What role for cities in Horizon Europe’s missions?

Learn more about EU’s current research and innovation programme


Horizon Europe, the successor of Horizon 2020, EU’s research and innovation programme, was launched last June and will last until 2027. The new programme comes with some novelties: more support to scale up innovation thanks to a European Innovation Council; stronger consideration of the open science principles for more accountability and knowledge sharing; reinforced partnerships with EU and associated countries, the private sector, foundations and other stakeholders to avoid duplication and fragmented research; and last but not least five EU missions.

What are Horizon Europe missions?

The EU describe the missions as “a coordinated effort by the Commission to pool the necessary resources in terms of funding programmes, policies and regulations, as well as other activities”. In practice, the missions bring together different Commissions Services (Directorate Generals), to avoid silos approach in research. But they are also expected to promote collaboration at all levels to solve today’s most pressing challenges while grounding research on people’s needs.

The missions were identified by a board of international experts and approved by the European Commission in October 2020. Each Horizon Europe mission has a set of actions (research projects, policies, and legislative initiatives) and targets to be reached by 2030:  

  • Adaptation to Climate Change: support at least 150 European regions and communities to become climate resilient by 2030
  • Cancer: working with Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan to improve the lives of more than 3 million people by 2030 through prevention, cure and solutions to live longer and better
  • Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030
  • 100 Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities by 2030
  • A Soil Deal for Europe: 100 living labs and lighthouses to lead the transition towards healthy soils by 2030

What can cities do?

I talked with Giustino Piccolo, one of our experienced project managers, to identify possible roles of cities in these Missions and see how we can help.

SG: How can cities contribute to achieve the missions’ targets?

GP: Cities, and local and regional authorities more broadly, will play a key role in implementing the missions’ actions and in supporting the achievement of the missions’ targets. Most of the missions call for a place-based approach and promote the launch of living labs, demonstration sites, lighthouse projects at the local level.

Of course, the most important mission for cities is the “100 Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities by 2030” – aka the Cities Mission. The Cities Mission aims at “fast-tracking 100 cities to become climate-neutral by 2030”. A diverse group of (around) 100 cities will be financially supported by the Mission and will be further used as “innovation hubs to put all European cities in a position to become climate-neutral by 2050. “

The mission Adaptation to Climate Change will support at least 150 European regions and communities to become climate resilient by 2030, and will deliver at least 75 large-scale demonstrations of systemic transformations for climate resilience across European regions and communities. This mission is closely linked with the Covenant of Mayors and its adaptation component.

Cities are also to play a key role in less obvious missions. The mission Soil Deal for Europe recognises soil “is at the heart of green infrastructures, sustainable urban planning and the well-being of people living in built up communities”. The mission will support ambitious actions in 100 living labs and lighthouses within territorial settings, including urban-focused living labs to support the greening of our cities and towns as well as strengthen the urban-rural links. The mission Restore our Ocean and Waters is particularity revenant for coastal cities and communities. The mission Cancer, offers a role to cities in regards to prevention especially by working on sustainable mobility and improving air quality.

SG: What is Energy Cities project team doing at this regard?

GP: Our new Agenda for a transformative decade is fully aligned with the missions’ ambitions and approach. We are applying a system-change approach to urban transformation, and in this way, we aim at supporting cities to transform their entire metabolism and become climate neutral.

Have a look at our 2030 agenda!

Energy Cities is directly involved in the NetZeroCities project that will set-up and run the one-stop-shop platform in support of the Cities Mission. The one-stop-shop, among other activities will manage a call for pilots and will provide funding to local governments to implement concrete actions on the ground. A set of twin-cities will be also selected by the one-stop-shop and will join the pilot cities to boost replication and transferability of the solutions implemented.

As coordinator of the Covenant of Mayors Europe, Energy Cities has been helping cities in increasing their climate and energy ambition – the new targets should allow Covenant signatory to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. In the framework of the mission Adaptation to climate change, the Covenant will launch a Policy Adaptation Facility early next year.

In early 2022, we are launching SHARED GREEN DEAL, a new project coordinated by Anglia Ruskin University, where we will be piloting social experiments with citizens and stakeholders’ involvement around the Green Deal priorities. The topics of such experiments will be closely linked with the Missions’ focus areas.

Are you a member of Energy Cities? Join our members’ group on LinkedIn to be updated on the latest funding (and networking) opportunities!

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Publication date

November 15, 2021