Covenant of Mayors: “Real challenge comes now”
By Sophie Petitjean | Friday 02 October 2009
Between mid-August and mid-September 2009, nearly 100 cities joined the Covenant of Mayors, bringing to 702 the number determined to go beyond the EU’s objective of a 20% reduction of CO
2emissions by 2020, from 1990 levels. The cities also agree to adopt action plans for sustainable energy within 12 months and to meet a variety of targets and obligations. Their progress will be closely monitored by external assessors, so the challenge has to be taken up now. “The start-up of the Covenant of Mayors was exciting because of the large number of cities involved. But the real challenge comes now that things are being put into practice,” notes Ilka Neumann, member of the Covenant of Mayors Office (COMO).
700 CITIES, 700 RESULTS
By signing the covenant, the mayors agree first of all to conduct an inventory of emissions for the base year 1990 (or later) within one year of signing up and to submit an action plan for sustainable energy that outlines their reduction strategy. They must report regularly on their progress. The member cities also agree to promote this activity and to involve the different stakeholders and citizens. The COMO, set up by the European Commission, is tasked with coordinating the project and monitoring progress. “We are currently working on a guide to help cities develop their action plans. We won’t have precise plans until the end of this year […] although some are already being submitted,” explains Neumann. The EU’s Joint Research Centre will also play a role in monitoring and evaluation. If everything goes as hoped, the cities will be put through an interim review two years after signing up to the covenant.
Preparation of the action plans will therefore be addressed at the covenant’s second thematic workshop to be held as part of the Open Days, from 5 to 8 October. A second theme of the proceedings will be support structures – entities such as regions that can provide strategic guidance and technical and/or financial support to cities. “This is the first time DG Transport and Energy has worked with cities. This allows direct contact and affects different areas of activity, such as urban transport, industry and so on,” explains Neumann. “But the regions can of course play an important role by providing structural support for the key measures put in place or the expertise that is sometimes lacking in small cities.” There are 26 support structures at present: 12 public administrations and 14 transnational associations and regional networks.
“The targets are of course ambitious, but they are necessary to push us forward. The local level is the most practical. It has the greatest potential to reduce EU emissions,” Neumann explains, when asked about the project’s feasibility. According to the figures on the website
www.eumayors.eu, municipalities and cities are the direct or indirect source of more than half of greenhouse gas emissions from energy consumption related to human activity. Reducing today’s emission levels by 20% is equivalent to reforesting every year a surface area larger than Hungary. Neumann answers sceptics by saying that the figures speak for themselves. “The Covenant of Mayors already has 702 member cities. […] Cities from other continents, including Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Christchurch (New Zealand), have even signed up to the covenant.” She is enthusiastic and hopes that even the most sceptical cities will end up as part of the project. According to the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), there are just under 100,000 municipalities in the 27-member European Union. This means there are still another 99,300 to convince.
“The regions can play an important role by providing structural support for the key measures put in place or the expertise that is sometimes lacking in small cities”
A tale of two cities
The city of Brussels, like all EU capitals, is under major environmental pressure, while Malmö, a small seaside city in Sweden, has historically been a big polluter because of its shipyard. Yet both decided a few months ago to sign up to the Covenant of Mayors. “The climate fight requires a clear and shared commitment. The spillover effect plays a key role. Being familiar with the initiatives taken by others and explaining ours are the best way to develop a mass movement that concerns us all,” explains Evelyne Huytebroeck, Brussels’ environment minister. She nevertheless makes a point of adding that the city’s commitment dates back to 2004 and that “the new government has set the goal of a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025”. Equally motivated, the city of Malmö intends to become one of the world’s leading examples on emissions reduction. “We are aiming at zero emissions by 2030. So when we learned about the Covenant of Mayors, we found it logical to join,” explains Olar Nord, head of the city’s liaison office with the EU institutions. His message to those who find the covenant’s goals unrealistic is that “we are living proof of just the opposite”. He adds: “The targets themselves are not complicated. We have the means to meet them. The problems are more political and financial. The Covenant of Mayors is going to enable us to learn from some and help steer others”.