Inception Report

1. Introduction

  Resilio (Amsterdam, NL)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stressed once more in its latest report the tremendous scale of the impact of human activity on climate change and the need to implement immediate solutions (IPCC, 2022). It is now known that conventional approaches to increasing energy-efficiency and limit climate impact are not sufficient (European Environment Agency, 2019). Green transitions are not an option anymore and need to be on their way.

The process of transitioning from a carbon-based economy to a non-polluting economy implies systemic change which includes all citizens, therefore focusing on those who have been excluded to ensure equitable opportunities for all. In recent years, the growing use of the Just Transitions concept has resulted in more expansive definitions from environmental, human rights and labor organisations so that it includes wider concerns such as poverty, racism, sexism, indigenous rights, food and energy justice, and overall global inequality. We refer to “just transition” in a holistic manner, which encompasses the need to end the extractive economy and create pathways for green, healthy, thriving, and connected local economies.

The European Green Deal underlines the need to leave no one behind during these transitions. All citizens, without exclusion, should benefit from newly developed green and innovative services and technologies.

In particular, cities, where 78% of the world’s energy is consumed and more than 60% of greenhouse gas emissions are generated (UN Habitat, n.d.) can be key drivers to ensure Just transitions (see the UIA Cities, Jobs and Transitions Inception report).

This Inception Report is the starting point of research focusing on Green transitions in cities – ensuring accessibility and affordability to all. It is part of a two-year long knowledge activity, including research on green jobs and skills and on democracy and participation. Within the scope of this activity (detailed in the Just Transitions Inception Report), we identify major lessons from UIA cities to inspire Europe’s urban policy makers and practitioner, foster the replication and upscaling of innovative approaches that can facilitate Green and Just Transitions and link to the Cohesion Policy.

Based on a first review of the 86 UIA city projects working under 14 themes, an initial literature review and key witnesses’ interviews, this Inception Report is an intermediary step, aiming at setting the scope of definition and methodologies of the Make the city affordable to all by:

  • Presenting the main issues at stake, the role of cities within the EU policy context;
  • Detailing four pre-identified topics and some initial findings;
  • Selecting UIA projects and other cities that will be involved in the process;
  • Presenting the methodology for the whole study, a combination of interview with key witnesses and Managing authorities, detailed case studies as well as desk research.

2. Why do we need to ensure that no one is left behind in green transitions?

This section presents the main concepts used in this research, together with the rationale for researching experiences of ensuring that all citizens without exclusion can benefit from green transitions.

Decreasing the climate impact of services and technologies has been high on the agenda since at least the Brundtland report in 1987 (Brundtland, 1987). Green transitions should continue to take place in a range of areas such as climate adaption and environment protection, renovation and housing, food, transport, energy, waste management (European Commission, 2019). However, on the one hand, the uneven distribution of the climate and environmental impacts reflects closely the socio‑demographic differences within Europe (European Environment Agency, 2018); on the other, not all citizens are equal in benefiting from these services and technologies.

In this regard, the United Nations Foundations has stressed the need to reduce vertical (amongst people) and horizontal (amongst groups) inequalities, leaving “no one behind” as a: “A concerted effort to identify and lift up those who are furthest behind first. This means targeting the most vulnerable people who societies so often miss: from youth, and especially girls; to refugees and migrants; to rural farmers and indigenous populations – and so many others living on the margins of society”(United Nations Foundation, 2016).

Amongst those potentially at risks of being left behind, 5 factors of vulnerability might apply (UNDP, 2018):

  1. Discrimination:  vulnerable groups to those experiencing exclusion, bias or mistreatment in laws, policies, access to public services and social practices due to their identity (ascribed or assumed, and primarily relating to their gender, but also age, income, ethnicity, caste, religion, disability, sexual orientation, nationality, as well as indigenous, refugee, displaced or migratory status);
  2. Geography: vulnerable groups are those who are denied social and economic opportunities, human security and/or quality public services based on their place of residence. This might relate to the natural environment (contaminated or degraded natural resources preventing from sustaining livelihoods or natural disasters), to the lack or inequity of infrastructure, transportation and/or public services (limiting the choices, mobility and opportunities of people in some localities), to the effects of climate change such as climatic conditions, altitude, desertification and/or proximity to high-risk areas such as floodplains or steep embankments (isolating and leaving in setbacks).
  3. Governance relates to lack of adequate institutions (which can be ineffective, unjust, exclusive, corrupt, unaccountable and/or unresponsive) or of laws, policies and budgets that are inequitable, discriminatory or regressive, couple with the little consideration of poor, disadvantaged and marginalized communities in local policies affecting them.
  4. Socio-economic status: vulnerable groups are those who lack the opportunities and capabilities to earn an adequate income, accumulate wealth or otherwise fully and equitably participate in their economy and society.
  5. Exposure to shocks and risks: vulnerable groups are those affected by violence, conflict, displacement, large movements of migrants, environmental degradation, natural hazard induced disasters and other types of climate events, or health shocks, such as epidemic outbreaks.

Some other groups (e.g. elderly people) might also be affected by vulnerability on the ground of digital divide, without being able to access some services available only through this means.

These vulnerabilities might in addition complete each other: being vulnerable on the labour market might prevent from accessing essential services and/or contributing to (local) governance. Quite often several factors are interlinked (UNDP, 2018).

The new green and innovative services and technologies are usually more expensive than conventional ones: they often remain un-affordable to a wide range of populations. This might lead to displacement, stress and alienation, which counterbalances the effects in-between the benefits of services. For example, greening as a form of revitalisation, increases property values, improves health, and increases resilience. However, it induces a non-distributive effect of increased housing costs - quality and energy efficient housing being more expensive-  and loss of belonging (BCNUEJ, 2018). Making cities greener, cooler, less polluted by reducing traffic, with better parks and more biodiversity might lead to “ecological gentrification” and displace long term residents of disadvantaged neighbourhoods when regeneration takes place (Beretta and Cucca, 2019). Another example is that of low-income people with difficulty in paying energy bills who will face strong difficulties in paying for cooling if temperatures keep on rising (European Environment Agency, 2021).

Some groups might also have difficulties in accessing green and innovative services and technologies. People in socio-economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods, for example, might be excluded from urban sustainability infrastructure (e.g. parks, food cooperatives, green roofs, regenerated river fronts, sustainable mobility initiatives, etc.) because of the underlying conditions of inequality and (distributive, intersectional, procedural) injustice (UrbanA, 2020a). Unprivileged populations might also lack the knowledge of existing schemes to be actually able to access them (UrbanA, 2020c). Increasing digitalisation might also prevent some poor people to access all available services (UNDP, 2018).

As stated in the European Green Deal green transitions “…must be just and inclusive… The most vulnerable (people) are the most exposed to the harmful effects of climate change and environmental degradation. At the same time, managing the transitions will lead to significant structural changes in business models, skill requirements and relative prices. Citizens, depending on their social and geographic circumstances, will be affected in different ways” (European Commission, 2019).

Pushing forward green and innovative services and technologies without considering those who might be left out of making the most of them might increase social and economic divide in our societies, as well as undermine the steps taken to reduce our overall carbon footprint and consumption within the overall planet’s limits.

Distributive justice, understood as a fair way of both distributing resources and accessing them and bearing their burdens and impacts, will involve “understanding and responding to the varying degrees and forms of social vulnerability, ensuring that all communities are effectively protected from the negative consequences of climate impacts and analysing the consequences of adaptation responses to different groups”.(European Environment Agency, 2021)

3. The role of cities