The Green Deal is considered a milestone in the EU’s climate change policy framework as it constitutes the first concrete commitment to cutting its emissions to net zero by 2050. With this ambitious goal, the EU plans to make Europe the first continent on earth to achieve climate neutrality. Requiring an overhaul of the existing system, the Green Deal covers clean energy, sustainable industry, eliminating pollution, building and renovating, sustainable mobility, from fark to fork, climate action, biodiversity and sustainable agriculture.

Given the breath of the agenda, it is clear that cities will play a central role in achieving this target. In fact, cities do already function as key climate actors at local level. According to a recent publication entitled “Towards a European Green Deal with Cities. The urban dimension of the EU’s sustainable growth strategy”, regional governments along with cities are responsible for 70% of climate mitigation actions and 90% of climate adaptation measures.[1] This is partly explained by the fact that cities harbour 75% of the EU’s population and are to a large extent responsible for the EU’s energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Nevertheless, some cities even outpace the EU in terms of their level of commitment to climate neutrality. Helsinki is a case in point which has committed to achieving climate neutrality by 2035 – 15 years ahead of the EU target.[2] Its Action Plan focuses on sustainable traffic solutions, more energy efficient buildings and cleaner energy production as a means of drastically reducing its carbon footprint. This example shows that cities are not passive actors implementing EU policies but can also actively shape them and adapt them to their own needs, even surpassing EU expectations.

Still, cities in the European Union often feel ignored in EU level debates, frequently serving as implementors rather than policy formulators. This is despite the fact that they are closer to the citizens of the Member States and better understand local realities. For this reason, experts  involved in a recent online debate called “A European Green Deal for the Urban Age”, argued that discussions should move beyond the sources of finance available to cities and actually involve them in the regulatory crafting of the Green Deal.

This more active approach is also supported by EUROCITIES, which stresses the central role cities have to play in reaching the Green Deal, especially highlighting the importance of local intelligence and citizens in shaping policies. Moreover, the network calls for “new and more effective ways of involving city leaders, city authorities and citizens in the EU”. At the same time, greater coordination between the city and the national level is requested in the development and revision of National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs).

The need for greater involvement of cities in the implementation of the Green Deal seems to have been recognised by the European Commission. This is reflected in its guide named “Local green deals A blueprint for action: the European Commission’s 100 intelligent cities challenge”, which includes a blueprint and good practice case studies to support them with the implementation of the Green Deal at the local level – through a Local Green Deal. Despite the efforts of an array of actors, it still remains to be seen whether existing resources suffice and whether differences in commitment in cities across the European Union can be overcome to meet the EU’s target of climate neutrality.


[2] Making Helsinki carbon-neutral | My Helsinki