• 03 Jan 2022

    Building a virtuous innovation circle: How the cooperation between Local Governments, Academia and Businesses will help Europe meet its climate neutrality goal

    On the 15th of October, we organised a session on the role of local governments, academia and businesses in helping Europe meet its climate neutrality goal. The session aimed at providing a platform for the creation of a roadmap for accelerating and implementing innovation as a key tool for European local and regional governments to meet their climate targets, together with business and research.

    Starting from the fact that local governments, academia and businesses require innovative approaches to be transformed at the pace needed to meet the goal of decarbonisation and that a shared and harmonised effort is key to making this happen; the overarching question was “Which changes must become real to make carbon neutrality a reality by 2050? How will local governments, academia and businesses find new synergies?”

    Representatives from Covenant signatories, cities, academia and businesses were led through a collective backcasting exercise toward the final target of a climate-neutral Europe by 2050. Based on the experiences of the speakers and through continuous exchange with the audience, the session took stock of existing barriers and good practices to co-design the steps to better integrate and coordinate innovation agendas across sectors. Through three rounds of discussions, both speakers and the audience were invited to imagine backwards from 2050 to 2040 and 2030 on the enabling factors and impacts of their cooperation. Each round reflected on intermediate goals and actions needed, present difficulties, alternative solutions, roles and mandates, relations and opportunities for engagement, among others.

    Main takeaways

    A few aspects were stressed as fundamental in order to make the change: interestingly the attention of all speakers lined toward social and governance aspects more than technological ones. The achievements are only possible if a systemic change happens, including behaviour change of individuals as well as shifting paradigm for businesses and institutions. New governance systems that allow for wider citizens participation are key to secure the successful result of policies but also to co-design new and innovative approaches.

    These changes have to be accompanied by the appropriate funds which at the moment are difficult for businesses, academia and actors to secure due to the unpredictable return of the investments.

    Among the messages delivered in the conversation:

    • Citizens need to have access to better and clearer information to be aware of the impact of their behaviours

    • Mayors can lead by example: determining the city budget and a city internal structure that ensures an equal and shared contribution from all stakeholders

    • We need a coordinated action between businesses, academia and cities, from the very beginning of the design phase of projects and to allow citizens to implement them in their daily lives

    • Innovative projects need specific evaluation criteria in order not to be excluded from funding

    • The confidence of investors should be enhanced to provide start-ups with the security to gain tools and knowledge to grow

    • New measures should allow experiments to happen

    • The Covenant of Mayors is instrumental for local governments to take a strong position and a strong message to the sceptical ones

    • Civil society has a central role (civic contract)

    • Ownership should be shared to unlock new systems thinking

    • Real-time monitoring of climate change impacts and effects would allow to alert citizens

    • Climate must be mainstreamed across all policies


    Interested in this workshop? A follow-up workshop organised by the EU Covenant office for EU signatories will take place on 24 February to further discuss the results of the workshop. Concrete examples and good practices will be shared with participants. Find out more and register here.

    The workshop was part of the Innovate 4 Cities Conference (11-15 October) organised by UN-Habitat and the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy (GCoM). It brought together city leaders, scientists, researchers, innovators, academics, youth, and businesspeople to advance pragmatic and action-oriented research and science that will help cities reduce their carbon footprint and increase resilience to climate change.

    As a follow-up to the 2018 Edmonton Cities and Climate Change Science Conference, the Innovate4Cities 2021 Conference aimed to bolster knowledge creation and solutions implementation and to mobilise the transformative potential of cities towards zero-carbon and climate-resilient cities. Especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, cities will be integral to identifying knowledge and innovation gaps, facilitating cooperation and securing necessary green investments in transitioning to a more just, healthier, safer and sustainable world. The conference also provided inputs to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26), and the Special Report on Climate Change and Cities in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Seventh Assessment Report (AR7) cycle.