21 March 2022

A circular transition towards climate neutrality: identifying cities’ needs and challenges

Circular economy and climate neutrality are at the heart of a city's sustainable transformation. What obstacles do cities face in transitioning from a linear to a circular economy, and moving towards Climate Neutrality? Which drivers and opportunities could help them to unlock their transformation pathway towards Climate Neutrality?

As partner to the NetZeroCities project consortium and with support from CARTIF, ICLEI  has undertaken an assessment aiming to identify needs, drivers and barriers in the journey towards climate neutrality, with a focus on Circular Economy. Eleven cities, ten of which are signatories of the Circular Cities Declaration, participated and helped the organizers to better understand how Circular Economy practices may contribute to reducing GHG emissions and identify potential challenges, and the types of support that might make their work towards these goals easier. Representatives from Apeldoorn (NL), Burgas (BG), Ghent (BE), Grenoble Alpes Métropole (FR), Malmö (SE), Maribor (SI), Porto (PT), Prague (CZ), Seville (ES), Turku (FI) and Wiltz (LU) took part in the assessment and provided crucial input in the context of a dedicated focus group; part of a series led by Resilient Cities Network. 

During the Circular Economy Focus Group meeting, a lively discussion ensued in which participants not only reflected on Circular Economy and climate neutrality at a strategic level, but shared their experiences, expertise and practices. Cities identified a series of indispensable needs in order to make a circular transition:

  • funding for infrastructure and projects; 
  • waste and traceability of materials; 
  • monitoring frameworks to evaluate the impact of local policies; and 
  • the ability to engage with all sorts of stakeholders. 

Participants also underlined that the lack of policy alignment, the absence of reliable data at local level, or insufficient citizen involvement are major barriers that need to be overcome. On the other hand, integrated management and cross-department collaboration, diversification of financing sources with green bonds, and stakeholders’ broad involvement in implementation appeared to be powerful drivers for the circular transition. Lastly, cities shared examples of successful projects and good practices, among them Porto’s Material Bank for Heritage buildings, Turku’s and Malmö’s new industrial textile recycling facilities,or Grenoble Alpes Métropole’s efforts to unify local social enterprises under one cooperative in order to open up circular business opportunities. 

This input will help NetZeroCities partners, including ICLEI, to design solutions and services that support cities in overcoming the structural, institutional and cultural barriers they face as they work to achieve climate neutrality by 2030. The project will enable European cities and citizens to demonstrate ways to move towards an inclusive, thriving, climate resilient and sustainable future. Part of the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme in support of the European Union’s Green Deal, the project will work as a service-oriented platform supported by world-class practitioners. NetZeroCities supports the EU’s Mission of “100 Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities by 2030” launched as part of the Horizon Europe programme, by seeking to scale the activities of the project across 100 cities, and to tackle the unprecedented capital investments needed to make such a transformation possible. NetZeroCities has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101036519.

The Needs Assessment report integrating findings from all focus groups will be published and available on the NetZeroCities website by the end of March 2022.