National climate plans are not involving local decision-makers as they should

Mayors from across Europe call for better dialogue between national and local level in updated National Energy and Climate Plans

Member States need to involve local decision-makers in their updated National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs). And it is clear that they have not done so in the first version of their NECPs. We heard from both EU decision-makers and local leaders who said just that: National Ministries in charge of NECPs have not included local voices enough up until now. They must step up their efforts and establish dialogues with local and regional authorities in the next version which is due in 2024.

Good news: there is a new project that intends to help Member States with this, in 6 countries: Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Italy, Portugal and Romania. The NECPlatform project (funded by European LIFE programme) aims to set up multilevel dialogue platforms in the drafting of EU Member States’ updated NECPs.  

Why is this so important?

We, cities and mayors, are the driving force of the transition

Tanya Hristova, Mayor of the Bulgarian city of Gabrovo, at the Covenant of Mayors investment forum on October 18th 2022

During the EU Regions Week in Brussels in October, five elected local representatives from Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland and Portugal, – including Tanya Hristova – highlighted the importance of these dialogues alongside speakers from the European Commission and National Climate Agencies.  

The Context: EU calling for a better cooperation between local and national levels  

There is a need for a clear recognition that local partners and society are important to develop and implementing the local planning, as well as our energy and climate targets, but also to ensure a fair transition.

Johannes SCHILLING, Deputy head of the Energy Policy Unit at the European Commission Directorate General for Energy

The stage was set by EU-level speaker Johannes SCHILLING, Deputy head of the Energy Policy Unit at the European Commission Directorate General for Energy, who presented the EU legislative framework and background requiring more multilevel governance. As an essential part of the Governance of the Energy Union, National Energy and Climate Plans help the EU achieve climate-neutrality through governance regulation. 

As a starting point, Article 11 of the Governance Regulation requires that Member States establish multilevel dialogues with local authorities and different stakeholders for energy and climate policies to be included in their NECPs. After an assessment of the first NECPs drafted in 2019-2020, it was already pointed out that these dialogues were not exploited enough. 

[Member States are] invited to exploit the potential of the multi-level climate and energy dialogues to a greater extent, actively engaging with regional and local authorities, social partners, civil society organisations, the business community, investors, and other relevant stakeholders, and discussing with them the various scenarios envisaged for its energy and climate policies.

An EU-wide assessment of National Energy and Climate Plans / European Commission Communication (2020)

What’s more, Mr. Schilling highlights how the current context and energy crisis has further accentuated the need for a coordinated response between different levels of governance, as European countries strive to urgently reduce local demand and consumption, rapidly diversify energy supply and accelerate the energy transition. 

He highlights a few examples of valuable contributions from local actors to the transition that should be reflected and highlighted in national plans, from energy communities, to speeding up permitting procedures and mapping of areas for RES development.  

The Reality: Mayors on the front line struggling to make their voices heard on national level 

Following Mr. Schilling’s overview, five local elected leaders presented their cities’ direct contributions to the transition and why these need to be considered.  

We, local governments, are sometimes braver than our national governments.

Tanya HRISTOVA, mayor of Gabrovo in Bulgaria & member of Committee of the Regions

Tanya HRISTOVA, mayor of Gabrovo in Bulgaria, talked about how local authorities make bolder commitments and have higher climate ambitions. Her city, for example is part of the 100+ mission cities aiming for net-zero by 2030. For there to be a just transition, Ms. Hristova recommends is that the transition fund should be redirected to the local level, since local decision-makers are the best placed to listen to citizens voices and help out the most vulnerable. 

This NECPlatform project can truly change things and set up another kind of trialogue: EU, local level and national levels, so that we, people from the local level, feel that our work is respected and taken into account.

Joško KLISOVIĆ, President of the City Assembly of the city of Zagreb & member of Committee of the Regions

 Joško KLISOVIĆ, President of the City Assembly of the city of Zagreb, laments that the multilevel dialogues that do exist in Croatia for the moment are very one-sided. The Croatian national government occasionally comes to consult the cities on some important national policies, but there are no channels for cities to have their ideas and proposals listened to on a national level. There are also no efforts to establish a dialogue on a more regular basis. For Mr. Klisovic, this is not the way – local authorities should be involved from the first moment policies are drafted, in the brainstorming process, since it is at the local level that these policies will then be implemented.  

