Drinking from a firehose

The success of the EU’s Green Deal and national recovery plans hinge on cities – but they are not at the table


Publication date

October 20, 2020

Look out your window and make a mental note of what you see: a road, footpath, parked cars, maybe a park, trees, a rubbish bin, buildings, insects, emissions, roofs, trucks, busses, birds – and then there are the things you cannot see – sewer systems, telecoms, electrical wires, tunnels and more. Every single one of these things is meant to be altered, improved or removed through the EU’s Green Deal. And cities, by and large, are going to be responsible for getting it done.

It’s too much. It’s like trying to drink from a firehose.

The EU’s Green Deal is badly needed and Energy Cities’ members are delighted that the EU is now matching and supporting the ambitions of our most progressive cities. But while many of our member cities are already planning the almost unfathomably large changes that need to be made many cities will be simply overwhelmed by the amount and complexity of the work that needs to be done.

Cities need a seat at the table in developing national recovery plans and they need structural support from the EU to implement the Green Deal. 40 French mayors, the Mayor of Warsaw, Energy Cities board member Mario Rajn, the mayor of Križevci, Croatia, Budapest and many others have made the same point.

Current national recovery and resilience plans are being developed according to guidelines issued by the EU last month. Those guidelines fall woefully short of recognising the importance of cities in planning and achieving member states’ recovery goals.

Looking at the seven flagship areas highlighted by the EU, at least five of them involve cities directly:

  • Power up: Support the building and sector integration of almost 40% of the 500 GW of renewable power generation needed by 2030, support the instalment of 6 GW of electrolyser capacity and the production and transportation of 1 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen across the EU by 2025.
  • Renovate: By 2025, contribute to the doubling of the renovation rate and the fostering of deep renovation.
  • Recharge and refuel: By 2025, aim to build one out of the three million charging points needed in 2030 and half of the 1000 hydrogen stations needed.
  • Connect: Ensure that by 2025 there is the widest possible uninterrupted 5G coverage for all areas.
  • Modernise: By 2025, ensure the provision of a European digital identity (e-ID) and public administrations should be providing interoperable, personalised and userfriendly digital public services.

Look out your window again and imagine the road is dug up to install a district heating system while your neighbourhood is being renovated. Then, a few months later it is dug up again for EV charging. The local grid needs to be upgraded to facilitate community energy so access to those wires are needed. The road itself needs to change to install a protected bike lane. Land use in your neighbourhood needs to be improve to enhance biodiversity and farm2fork.

The science is clear that time is running out to avert the worst of climate change. We have one shot at remaking our cities correctly, justly and sustainably.

The level of planning, oversight and expertise needed to weave the dozens of different threads of the Green Deal together in the tapestry of our streets calls for dedicated structural support for the EU. The EU City Facility is an excellent example of how the EU can provide this support. But it is small and targeted. Europe’s cities need ambitious structural support that matches the impressive ambition of the Green Deal itself.