Reflections on a COST-JRC workshop on the role of cities-regions in achieving a low-carbon economy

Increasingly, we are better understanding the important role cities and regions can and should play to effectively address priority areas such as climate change and sustainable energy. Cities and regions are unique because so much happens in a relatively small area: we live, work and play there and globally we are becoming increasingly urbanised. This level of concentration, however can lead to major problems such as deadly air pollution, in large part because of our high use of fossil fuels. However, we have the advantage in cities and regions to more easily mobilise stakeholders to help find solutions, particularly when the results we are seeking affect our neighbourhoods and our friends and families. The results are not thousands of kilometres away. They are next door. And you can see the results more readily.

This week the European Cooperation in Science and Technology organisation (COST) together with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) teamed up to bring a wide range of experts together to start a process of information sharing and networking. The workshop first set the vision of achieving a low carbon economy and then, after all the ins and outs of what it means were discussed together with trying to sharpen definitions and approaches, the workshop turned to looking at how to set a strategic approach to actually implement the vision at the city-regions level.

A report will be prepared on this in the near future and EiD will definitely provide you with the results. But it is good to take a deep breath and better understand what they were trying to achieve. This workshop brought together researchers – many in academia – together with practitioners.

There were some important issues that led to a healthy debate. There were definitional issues. The expressions “bottom-up” and “top-down” was discussed all day from different perspectives. For example, how do you reach the high levels of stakeholders and how do those high levels impose policies or “solutions” to cities and regions? How do you mobilise those at the lower levels – the grassroots, the activists – to achieve national and Europe-wide objectives? And there were discussions on the needs to find the right voice to convince people at the two levels. Furthermore, it was discussed about the role of intermediaries to provide that role to bring out the best in all of them.

And where does innovation come from? How do you create that right environment to bring out the innovations that are needed to meet 2020 or 2030 or 2050 energy and climate objectives? Many agreed that innovation is a process that has to be nurtured. And there is a need to build trust, build alliances, and to overcome many of the market, technical and “human” barriers.

These were many other topics were discussed and the day ended with even more questions to explore. There is nothing wrong with that. There were good “solutions” and lessons presented of initiatives in Austria, Germany and Wales to bring out the best at the city and regional level. Looking back, a tremendous amount was packed into one day. Hopefully soon, EiD will be able to review the report so you can appreciate more fully the efforts underway.

The biggest challenges remain in front of us. The needs and expectations will multiply. But, for those in attendance to this workshop, at least, the road ahead is a little clearer, even if it remains just as daunting.

EiD would like to thank the organisers for allowing us to attend and participate.

About COST

Based on a European intergovernmental framework for cooperation in science and technology, COST has been contributing – since its creation in 1971 – to closing the gap between science, policy makers and society throughout Europe and beyond. As a precursor of advanced multidisciplinary research, COST plays a very important role in building a European Research Area (ERA).

About the JRC

The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission’s in-house science service. The JRC provides independent scientific and technical advice to the European Commission to support a wide range of European Union policies. It has seven scientific institutes—located at six different sites in Belgium (Brussels and Geel), Germany (Karlsruhe), Italy (Ispra), the Netherlands (Petten), and Spain (Seville).


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