08-10-2020 / hannes.schwaiger

The European Urban Resilience Forum 2020 and the REGREEN Project

Vasileios Latinos (ICLEI Europe) published a text on the topic above with contributions from Veronica Rebollo, Valeria Eirin (ICLEI Europe) and Alis-Daniela Torres (EU Covenant of Mayors):

The 2020 edition of the European Urban Resilience Forum was set to take place in Malmö, Sweden, for the first time outside Bonn and establishing itself as a mobile event that will bring the resilience community in many European cities in the future! The current COVID-19 virus outbreak and consecutive health crisis made the organising team, led by ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability and the European Environment Agency to change their plans and switch to an online edition, proving that it is necessary to adapt to the always-changing circumstances and show their resilient face. On the positive side, and with over 600 participants, this year has been the largest edition so far, a day full of fruitful exchanges, debate and reflections on the future of Europe’s resilient cities.

As expected, the forum brought in the experiences of cities with COVID-19 and its implications for adaptation and resilience planning. This has definitely been a critical moment to address the interrelations between adaptation to climate change, urban resilience and public health, by additionally exploring the impacts of the pandemic on cities, and analysing local responses to it. The opening plenary provided insights from cities that have quite different approaches to dealing with the pandemic, while all of them have already extensive, proven work on resilience planning. Greater Manchester and Paris have both developed resilience strategies through their participation in the Global Resilient Cities Network, while Valencia and Malmö are working with ICLEI Europe in a variety of resilience projects. During the second part, Elena Visnar-Malinovska, head of the Adaptation Unit, DG Climate Action of the European Commission and Stefania Manca, City of Genoa and EU Urban Agenda Partnership for Adaptation engaged in discussions on one of the most important ongoing policy processes that will shape the future of our cities, the review and update of the EU Adaptation Strategy, for which the public consultation concluded in late August 2020.

One of the most popular topics within the forum for some years now, is the planning and implementation of ambitious Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) in cities and regions. The multiple benefits that Nature-Based Solutions deliver have been recognized in international frameworks such as the 2030 Urban Agenda, the recently launched EU Green Deal and during the UN Climate Action Summit 2019. The current COVID-19 outbreak and the containing measures implemented (i.e. social distancing and staying at home) have made apparent, now more than ever, the benefits of NBS among citizens around the world. This was the central theme of the session Nature-based solutions for better climate: seeking adaptation and mitigation synergies organised and hosted by the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. Designed as an online interactive workshop, four Covenant signatories, the Cities of Aarhus (Denmark), Madrid (Spain), Vaxjo (Sweden) and Warsaw (Poland) were invited to share with the audience their experiences integrating NBS within their urban planning and  sustainable energy climate action planning processes. The cities emphasized the challenges encountered and factors of success and on how their participation in peer-learning initiatives and European projects (such as the International Urban Cooperation Programme, URBAN LEDs and REGREEN) have contributed to accelerating progress.

The session highlighted that in some cases, the role of NBS is still not well defined within the urban vision. There is a strong need to integrate mitigation and adaptation goals together in local policy agendas in order to minimize the conflicts emerging from the prioritization of one kind of measures above the other. In addition, political buy-in, impact assessment mechanisms implementation and community engagement are essential to raise NBS public acceptance and thus mobilize funding.

Broader funding is needed from public sources to upscale NBS in cities, especially in smaller municipalities where the access to resources tend to be more challenging. The private sector involvement has proved to be helpful in order to mobilize funds for the development of adaptation actions, including the implementation of green infrastructure. Seeking collaboration between all types of stakeholders is key to ensure an integrated climate action. In this sense the city administration should seek partnerships with landowners and farmers, and other key actors able to invest in climate adaptation projects.

A system of incentives to promote decarburization practices has proved to be effective in cities, like in the example of Aarhus Municipality, which was represented by Lene Vinther Larsen, team leader of the Nature and Water department of the Aarhus municipality and main REGREEN contact. The main challenges that Aarhus (Denmark, with a growing population of 345,000 inhabitants and a projection of 415.000 by the end of 2030) are the growing CO2 concentrations, lack of public owned land for the development of new green spaces and the heavy rainfalls the city experiences during winter months. Aiming at high environmental benefits though, the city has set some very ambitious 2030 goals, namely to become a carbon-neutral city by 2030, further developing its Green and blue infrastructure and co-creating a liveable and sustainable city for all.

It became apparent in the session that the new EU Adaptation Strategy should leverage the role of the Covenant of Mayors to support cities to advance in their integrated climate action planning processes with focus on their climate adaptation strategies and actions implementation. The outcomes and main messages of the European Urban Resilience Forum will inform the review of the EU Adaptation Strategy.  For more information on the European Urban Resilience Forum, click here.