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Empowering cities an regions on the way to climate-neutrality  

​The Committee discusses a draft opinion on the Just Transition Fund that calls for supporting regions most affected by the transition towards a climate-neutral economy and adopts a new framework for the Leipzig Charter as the model for sustainable urban development 

On 3 March, two topics marked the agenda of the Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER) of the European Committee of the Regions. First, the Committee's recommendations on the Just Transition Fund that is to assist ​carbon-intense regions in their path towards climate-neutrality. Second, the renewal of the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities, the multi-level governance model that needs to drive – and boost, sustainable urban development for the decades to come. Members of the European Parliament joined the afternoon session to debate on how to decarbonise the transport sector as a key factor to reach the objectives of the European Green Deal.

Members discussed the draft opinion on the 'Just Transition Fund (JTF)'. Rapporteur Vojko Obersnel (HR/PES) Mayor of Rijeka said that "If the EU is really committed to reach climate neutrality by 2050, then we need appropriate funding, which must not come at the expense of Cohesion Policy. In times of growing populism, we cannot accept that the Just Transition Fund is played against the European Social Fund. We cannot explain to citizens that labour market programmes in one region need to be cut to support another region's green transition. We need additional financing for this new fund. This challenge is putting the EU's credibility to the test." The opinion is to be adopted at the next plenary session on 25-26 March 2020. ​

On resources, cities and regions strongly reject cuts on regional funds and underline that the JTF must not be taken away from cohesion budget. The draft opinion demands that co-financing rates from other EU programmes is capped at 20% and calls on reducing the amount of required transfers from regions and member states to at least 0,5 and not 1.5 in order to give them more investment flexibility.

The draft opinion puts a conditionality forward as it requests JTF regions and member states to prior commit to the EU's 2050 climate-neutrality and 2030 targets. The CoR requests a closer involvement of local and regional actors in the preparation of territorial just transition plans as the JTF is to fall under 'shared management'.

The draft opinion highlights that state aid provisions should be more flexible as to attract private investments in all areas benefiting from the Just Transition Fund. The rapporteur suggests requesting the General Block Exemption Regulation to be adapted accordingly. 

The CoR is to contribute and engage with the Just Transition Platform as to provide advisory services, project ideas and practical guidelines to involved regions. Last but not least, the CoR suggests to co-organise an Annual Forum of Just Transition Regions with the European Commission.  

Members adopted the draft opinion 'The renewal of the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities'. Rapporteur Juan Espadas (ES/PES), mayor of Seville, said: "In Europe, cities account for 75% of the population as well as 70% of CO2 emissions. As they are part of the problem, they must be part of the solution. Cities are the key for the European Union to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and implement the Green Deal. The European Union can provide the indispensable support to help cities investing in sustainable urban mobility, improving the energy efficiency of our housing stock, and strengthening social inclusion. The renewed Leipzig Charter represents a political opportunity to strengthen the credibility of the European project, by calling for a new multi-level and place-based approach putti​ng cities at the core of building a sustainable future."

The CoR calls on the General Affairs Council to adopt the renewed Leipzig Charter and its three operating principles - an integrated, place-based and multi-level governance approach to urban development. These principles must guide upcoming development strategies and policies at all levels, in particular those under the European Green Deal and the Urban Agenda for the EU

The draft opinion led by Mayor Espadas proposes a series of concrete measures, including an ambitious and practical roadmap enabling cities to implement the renewed Leipzig Charter. It also proposes to launch a summit of local governments on the Urban Agenda to channel their concerns and proposals on sustainable urban development with the European Commission and Member States.

In addition, the daft opinion stresses the need to focus on two pressing issues: clean mobility solutions as to foster low-emission public transport and renovating building stocks as to improve energy performance, put an end to energy poverty and boost social inclusion.

Members advise the EC to launch a communications campaign to disseminate guides, tools, roadmaps and best practices to boost awareness on the EU's Urban Agenda and its implantation locally.

In this new mandate, the CoR calls on the EC to show greater political commitment to the Urban Agenda and better incorporate it within the Green Deal flagship initiative.

During the afternoon session, the Green Deal and the role of cities and regions in the switch to cleaner transport was the focus of a debate between the European Parliament's Committee for Transport and Tourism (TRAN) and the Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER) of the European Committee of the Regions.

Background:

In line with the objective of achieving EU climate neutrality by 2050 in an effective and fair manner, the European Green Deal proposed a Just Transition Mechanism, including a Just Transition Fund. The Mechanism will consist of three pillars: (1) a Just Transition Fund implemented under shared management, (2) a dedicated scheme under InvestEU, and (3) a public sector loan facility with the EIB Group to mobilise additional investments to regions concerned. The Just Transition Fund will be used primarily to provide grants.

The allocation method of the JTF will consider therefore the scale of the transition challenge of the highest greenhouse gas intensive regions (through the corresponding industrial CO2emissions), the social challenges in the light of potential job losses in industry, coal and lignite mining and the production of peat and oil shale. The method will also take into account Member States' level of economic development and related investment capacity.

Coal infrastructure is present in 108 European regions and close to 237 000 people are employed in coal-related activities, whereas almost 10 000 people are employed in peat extraction activities and around 6 000 are employed in the oil shale industry. With an amount of EUR 7,5 billion, the Just Transition Fund is a tool to support the regions most affected by the transition towards climate neutrality under the European Green Deal. Source (EC).

Special allocations for coal regions should not divert money from regional policy: read the CoR Press release September 2019.

CoR Pervious opinions: The socio-economic transformation of Europe's coal regions (adopted in October 2019)  by rapporteur Mark Speich (DE/EPP), Secretary of State for Federal, European and International Affairs for the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia. Implementing the Paris Agreement through innovative and sustainable energy transition at regional and local level (adopted in October 2019) by rapporteur Witold STĘPIEŃ (PL/EPP), Member of the Łódzkie Regional Assembly.

On the renewal of the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities, The CoR draft opinion puts forward additional recommendations. These are:

  • Partnerships under the Urban Agenda must incorporate cities according to their size and be based under three pillars: better regulation, better funding and better knowledge.
  • The EU budget 2021-2027 should provide stable funding to cover the operational costs of cities participating in the Urban Agenda. The European Structural and Investment fund should finance the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by cities and regional governments at the local level. Cities should be involved in preparing budgets concerning their sustainable development.
  • Investments under the Green Deal to implement social and ecological transformation policies must not count as public deficit and must equally not be subject to constraints on expenditure ceilings under current programmes of budgetary stability and deficit control.
  • The European Commission must develop a new common frame of reference with shared terminology, indicators and methodology that can facilitate coordination between administrations, mutual learning and benchmarking between territories.
  • Member States should produce regular reports on how they integrate the Leipzig Charter into national urban policies. The Committee requests the EC to draw up evaluation reports every three years.
  • The CoR calls on the EC to develop the concept of 'active subsidiarity' and strengthening links between the Urban Agenda for the EU, the Better Regulation Agenda and the CoR's Network of Regional Hubs.
  • The draft opinion calls on the future EU German Presidency to officially recognise the role of the CoR in the renewed Leipzig Charter, as it was the case with the Pact of Amsterdam on the Urban Agenda for the EU.
  • The digital transformation should lead to better "digital cohesion" in Europe and move from a technology-dominated towards a citizen-centred approach, as set out in the Declaration "JOIN, BOOST, SUSTAIN."
     

    Click here to access the documents of the COTER commission meeting.
    Contact: David Crous / david.crous@cor.europa.eu / +32 (0) 470 88 10 37.