What do cities need to become net zero? Read the new report from our NetZeroCities program

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Cities in Europe say improved systems, approaches and resourcing are required to achieve climate neutrality, according to a new report published by Resilient Cities Network (R-Cities) and partners at NetZeroCities.

The report, ‘City Needs, Drivers and Barriers towards Climate Neutrality’, compiles the experiences of 64 participating cities from 22 EU Member States and 3 Associated Countries in the fight for climate neutrality. Through ten focus group discussions (FGDs) with city representatives, the NetZeroCities consortium analyzed the reasons for cities to become climate neutral (drivers), the difficulties hindering the journey (barriers) and the components an enabling environment should have (needs). The analysis was done in collaboration with Eurocities, Climate-KIC, ERRIN, ICLEI, Energy Cities, EIT-Urban Mobility and Viable Cities.

The analysis from the FGDs support quantitative data released by the European Commission Mission’s call for Expression of Interest (EC Mission’s EOI). The headline findings from the report include:

Policy and governance

Nearly half of all cities say the fragmentation of responsibilities within the municipal administration is a core barrier, according to the EC’s Mission EOI. Through the FGDs, cities expressed the need to implement a systemic approach and a new governance model, and secure reciprocal commitments at EU, national and regional levels. According to the cities consulted, the Climate City Contract is one of the most interesting governance tools developed in recent years. It is not only a tool for the cities, but also a long-term commitment that ensures cooperation between cities and the other government levels. However, based on data from the EC’s Mission EOI, 1-in-4 cities cited lack of available staff in implementing the Climate City Contract.

Implementation practices

Cities highlighted the disconnect between strategy making and concrete actions. They expressed the need to move from a project approach to a portfolio approach and thereby scaling existing projects and initiatives. Cities also cited the lack of human resources and cultural barriers as key challenges for them. The lack of knowledge about a solution often becomes a reason to maintain ‘business as usual’, instead of being a driver to explore new opportunities.

Culture, social innovation, and participation

In the area of culture, social innovation and participation, cities are aware that engaging local communities is key to achieving climate neutrality. However, based on data from the EC’s Mission EOI, only 31% of cities engage vulnerable groups in climate change mitigation/emission reduction policy making. Some of the main difficulties identified by city representatives were the existence of resistance and fear from communities to change business as usual behavior, the struggle to effectively involve more vulnerable groups and the limited partnerships with the private sector.

Cities say they would benefit from tools, methods and best practices on engaging local communities. They also need strategic communication approaches that can demonstrate the socio-economic impacts of inaction to generate acceptance from citizens and other stakeholders.

Finance and business models

Nearly 70% of cities identified the lack of funding/financing schemes as the biggest barrier to pursuing climate neutrality, according to the EC’s Mission EOI. The analysis from the FGDs show that cities recognize it as one of the most important barriers.

Through the discussion, cities say the barrier could exist due to several factors: high initial investment costs, regulatory and governance barriers, and lack of understanding on climate finance and investments. Cities say a structured framework to assess funding alternatives and different financing options would be helpful.

Strategic learning

Nearly half of the cities are in the process of analyzing the co-benefits generated by their climate mitigation policies, according to the EC’s Mission EOI.

Cities expressed eagerness to continue such learning from other cities and exchange tools, methods, experiences and best practices. They identified peer reviews, training by external exerts and presentation of tools and methodologies used successfully by other cities as helpful elements. Finally, cities also recognized the need for frameworks to measure progress, results and impacts to evaluate policies after their implementation and the access to quality data and KPIs.

Key barriers to climate neutrality identified by cities



To learn more about city needs, drivers and barriers in the journey towards climate neutrality, download the full NZC report here.

This assessment is only the first step of an ongoing dialogue that the NetZeroCities will establish with the cities and city practitioners throughout the duration of the project. Resilient Cities Network together with 32 other project partners will work closely with the 100 Mission cities and support them with tailor-made services to overcome current structural, institutional and cultural barriers they face in order to achieve climate neutrality by 2030.

Our member cities Rotterdam, The Hague, Paris, Milan, Athens, Thessaloniki and Glasgow are among the 100 cities that have been selected to participate in the Mission Cities and achieve climate neutrality. Read the European Commission’s press release here.

NetZeroCities (NZC) is part of the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme in support of the European Green Deal.

Please note the report has not yet been validated by the European Commission. 


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What do cities need to become net zero? Read the new report from our NetZeroCities program