The energy transition has a cost, which will lead to a general transformation of the economy. For the sole decarbonisation of the built environment, an average of 214,000 additional full-time equivalents will be needed across all EU cities by 2030, representing an investment of €16 billion per year for all 27 Member States. Local governments have been the avantgarde when it comes to fight climate change. However, with budget issues, troubles to attract new staff, and limited access to funding and support, how can cities be given the means for their climate ambitions?  


“Money, money, money”, sang Abba. When it comes to human resources issues in cities, money does rank high in the priorities, especially when it comes to wages. The absence of a general EU framework on this creates unbalances between Member States and increases difficulties for countries who are competing with neighbours offering wages twice or three times higher. Tensions between the market and public administration are huge, according to Kata Tüttő, Deputy Mayor of Budapest, one of the three speakers involved in Energy Cities’ webinar “How to give cities the staffing means for their climate ambitions?” in early July 2022. In Hungary, a shop assistant earns twice the salary of a teacher and the brain drain from Hungarian administrations towards German and Austrian ones is massive. When they do stay, municipal employees are often dragged away by the private sector, which can offer more competitive salary packages. 

Part of the solution could come from a proposal by the European Commission of a Directive on EU adequate minimum wage. Frank Siebern-Thomas from the Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs, and Inclusion, also participating in the webinar, sees this as an opportunity to reinforce the EU social pillar and thus further shrink differences between Member States. There is thus room for manoeuvre. 


However, this is not all about money. Beyond the question of wages, the question of human resources at large, and more precisely of human, remains key. Local staff are the ones to make the transition happen in cities and for this they need skills, of course, but also long-term perspectives, to really get involved in the process.  

Skills are a major priority for cities and decision-makers who are already taking measures, such as the Pact for Skills put forward by the European Commission in 2021. It includes bottom-up initiatives gathering all relevant actors who can share information on the expected needs and challenges of the reality of the transition, acknowledging the role of local and regional authorities. As stated by Frank Siebern-Thomas, “the transition will not be inclusive by default”. The Commission expects the Members States to include measures on employment to ensure a just transition in their revised National Energy and Climate Plans for 2023. 

On top of skills, long-term perspectives, especially in terms of local and operational budgets, are essential to ensure the employees stay and can deliver. I4CE, a French think tank participating in the webinar, is preparing a study on the role of municipalities in investment needs for carbon neutrality and climate investment. Aurore Colin (I4CE) underlined that there is a paradox in France between the demand by the national government to reduce public spendings whereas more investments in climate transition tasks will be needed in municipalities. Yet, investing in local staff will trigger more climate investment: in the city of Valencia, the Energy Centre, for a staff cost of 2.4 M€, can trigger around 5,000 additional refurbishments, unlocking 59 M€ of investment.  

To overcome this situation and work on both skills and long-term perspectives for staff, Energy Cities put forward in its study a proposal for the Commission to create a dedicated programme similar to ERASMUS+ to favour civil servant exchanges and see how other municipalities tackled the issue of wages, skills, and attractivity at large. 


There is one certitude: cities can drive climate ambition one step further if they are empowered.  

More autonomy of cities, especially in terms of budget, will be crucial. With more budget to set up competencies within the cities, maybe through the possibility to levy local green taxes and having local green budgets, they could gain more independence. Their salary conditions, their attractiveness on the labour market and their management of the transition in cities would be improved. In addition, tis would avoid situations, like in Budapest, where the city is left out by the national government from any possible funding or loan. Support for greening the public sector will be essential, and this cannot happen without civil servants being active and involved. 

“If a country is stuck on the green road, cities with ambition can really pull them out and get them on the way”, stated Kata Tüttő. 11,331 EU cities have signed the Covenant of Mayors and drafted Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plans. Feeding those ambitions is important, and this will go through subsidies, funding and to orchestrate all that: staff.  

Find more about solutions to enable the ecological transition in Energy Cities’ study on Human capacity in Local governments: the bottleneck of the building stock transition, have a look at our manifesto, and join the campaign by signing our manifesto