Do the final National Energy and Climate Plans finally acknowledge cities’ key role?

New Energy Cities report reveals persistent lack of recognition towards local action by many EU countries



David Donnerer

Publication date

October 13, 2020

As of August 2020, all EU Member States had finalized their national energy and climate plans (NECPs) under the Governance Regulation, in which they lay out how they plan to contribute to the EU’s energy and climate goals in the next decade. Consequently, the NECPs can be considered as a key pillar for national energy and climate policies for the foreseeable future. The NECPs ambition (or non-ambition) will be one of the key factors that will make or break the success of the EU Green Deal, and whether the EU can actually live up to its commitment to the Paris Agreement.

Undoubtedly, local authorities are key in achieving national and European energy and climate goals (including the EU Green Deal) and the objectives of the Paris Agreement. With this in mind, did EU countries reflect this key role of local authorities in their final NECPs? After all, their draft NECPs submitted in 2019 had already neglected local authorities as key actors, as evidenced by Energy Cities’ previous analysis.

The majority of EU countries fail to integrate local authorities in their NECPs

In our new report, Energy Cities has verified to which extent the key role of local authorities was better reflected by Member States in their final NECPs, compared to their draft NECPs. For this purpose, we conducted an in-depth assessment of all NECPs to check whether they:

  • mention / endorse local authorities’ actions and policies as strategic contributions to achieve national / EU objectives;
  • mention / endorse the critical role of key initiatives spearheaded by local authorities, such as the Covenant of Mayors;
  • recognize local authorities’ key role across all aspects of the energy and climate transition, i.e. across all dimensions covered in the NECPs (decarbonization, energy efficiency, energy market, energy security, research, innovation & competitiveness)

As our assessment shows, most EU Member States fall short in fulfilling these three dimensions, thereby failing to leverage local authorities’ key role. Only 12 EU countries mention / endorse local authorities’ actions and policies, while only 4 Member States explicitly highlight e.g. good practices of local governments in contributing to the energy and climate transition. Many NECPs also view the role of local authorities in a top-down manner, by merely referring to them as implementers of national laws or policies.

Slightly better recognition of the Covenant of Mayors

On the more positive side, 10 EU countries mention in their final plans the Covenant of Mayors initiative. This is a significant improvement to the draft NECPs, where the Covenant of Mayors was only highlighted by 4 Member States. The countries referring to the Covenant of Mayors in their NECPs are Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania. Italy e.g. vows to put a technical observatory in place to oversee the implementation of its plan, which would notably build on the contribution of Italian Covenant signatories’ SECAPs.

Furthermore, 3 Member States stand out among their peers in fully grasping the key role of local authorities across the three dimensions analyzed in the report. Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg extensively highlight the contribution of local authorities in their final NECPs. Luxembourg for example signals its intent to continue and expand its successful climate pact with its municipalities, while Belgium and Ireland vow to strengthen their collaboration with and technical / financial assistance provided to their local governments.

Our recommendations to Member States and the Commission for the future of the NECPs

Taking all this into account, Energy Cities calls on EU Member States and the EU Commission to take the following 4 actions to better acknowledge the key role of local authorities in their NECPs, in particular when updating their plans in 2023/24 at the latest (as foreseen by the Governance Regulation):

  • Build on existing good practices from other EU countries: Member States should put the local level on equal footing with the national and regional levels for energy and climate policy-making;
  • Use Covenant of Mayors SECAPs of local authorities as compass for localizing policies and making national policies more targeted;
  • Member States should consider to which extent local authorities can contribute to all areas of their NECPs, by systematizing local authorities’ role in all areas (and not only in energy efficiency and decarbonisation pillars);
  • The EU Commission should strengthen the recognition of local authorities in the NECPs by e.g. calling on Member States to better reflect e.g. local investments, SECAPs and local energy communities in their NECPs;

Our new report on the role of local authorities in the final NECPs is available here (in English)!