International Urban Cooperation (IUC)

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    EU cities who wish to exchange with a city facing similar sustainable urban development challenges in another global region are encouraged to apply to take part in the International Urban Cooperation (IUC) city-to-city cooperation programme. 

    To date, over 60 pairings have been established between local governments in Europe and in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and North America through the IUC programme. The programme aims to foster international links at the local level, enabling local leaders to gain new perspectives on pressing sustainable development issues.

    Barcelona (Spain) and New York City (USA), Rotterdam (The Netherlands) and Surat (India), Rome (Italy) and Yantai (China), and Almada (Portugal) and Belo Horizonte (Brazil) are among the established IUC pairings working together.

    To join the cooperation programme, local governments must fill in an online form by 08 March 2019. Chosen cities commit to cooperating intensively with their partner city for at least 18 months, developing a Local Action Plan focused on a particular area of sustainable urban development. Participating cities will become part of a large community of peers and stakeholders committed to enhancing sustainable urban development.

    Cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants are encouraged to apply. Groups of municipalities will also be eligible to apply, but only if their total population exceeds 100,000 inhabitants.

    Within this round of pairings, European cities will have the opportunity to cooperate with counterparts in Japan, China, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Chile and Colombia.

    Measures and actions implemented by cities taking part in the IUC programme will contribute to achieving the objectives of the UN 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the New Urban Agenda for the European Union, the Sendai Framework and the Paris Agreement, enhancing quality of life in urban areas.

    The IUC programme is financially supported by the Foreign Policy Instrument of the European Union, and is coordinated in conjunction with DG REGIO, DG ENER and DG CLIMA of the European Commission.

    For more information, visit the IUC website.

    Ronald Hall, Senior External Expert and former Principal Advisor to DG REGIO, gives his personal perspective on the EU’s International Urban Cooperation programme.

    More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. Urban centres are the source of growth and development. As such, they are magnets for rural dwellers seeking opportunities to earn higher incomes, access high-quality services such as education and health care, and secure a better future for their children.

    This shift from lower productivity activities in the rural areas, principally traditional agriculture, to more added-value ones in urban areas in manufacturing and many service sectors, is key to how economies grow. It is the path taken historically by all the world’s most developed countries and, as such, is the model being adopted, in effect, by emerging counties across the globe.

    The benefits of urbanisation resulting, in particular, from the resource-intensive model of urban development which characterised the growth of industrial nations in the 20th century, has come at a price. It has led to the depletion of natural resources – including nature itself – and pollution of the air, rivers and oceans, which now threaten the quality of life in the metropolises of the developed world.

    For the developing and emerging countries – where urbanisation and economic growth go hand in hand – it is important that the lessons learned from the industrial world are fully understood. In this way, good practices that have been developed by national and city authorities over recent decades, and the mistakes which have been made historically, can be taken on-board in urban policy in emerging countries.

    In pursuit of the win-win

    Such cooperation creates win-win situations. While the industrial nations have much to demonstrate after a century or more of urbanisation, it is equally true that the emerging economies, perhaps less fettered by tradition, have many innovative solutions to share with the industrial economies. Indeed, some of the world’s largest urban centres are to be found in the emerging economies in countries such as China and India, as well as in Latin America.

    But perhaps the overwhelming need for cooperation and knowledge-sharing derives from the joint interest across countries and continents in preserving the planet itself. There is an urgent need to develop together a model of urbanisation that is sustainable, that preserves nature and natural resources, and that lowers the emissions that pollute our cities, harm our children’s health and contribute to global warming. This is the reason why sustainable urbanisation is central to the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations and which, in turn, has led, among other things, to the New Urban Agenda (NUA) adopted by over 170 countries in Quito, Ecuador in 2016.

    The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy has formalised 14 regional and urban policy dialogues, including six EU 'strategic partners' (China, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Japan and India) as well as the Eastern Partnership countries (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia) and Latin American countries (Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia) and the Central American Integration System (SICA). Even in the absence of such agreements, cooperation has been developed with other strategic partners, like Canada and South Africa, and regional groupings such as CARICOM (Caribbean Community), ASEAN (Asia), SACU (southern Africa) and UEMOA (West Africa).

    The EU takes the challenge of sustainable urbanisation very seriously. The Commissioner for Regional Policy, Corina Creţu, representing the EU in Quito in 2016, committed the EU to devoting knowledge and resources to advancing the NUA. This has both an internal dimension inside the EU, where it has developed the EU Urban Agenda to guide its urban development programmes in the 28 Member States, and, as discussed below, an external dimension through its diplomatic relations with non-EU countries.

    A force for sustainable urban development

    The key vehicle for taking forward the external dimension today is the International Urban Cooperation (IUC) programme (2017-2019) which has an essential component that supports EU and non-EU city authorities to work together on sustainable urban development themes. The IUC is based on five years of pilot actions, notably under the EU’s World Cities project and the URBELAC project.   

