EU has put in place ambitious policies and initiatives to promoting solutions on the ground. These include initiatives to increase resilience and promote renewable energies and low-carbon technologies.

Panoramic view of Gran Via, Madrid, Spain © iStock

EU domestic achievements

Funding for cities under the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF).

Urban areas are directly targeted by several of the European Regional Development Fund investment priorities. This means greater opportunity - for sustainable urban mobility, for physical, economic and social regeneration of deprived communities and for improvements in research and innovation capacity.

A minimum 5% of the European Regional Development Fund will be invested in integrated sustainable urban development in each EU Member State. City authorities will decide on how these funds will be directed. In total, some €330 million will be available to fund innovative actions in the field of sustainable urban development over a seven-year period.

The Covenant of Mayors

The Covenant of Mayors was launched by the European Commission in 2008 to endorse and support the efforts of local authorities in the implementation of sustainable climate and energy policies. More than 5,500 signatories have voluntarily committed to increase energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources on their territories. By their commitment, they support the European Union's 20% CO2 reduction objective to be reached by 2020.

Mayors Adapt initiative

While the Covenant of Mayors focuses on mitigating climate change, Mayors Adapt concentrates on taking action to anticipate the adverse effects of climate change and take action to prevent or minimise the damage. By the end of 2014, the EU aims to have a well-running network of at least 50 cities that have voluntarily committed to design local adaptation strategies and integrate adaptation action across different municipal competences.

URBACT 2014-2020 network

URBACT is a European exchange and learning programme promoting sustainable urban development. It enables cities to work together to develop solutions to major urban challenges, reaffirming their role they play in facing increasingly complex societal changes. URBACT also helps cites to develop pragmatic solutions that are new and sustainable, and that integrate economic, social and environmental dimensions. Some 500 cities and regional authorities are already involved and the number is growing. It is helping to advance mitigation and adaptation actions as part of addressing urban challenges

The European Green Capital Award

As well as being the source of many of today’s environmental challenges, urban areas can also be the source of many of the solutions. Local governments and authorities can provide the commitment and innovation needed to tackle and resolve many of these problems.

One of the policy tools the European Commission is using to address these challenges is the European Green Capital Award (EGCA), which recognises and rewards local efforts to improve the environment, the economy and the quality of life in cities. The EGCA is given each year to a city that is leading the way in environmentally friendly urban living and which can act as a role-model to inspire other cities.

EU involvement in UN and international initiatives

The Urban Low Emission Development Strategies (Urban-LEDS) project, funded by the European Commission, and implemented by UN-Habitat and ICLEI- Local Governments for Sustainability, aims to accelerate the transition to low-emission urban development in emerging economy countries. The project involves EU cities and communities in Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and India.

EU fast start financing during 2010-2012 has supported a number of urban development projects on adaptation and mitigation in cities in developing countries, including in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. 

The EU is supporting a number of urban resilience initiatives under its Action Plan for Resilience in Crisis Prone Countries. This Action Plan lays the foundations for more effective EU collaborative action on building resilience, bringing together humanitarian action, long term development cooperation and on-going political engagement. Building on the experience of a pilot strategy on urban community risk reduction in Bangladesh (ACP-EU), these initiatives include pilot strategies covering the following areas:

  • Urban risk assessments
  • Longer term resilience
  • Contingency planning
  • Cohesive multi-sector approaches
  • Government commitments