In Portugal, there is a consultation process in place, but there is no structural dialogue framework between national and local levels. These two levels need to work together and share responsibilities.

Ricardo RIO, mayor of Braga, Portugal & member of Committee of the Regions  

Ricardo RIO, mayor of Braga, Portugal, echoes Mr. Klisovic’s statement. In Portugal, the national government also consults local authorities, but does not have a structural dialogue framework in place either. This is a loss, because the city of Braga has much to contribute to the transition, from experience with green mobility to one-stop-shops powered by solar power and knowledge labs producing new technologies. If the city’s initiatives received more support and could be scaled up to a national level, these contributions could greatly enrich NECPs.   

Cities need to be actively involved in the legislative process. You know why? Because we know what works and what doesn’t work.

Tine HEYSE, Deputy Mayor of Ghent responsible for Climate, Environment, Energy and Housing

In Flanders, there is already something in place that is a good first step: the Flemish Pact. Tine Heyse, Deputy Mayor of Ghent responsible for Climate, Environment, Energy and Housing, says this pact is a good first step as it supports the local level with financial means to implement their projects. However, she claims it is not enough. Local authorities should be involved in the legislative process too, because as they are on the ground implementing these policies in the day to day.

She mentions the example of Ghent’s one-stop-shop for home renovation. With years of experience directly dealing with citizens coming in for help, advice and struggles in making their home more energy efficient, Tine Heyse herself is well aware of the difficulties and barriers, as well as the enabling frameworks, of the transition when it comes to building renovation. 

The message that we need to send to national and EU levels is that nothing will be realised without the cities and the regions. If you do not involve us and find the means to finance us, we are not going to meet any priorities.

Rafal TRZASKOWSKI, mayor of Warsaw, Chair of the ENVE Commission of the European Committee of the Regions & member of the Board of Covenant of Mayors – Europe

Rafał TRZASKOWSKI, mayor of Warsaw, brings the conversation back to where Johannes Schilling had started it: the current crisis. Like with the COVID and Ukranian refugee crisis, the current crisis goes beyond the competence of local authorities, but it is firmly set on their shoulders. As first respondents of the crisis, cities step up to implement concrete and immediate solutions to aid citizens. In these circumstances, national governments must not only support cities with the necessary trust and resources, but they should also cooperate to facilitate their duty and remove barriers. The same goes for the response to the climate crisis. Since cities are setting ambitious targets to carry out the transition, they need national governments to work with them and help them implement this transition on the ground.

He gave the example of the clear discoordination of the heating strategy in Poland: while the capital is given aids to finance heat pumps instead of gas boilers, the national government finances hybrids and changes course to import coal. Not only this hinders the cities’ efforts, but it also undermines the EU’s overarching ambitions. 

One paradox is clear: while cities are expected to be in the driver’s seat of the transition, they are not given an important enough role and resources to actually drive this transition. 

The way it works today we do not fully exploit the synergies with local authorities and national authorities.  

Bruno VELOSO, Vice-President of ADENE (2022 Presidency of the European Energy Network)

Beyond these local perspectives, we also heard from Bruno VELOSO, Vice-President of Portugal’s Energy Agency ADENE, who confirmed the lack of cooperation between local and national authorities. He underlined that to make this dialogue happen, National Energy Agencies have an essential role to play, as they can reach local authorities and stakeholders more quickly, liaising between them and national authorities.

The Vision: NECPlatform(s) to ensure continuous multilevel governance  

Policies should be built at the very local level by asking local governments “What do you need to improve the energy transition?

Tine Heyse 

So where do we go from here? While there may be some sort of one-way dialogue and top-down consultation mechanism in place in many countries, it is clear that there are few to no examples of well-functioning platforms facilitating horizontal and vertical integration of energy and climate policy.  

NECPlatform, funded by the first clean energy call of the LIFE programme, strives to set up and manage permanent multi-level Climate and Energy Dialogues (CED) Platforms in 6 Member States. These dialogues will bring together relevant stakeholders, ensuring that energy and climate policies are co-created and consistent at all levels of governance and amongst different sectors of society. Each platform will foster collaboration in energy and climate legislation, resulting in a draft and final updated NECPs. 

Based on the lessons learned in the 6 focus countries, the intention is to replicate and transfer these governance models in other Member States. 

Re-watch the full event here.


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