    Under World Cities (2015-2018), EU cities have cooperated in a pairing arrangement with city counterparts in Canada, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Australia and South Africa. The pairings have exchanged experience on themes such as smart city development, energy efficiency, waste management, sustainable mobility, etc. Under URBELAC (2011-2019), which is now entering its fourth edition, the European Commission and the Inter-American Development Bank have been supporting cities drawn from the EU and Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) cities. It has created an EU-LAC network promoting exchange of experiences, benchmarking and the preparation of action plans. Both World Cities and URBELAC are the tangible result of the European Parliament’s support for international diplomacy at the city level.

    The IUC is establishing urban cooperation platforms with China, India, Japan, Latin America and North America. Its programme marks the coming of age of EU policy to promote international cooperation between cities. Under IUC city-to-city cooperation, some 70 participating cities on each side establish new city-to-city cooperation agreements for sustainable urban development. This involves the preparation of local action plans for integrated urban development. Fundamentally, these plans give priority to cooperation within the sectors of the EU Urban Agenda and the NUA.

    Drawing on the World Cities project experience, the cities use a multi-stakeholder approach, applying the knowledge and experience of the public authorities, business, the research community and civil society. The EU’s own URBACT programme for urban networking is being used as a key source of knowledge and experience to support local action planning.

    IUC city-to-city has led to the development of joint pilot projects, while MoUs ensuring their long-term future have been signed between public authorities, research agencies and business representatives on both sides.

    Setting a good example

    For instance, under the IUC, the city of Parma (Italy) was paired with Fredericton (Canada). The Canadian city’s Department of Heritage and Urban Planning, Growth and Community Services is cooperating with Parma's Equal Opportunities Office and European Project Office. Aiming to enhance local democracy, the two sides are working on identifying the barriers that hinder the political participation of marginalised groups and their root causes, and on possible policies and mechanisms to eliminate them and create a more inclusive urban environment.

    The Italian city of Bologna (Italy) is collaborating with Austin (United States) on various issues ranging from developing a more healthy local food system and improving resource efficiency to enhancing resilience to climate change. City governance issues have been high on the agenda and, for example, Austin has drawn the conclusion that its Office of Sustainability and the Office of Economic Development need to develop closer coordination.

    Rotterdam (the Netherlands) is working with Surat (India). The cities are focusing on tackling issues related to water management, such as ensuring the quality of drinking water, mitigating water pollution from industrial run-off, protecting against flooding, and effectively treating sewage. In Rotterdam, Surat has found a knowledgeable partner with a wealth of water-management experience. In Surat, Rotterdam has found a city dealing with issues on a much larger scale, which has already inspired the Dutch city to think differently about the challenges they face. 

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Sustainable and innovative cities and regions – 2016/2019

Connecting cities and ideas for better urban living

Cities are growing and changing so fast that many authorities are struggling to cope. More people can mean more economic activity and wealth, but it can also mean added strain on energy, water, health, transport and housing facilities. All this, in turn, puts pressure on the environment, and more widely on climate change.

This is why the European Union is launching a three-year programme to promote international urban cooperation. Europe’s cities want to link up, build and share knowledge and solutions with other cities and regions.

In this first phase of a long-term strategy of fostering urban diplomacy – a vehicle of EU external relations – the IUC boosts sectoral, transversal and international urban cooperation and exchange with key city partners (public and private) in Asia and the Americas (box). With a budget of over EUR 20 million, IUC activities support Habitat III goals as well as the Paris COP 21 declaration and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The IUC will build on existing cooperation through:

  • City-to-city cooperation on sustainable urban development
  • Sub-national action under the Global Covenant of Mayors initiative
  • Inter-regional cooperation on innovation for local and regional development

Target countries include China, India, Japan, Canada, Mexico, USA, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru. For the Covenant initiative, South Korea, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC)  are included.

City-to-city cooperation on sustainable urban development

Building on the success of the World Cities project and drawing on the solid approach of the EU-funded URBACT network, city pairs will be supported in their efforts to design, implement and manage sustainable urban practices in an integrated and participative way. Local action plans will be developed through an inclusive multi-stakeholder process and include specific activities and economically viable pilot projects to be implemented in the short term in order to ensure results and open up market opportunities. These plans will help drive thematic clustering of knowledge, exchange and best practices among cities facing similar challenges.

Sub-national action under the Global Covenant of Mayors initiative

Cities and other sub-national authorities will be encouraged to join a global initiative to tackle climate change challenges focused on mitigation, adaptation and universal access to energy, in line with the principles of the EU Covenant of Mayors. Support on methodologies, governance, training and capacity building will be provided, as well as technical assistance to encourage implementation of ambitious climate commitments. A powerful knowledge-sharing element will spur inter-city cooperation, learning and innovation.

Inter-regional cooperation on innovation for local and regional development

Support will focus on ways to improve and internationalise regional innovation and cooperation in and between the EU, Latin America and the Caribbean. The programme will stimulate the development or strengthening of regional strategies involving SMEs in the innovation sector, and it will promote international value chains.  It will collect and share experience, good practice and lessons learnt to enable knowledge management and development.  The Smart Specialisation (S3) platform established by the European Commission will act as a multiplier to further promote knowledge sharing inside the EU as well.

Tackling the funding gap

To address a recognised barrier for progress on urban development, the IUC programme will engage with major international financial institutions and partners to link city decision-makers with potential funders. EU business will be an important partner for activities under the components on sustainable urban development.


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