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Supporting Cities for Sustainable Solutions

September 27, 2010

“Brussels, September 16th 2010: Cities act proactively for sustainable development. They are key actors to achieve the 3×20% target and to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Cochaired by Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Vittorio Prodi and MEP Karima Delli, the high level conference on “Supporting cities for sustainable solutions” emphasized the role of cities as generators of green growth and the need to further help them achieve this goal.

One step forward was made two weeks ago when the Industry, Research and Energy Committee of the European Parliament gave its green light for plans to boost green investments in cities. The local level will be able to get funding from the unallocated funds of the European Energy Programme for Recovery. However a lot remains to be done given the challenges in front of us. MEP Karima Delli, stressed that “Half of the world population lives in cities, and this figure amounts to 70% in Europe. Cities produce ¾ of CO2 emissions and consume 80% of energy. We will therefore win the climate battle in cities. Enhancing the urban and territorial dimension in the European agenda and in the future cohesion policy should enable to reinforce the role of cities as key players of sustainable development”.

As underlined by MEP Vittorio Prodi, cities can catalyze the shift from purely material growth to a more comprehensive concept of development. “Local solutions are often the key to success,” European Commissioner for Energy, Günther Öttinger argued. He insisted on the role of the Covenant of Mayors to guarantee the application by European cities and regions of EU commitments to tackle climate change.

In the framework of the on-going discussion on the budgetary perspectives, it was repeatedly said that substantial financial support and easier access to structural funds are prerequisites for ambitious actions of cities. In this regard, Commissioner Günther Öttinger suggested testing new financial instruments in the field of energy and climate change. Besides, unlocking their potential requires enhanced integrated local development and cooperation at all levels of governance as well as amongst policy makers.

The event, jointly organized by the EP Intergroup “Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development” and the “Urban” Intergroup, brought together more than 100 participants, including Members of Parliament (MEPs), representatives from the European Commission, from Member States as well as NGOs, academic organizations and the private sector.”

So far the press release of the conference. Furthermore I noted a couple of additional points regarding the physical dimension of European urban policies.

Good news from the cities. In their short presentations the cities representatives have listed the ambitious projects of local administrations. Nantes has planned to reduce CO2 emissions by 50% by 2025, involving citizens and business sector in a participated process. Brussels has accomplished a number of regeneration projects in disadvantaged neighbourhoods (Neighbourhood Contracts), features large improvements in energy efficiency of public owned buildings (the worldwide passive building is being built) meanwhile the 63Km long Promenade Vert has improved urban quality. Munich (Worldwide Nr.1 in Urban Quality according to Monocle Magazine) has invested 4 Millions Euros in Bicycle lanes only last year and aims at bringing inner city movements cycling rate from 40% to 70%. The city is part of the Climate Alliance which has more ambitious targets that the EU 2020 strategy.

The impression I became from these presentations is that European cities ar far ahead of the EU in the implementation of sustainable development projects. Well,  at least some cities are, who are the ones you meet at these conferences, which are more or less always the same. As a matter of fact, in the short time frame, it was not very clear the contribution of the EU in these good practices, but maybe these are issues to be tackled in more restricted working meetings.

The second point I noted regards EU support of local urban policies. Since 2009 EU Structural funds (ERDF) are available for improving energy efficiency in social or public housing buildings: 4% of ERDF in the EU 15 and 7% in EU 12. To date these Funds have been used only by 20% at EU level: countries like France has already spent them, countries such as Germany and Italy not at all. At the end of 2010 the EU will monitor the expenditures and probably disengage large part of this funds towards other structural policy sectors. Last June the Architects’ Council of Europe ACE-CAE has issued a note to all Member organisations on this topic. I paste it below for those who may be interested in undertake some actions in this field.

“Action required:

This note asks Member Organisations to lobby at National level to ensure that your Government or Regional Authority finds a way to revise their Operational Programmes under the European Regional Development Fund Rules in order to fully spend the allocation of 4% (EU15) or 7% (EU12) of those funds on Energy Efficiency Renovation of Housing before 2013.  The importance of taking this action is that if the funds are not fully expended by the end of the funding period it is almost certain that similar funds will not be available in the following funding period and this would have a highly negative effect on the improvement of the Energy Efficiency of Buildings in Europe.

Introduction

The European Union has several funding programmes that are aimed at creating greater social and structural cohesion between the regions and territories of the EU.  One of the main funds is the European Regional Development Fund and in a recent decision the rules for spending of these funds were changed so as to permit spending on the energy efficient upgrading of existing housing in the context of integrated urban development plans.

The ACE has learnt that although we are now more than half way through with true the funding period only 20% of the available funds for energy efficiency upgrades of housing have been used or allocated by Member States.  It is therefore important to lobby to ensure that these funds are fully allocated and used during the current funding period.

Report

The expenditures of funds from the ERDF are highly regulated through what are known as Operational Programmes.  These Operational Programmes are prepared at regional and national level and are submitted for approval to the European Commission.  On approval of the programmes by the European Commission Member States can draw down the funds for the various projects and operations that they have identified.

At the start of the current funding period it was only the EU 12 countries that could benefit from a certain percentage of funding for use in the energy efficiency upgrading of housing as part of integrated urban development plans.  This rule was changed in 2009 and now it is possible for all Member States to allocate funds for this purpose.  In fact the EU 15 countries have the right to allocate up to 4% of their ERDF fund to energy efficiency upgrades of housing and EU 12 countries may use up to 7%.  However as all Operational Programmes for the Member States were approved before the change of this rule may countries do not have allocations in their Operational Programmes for the energy efficiency upgrading of housing.  The ACE has learnt that the European Commission is very concerned about this fact and it has alerted many stakeholders in Brussels of the danger that if these fund are not fully used before 2013 then in the following funding period 2013-2019 funding for energy efficiency upgrades of housing will not be put into place.

Given that housing accounts for approximately 60% of all buildings in the EU and more of less half of the work of all architects, the ACE considers it of crucial importance that the Member Organisations should do all in their power to lobby at national or regional level for the Operational Programmes to be modified in order to ensure that the allocation of either 4 or 7% is fully used in the current funding period.

Furthermore, in undertaking the necessary lobbying actions, the Member Organisations should ensure that the criteria used to define what is meant by an integrated urban development plan, under which the energy upgrades of housing takes place, include appropriate references to quality, sustainable architecture.  It could, for example be a requirement that all buildings and renovation works are well designed and built as set out in the Bristol Accord and that they make a positive contribution to the overall quality of the built environment, specifically that they can be considered as examples of good architecture.

Action required

The ACE Secretariat does not have the resources at the present time to fully research for each Member State who is the relevant Ministry or Authority that you should approach in order to lobby for the allocations of the relevant percentage to the topic energy efficiency upgrades.  In any event it is hoped that your Organisation is already aware of the relevant persons and that you can contact them and lobby them in order to ensure that the necessary allocations are made.

The ACE Secretariat considers this to be an urgent matter and is aware that the European Commission is preparing a Communication on the subject. Once this Communication is available you will be forwarded a copy as it should contain useful guidance and information as to the supplementary actions you can take.

In the meantime you are asked to report to the ACE Secretariat on any action you take and particularly on any information you may have that could be usefully shared with other Member Organisations as they seek to lobby for the matters set out in this note.”

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