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We call for a European Regional Scoreboard to track cities and regions' climate action and assess its impact  
In this interview, Andries Gryffroy (BE/EA) answers five questions on the impact of climate change in cities and regions and the role of the European Green Deal in tackling global warming while leading the transition towards a more sustainable and resilient society. The member of the Flemish Parliament calls for a European Regional Scoreboard to track cities and regions' climate action and assess its impact. It is one of the key proposals of his opinion on 'The impact of climate change on regions: an assessment of the European Green Deal', to be adopted at the December plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions.

How does climate change and the Green Deal relate to each other?

The EU, through the Green Deal initiative, reaffirms its long-term commitment to achieving climate neutrality by 2050 and proposes a growth strategy that aims to preserve EU's competitiveness while becoming more sustainable and resource-efficient. The Green Deal could be instrumental to the achievement of our climate goals by boosting green investments – provided it promotes a balanced and targeted approach that takes into account the different economic and social situations in regions and cities, and provided it prioritises cost-effective measures and sectors that have more potential for job creation. Moreover, in order to ensure a successful implementation of the transition towards climate neutrality, the Green Deal must support a bottom-up approach, be shared fairly across the EU territories, in compliance with the principle of subsidiarity and proportionality, and allow the flexibility necessary to ensure its cost-effectiveness.

What are the main challenges for local and regional authorities (LRAs) in combining the COVID-19 recovery with long-term sustainable development?

The COVID-19 crisis has proven the vulnerability of our societies and economies and the need to enhance their resilience.  Local and regional authorities are at the forefront of the fight against climate change by taking bold actions to reduce emissions and thus becoming more resilient to the impact of climate change. At the same time, LRAs' finances are severely threatened by the crisis, which jeopardises their ability to provide public services and limits the fiscal space for investments in innovative and low-carbon technologies.

Sub-national governments must therefore be fully involved in the definition and implementation of national recovery plans and be granted easier and direct access to funds. It is also vital that we focus on initiatives that could help cutting emissions at lower cost in the long run, such as improving energy performance in buildings (Renovation Wave), sustainable mobility, renewable energy and the circular economy.

Can you explain your 'lighthouse' approach?

The 'lighthouse' approach implies a model where one city takes the lead within a particular domain and then involves other interested cities and municipalities through knowledge sharing and exchange of good practices. Specific domains can be allocated based on calls for projects, after which the 'lighthouse city' receives funding for the implementation of concrete projects and shares the methods, results and lessons learned with the other cities and municipalities involved in a dedicated network. We know that knowledge is available and opportunities are there. We just need to share such knowledge and make it available to others. In the European Committee of the Regions, we recently launched a map of best practices that gathers 200 projects already. It is part of our Green Deal Going Local initiative, which aims at showcasing actions on the ground precisely in order to facilitate knowledge exchange and replication across the EU. 

How do you propose that EU funds should reach the sub-national level?

The higher targets of expenditure for climate-related action in the next EU budget for 2021-27 and the new recovery instrument 'Next Generation EU', in particular the earmarking of 37% of its €750 billion to meet the Green Deal objectives, will put the EU on the right track to meet climate targets. Yet, these major funding instruments should not be 'territory blind'. We must ensure that funds for cities and regions are tailored to ensure the impact on the local economy is significant.

Despite their limited sources of income, LRAs are responsible for 65% of climate and environment-related public investment. It is therefore crucial that they receive direct access to EU funds to deliver sustainable development policies on the ground. Opportunities for synergies between European Structural Funds and the Recovery Instrument as well as with other programmes such as Horizon Europe must be exploited to develop new solutions to fight climate change and create a more resilient and sustainable local economy. National Energy and Climate Plans could become the backbone of the sustainable recovery, making a structured link between climate- and energy-related actions, financial needs and potential for recovery.

We know that public finance will not be enough to ensure a timely climate transition, so we must build strong public-private partnerships, develop participatory approaches, and rethink value chains. In this respect, the European Investment Bank (EIB) plays a key role, working closely with regions and cities of all sizes to provide targeted assistance and support in their transition towards more sustainable economic models. At the European Committee of the Regions, we are ready to cooperate with the European Commission and the EIB to bring funding opportunities for Green Deal actions closer to cities and regions.

Why is it important to monitor the implementation of the Green Deal?  Are existing mechanisms fit for purpose?

Many regional and local authorities are already implementing climate, energy and local resilience plans. However, their actions are seldom acknowledged and often not measured or valued in the wider national picture.

Cities' and regions' plans and contributions must be taken into account in every phase of the process, in a continuous and structured manner. Several monitoring systems already exist, but they are not sufficiently coordinated with each other. It is therefore important to localise the Sustainable Development Goals and make full use of existing mechanisms such as the ones developed within the Covenant of Mayors. We must keep searching for cost-effective approaches, synergies and complementarities while improving local data monitoring. Mechanisms and indicators are necessary to accurately assess the impact of climate change at the local and regional level, but also to determine cities' and regions' achievements in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and their contribution to the fight against climate change. These indicators are needed in order to have a clear picture of the baseline of each region in terms of its climate transition and therefore better identify the specificities and needs of every territory. In this respect, we propose the launch of a European Regional Scoreboard as an instrument to provide evidence of the progress in the implementation of the Green Deal and recovery plans locally. The Scoreboard would also serve as a knowledge tool to help represent the diversity of territories' needs, identify and replicate best practices, including finance-ready pilot actions at the local and sub-national level.

Background information

On 13 October 2020, the European Commission and the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) committed to a new phase of cooperation to accelerate the delivery of the Green Deal in Europe's regions and cities. During a debate with Frans Timmermans, the European Commission's Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal called on local and regional governments to take ownership and shape the Green Deal in areas falling under their competencies. Read our press release here.  

Green Deal Going Local (GDGL) is a new initiative of the European Committee of the Regions that aims at placing cities and regions at the core of the European Green Deal and ensuring that both the EU's sustainable growth strategy and the COVID-19 recovery plans translate into direct funding for cities and regions and tangible projects for every territory.

Green Deal Going Local was launched on 15 June 2020 with the creation of a specific Working Group composed of 13 members. Read the press release here.

Discover 200 Green Deal best practices in our online map.

Press Contact: pressecdr@cor.europa.eu