Towards fossil-free districts and cities

Our virtual City Learning Labs inspires cities to phase out fossil fuels for heating & cooling



David Donnerer

Publication date

May 28, 2021

Burning things has been the go-to solution for thousands of years to keep our buildings warm. Now, faced with the immense challenge of becoming climate-neutral within a generation, cities have to completely rethink this approach. This is where Energy Cities’ virtual City Learning Labs come in: to support local governments in moving towards fossil-free districts and cities, and help them reinvent the way they can heat and cool their buildings. In May, the City Learning Labs hosted its first edition with cities and their local stakeholders across Europe – recap of three days full of practical and enriching exchanges!

The City Learning Labs idea: cities with similar challenges & from similar geographic areas learning from each other

The City Learning Labs, which we are organizing with generous support from the European Climate Foundation, firstly follow a regional approach. The 10 cities taking part in the Labs have been divided into three geographical areas in Europe: North-West Europe, Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. This approach ensures that cities facing similar challenges and frameworks can learn, exchange and get inspired from each other. The following 10 cities have joined the City Learning Labs:

  • North-West Europe: Annecy (France), Communauté d’agglomération de Pau Béarn Pyrénées (France), Charleroi (Belgium), Liège (Belgium)
  • Eastern Europe: Niš (Serbia), Lodz (Poland), Kartuzy (Poland)
  • Mediterranean: Karlovac (Croatia), Varazdin (Croatia), San Lucido (Italy)

Another feature of the Labs is that the participating cities also have to mobilize their key local stakeholders. This is vital, as tackling the daunting challenge of decarbonizing the heating and cooling of the building stock needs more than just the city itself: actors such as local energy utilities, citizen energy communities and district heating & cooling (DHC) companies are equally important for tackling this challenge!

The third key principle of the City Learning Labs is its format. By providing tailored and replicable case studies, experts and resources adjusted to the three geographical areas covered by the Labs, cities and their local stakeholders get ideas and materials that are relevant for their context. Specifically, the goal is to build up the skills of participating cities in techno-economic aspects, transition management, legislative instruments, use of data, planning tools and engagement with ever-more important stakeholder groups (i.e. citizen energy communities).

First edition: spirited learning, networking and collaboration

Collaborative virtual whiteboard for the Labs’ first edition

For the first edition of the City Learning Labs, we hosted a full-day session for each geographical area (North-West Europe, Eastern Europe, Mediterranean) with three key objectives:

  • Getting to know the cities and local stakeholders, and the cities’ heating and cooling strategies and ambitions;
  • Sharing knowledge about EU and national legislation linked to energy outlook and planning;
  • Interactive, hands-on work on identifying legal barriers and levers;

Although it was only the first edition, the spirited learning, networking and collaboration that occurred during these three days already provided plenty of opportunities and ideas for the 10 participating municipalities and their local stakeholders to start building their pathway towards fossil-free districts and cities. And even if each of the cities is bound to create its own, unique pathway to move towards this ambition, the first edition showed that in each geographical area of the Labs, the challenges and solutions are very similar and complementary. The next two editions of the Labs, planned for the second half of 2021, will then have a good foundation to continue the fruitful peer-to-peer learning, exchanges and inspiration among the cities!

Kicking off the first edition of the Mediterranean City Learning Lab

Keen to know more about our work on fossil-free districts and cities? Then watch this space for more information coming soon! And till then, you are welcome to join us in supporting the recently launched Cities Manifesto for Fossil-Free Heating and Cooling