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From the European Green Deal towards Local Green Deals: for cities facing climate change


Charlotte Dauwe


Par Charlotte Dauwe,
Doctorante au Centre de Droit Public,
Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB)

There is growing recognition of the importance of cities, and thus local authorities as being key actors in tackling climate change. Not only the scientific community (IPCC reporton Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability[1]) but also the recent European Commission’s events and initiatives (the 9th European Summit City and Regions, European Climate Chance Summit, European Union Mission for climate-neutral and smart cities) have been identifying the significance of cities and regions in addressing the changing climate. As cities are both causing climate change and living the effects of climate change (heatwaves, air pollution, floods…), they have a responsibility to take action. Although cities represent only 4 % of the European Union’s surface, they harbour 75 % of European citizens and produce more than 70% of the world’s carbon emissions[2]. Cities also are at the closest level to citizens and their immediate environmental issues. Municipalities are also socio-economic hubs for citizens and industries with a huge impact on climate change[3].

The European Green Deal (EGD) sets ambitious targets for the EU to reduce GHG net emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 and for becoming the first climate-neutral region by 2050[4].
The EGD cannot succeed if it is only the responsibility of the European Union and national governments: cities, with local governments, have a crucial role to play in its implementation and the green transition of Europe[5]. More concretely, local measures can provide cleaner air, safer transport with less congestion, less noise for their citizens and reduce electricity prices by energy efficiency strategies on building renovations. Indeed, cities must implement 70% of EU legislation: all the European Green Deal (EGD) policies must be implemented in cities at a local level[6]. Therefore, as climate mitigation and adaptation is heavily dependent on urban action, cities should be given great means to implement effectively the EGD measures.

As the local governments are essential to implement European climate policy, the European Commission proposed to develop Local Green Deals (LGDs) for cities. The Local Green Deal initiative is a new approach to accelerate the transformation towards sustainability. Even though many projects and governance are already taken by cities, the goals of each plan need to be aligned with the ambition of the EGD to ensure an adequate transformation at the local level. Identifying overlaps, synergies, and gaps are also key to this conversation[7]. The LGDs are led by the Intelligent Cities Challenge (ICC), a European Commission initiative that supports 136 cities in using cutting-edge technologies to lead the intelligent, green, and socially responsible recovery. The ICC is part of a wider EU support system to recognise the importance of delivering on the promises made by the EGD, the digital strategy, and other EU policies[8].

This initiative advises on an innovative governance framework for cities to deliver LGDs.
This type of local governance is underpinned by several common principles, aiming to build upon existing best practice models of integrated sustainability and turn them into action, which helps cities achieve their goals more effectively. The LGDs principles are to be distinguished with traditional approaches to sustainability (a vertical division of powers)[9]:

  • Build on what is already there
  • Think big
  • Lead by example and show commitment
  • Multilevel vertical governance process
  • An integrated approach (horizontal coordination)
  • A collaborative approach
  • Action orientated approach and high impact approach
  • Investment in the sustainability transformation
  • Create technological transformation
  • Ensure resilience

This said the framework of LGDs withholds four components that seem very close to the values of multilevel governance and experimental governance[10]:

  • New integrated governance structures taking into account multidisciplinarity (environmental, economic, and social) to support sustainable decision-making, policy development and action in a broad context;
  • An approach where partnerships deliver concrete action, leading to collaboration agreements;
  • Integrated goals:An assessment of strategies and policies to ensure alignment and bring together targets, local plans, partnerships, funding and initiatives to ensure climate-neutrality and sustainability are implemented coherently;
  • A multi-stakeholder approach, where public, private, community, and voluntary sectors from across the city’s industrial ecosystems work together to deliver common goals[11].

Then, the development of LGDs comes in two steps: building momentum and scaling up. Those steps are based upon the similarities found through past experiences from cities implementing LGDs approaches, the European Committee of the Region’s Green Deal Going Local examples of initiatives showcasing good practices, as well as the EU Islands Initiative Transition Handbook. Each of those two steps includes smaller gradual stages: building the case; mobilizing existing staff, reviewing existing strategic framework; mobilizing local stakeholders around immediate opportunities; assessing legal and fiscal conditions; implementing deals; monitoring and promotion[12].

  • “building momentum” concerns building strong relationships and partnerships with local stakeholders, delivering joint actions. Implementation deals through those partnerships will demonstrate that cooperation works.
  • “scaling up” sets out the ambition to increase the partnerships established between the city and local stakeholders, embedding the LGD approach at the governance level. Through a collaborative governance model, interactions between different partnerships and initiatives will be managed more efficiently. This process is meant to become iterative and long-lasting once effective governance structures are in place. When the LGD approach has been demonstrated through several successes, new deals can be continuously added, covering a wider range of topics and fully embedding collaboration with local stakeholders in the governance framework of the city[13].

An important value of this EU initiative is that it goes hand in hand with concrete case studies (Milan, Amsterdam, Mannheim, Umea, Espoo) which contain exemplary features that could be replicated in other cities.

To conclude, the EU Commission take further steps for more sustainable cities, as 29 cities from the Intelligent Cities Challenge have successfully applied to one of the recent EU Missions: ‘the Climate-neutral and Smart Cities Mission’[14]. This mission aims to deliver 100 climate-neutral and smart cities by 2030 and to ensure that these cities act as experimental and innovation hubs to enable all European cities to keep up by 2050[15]. This initiative shows once more that cities play a central role in achieving climate neutrality by 2050, a green deal goal.

[1] IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.; “The WGII AR6 report emphasizes the role of cities as places of increasing vulnerability (population growth) but also opportunities for climate adaptation/mitigation action in Chapter 6 (Cities, settlements and key infrastructure) and Cross-Chapter Paper 2 (Cities and Settlements by the Sea).”

[2] European Commission, Mission « Villes neutres pour le climat et intelligentes » (fiche synthétique, 2020), Access on :

[3] Eyes on Europe winter magazine 2021, “what place for cities in the european green deal”, n°35 2021, p. 16-17, accessible sur:

[4] COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS ‘Fit for 55’: delivering the EU’s 2030 Climate Target on the way to climate neutrality 2021.; European Parliament resolution of 15 January 2020 on the European Green Deal (2019/2956(RSP)) 2020.

[5] Stated several times throughout the 9th European Summit City and Regions at Marseille (march 2022) ; European Climate Chance Summit at Nantes (march 2022).

[6] European Innovation Council and SMEs European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency (EISMEA) and others, ‘Local Green Deals: A Blueprint for Action : The European Commission’s 100 Intelligent Cities Challenge.’ p. 7 (Publications Office 2021)

[7] Ibid., p. 10.

[8] Ibid., p. 3.

[9] Ibid., p. 12.

[10] Charles F Sabel and David Victor, Governing Global Problems under Uncertainty : Making Bottom-up Climate Policy Work » Climatic Change (2017). ; Michele M Betsill and Harriet Bulkeley, ‘Cities and the Multilevel Governance of Global Climate Change’ (2006) 12 Global Governance, p. 141.

[11] European Innovation Council and SMEs European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency (EISMEA) and others, ‘Local Green Deals: A Blueprint for Action : The European Commission’s 100 Intelligent Cities Challenge’, p. 10.

[12] Ibid., p. 22.

[13] European Innovation Council and SMEs European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency (EISMEA) and others (n 3), p. 21-22.

[14] The European Commission’s 100 Intelligent Cities Challenge Website: access on :

[15] European Commission website, “EU Missions in Horizon Europe », access on :