Climate change poses an existential threat to humanity; a threat so great that conventional technologies and governance paradigms will not solve it. Deep systemic change and transformative action is needed (European Environment Agency 2019). The European Green Deal acknowledges this and is seeking to transform the EU into a modern, resource-efficient, and economically competitive carbon-neutral continent with net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The transformation must also be just and inclusive (European Commission 2019). In other words, it must leave no place and no person behind. The EU’s commitment to Just Transitions is not only present in the Green Deal and its priorities and in the European Climate Law, it is also reflected in its ambition to achieve the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as in other current EU policy priorities, such as the European Pillar of Social Rights ‒ and Just Transitions is also at the heart of the EU’s Cohesion Policy. Inclusivity is also an essential component in the approach. The EU Climate Pact, for example, as part of the European Green Deal, invites civil society and all other stakeholders to support and help deliver the Green Deal.
Consequently, cities have a central role under the new Cohesion Policy objectives, particularly under Policy Objective 5, which seeks to bring “Europe closer to citizens by fostering the sustainable and integrated development of all types of territories”. And indeed, with more than 10,000 local authorities signing the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy (CoM), which commits them to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 and adapting to the consequences of climate change, cities are also taking the lead in climate action. Moreover, they have committed to involving their citizens, businesses, and all levels of government in this effort through the design of Local Climate Pacts. The EU research Missions on Climate neutral and Smart Cities and on Adaptation to Climate Change under Horizon Europe can also support the Covenant and cities’ efforts. For climate change adaptation actions in particular, an EU Policy Support Facility developed by the CoM aims to ensure that resilience is achieved in a just and fair way.
Cities are highly vulnerable to a range of climatic phenomena and conventional responses to tackling these will not be sufficient. Testing radical policy solutions, scaling them up, and refining them, is not only possible but can make a crucial contribution to a successful socio-ecological transition. Tests or trials can provide an arena in which innovation, co-creation, and participatory citizen-led actions using technology and space can flourish (European Commission-Joint Research n.d.). As the New Leipzig Charter underlines, cities can act as “laboratories for new forms of problem-solving and test beds for social innovation” (EU 2020). As living laboratories, cities can lead the way on how to engage citizens and inspire others.