Story by Sandra Vlašić, Terra Hub

June 6th, 2018

The brand-new conference room at the Development and Technology park in Križevci smells like fresh paint and new furniture, while the final landscaping works are ongoing outside. One small tree has been planted jointly by the Mayor of Križevci Mario Rajn, Mayor of Bjelovar Dario Hrebak, by Claire Roumet, the Executive Director of the Energy Cities association and by Zoran Kordić, the Manager of the Green Energy Cooperative. But planting trees was not the primary reason for getting together although it is a great CC mitigation measure. They gathered and joined with the other twenty city mayors and representatives of local governments and expert institutions, on that sunny morning of April the 13th in Križevci to talk about the Covenant of Mayors (CoM).

The principal reason was to have a joint overview or the first ten years since the Covenant of Mayors initiative has been established with a purpose to support European cities in their activities to mitigate climate change, to help them in creating activities that are meaningful, measurable and first of all – implemented. The role of cities in mitigating climate change is huge – urban areas are critical to support and to guide sustainable development of communities. That is why, since 2008, seventy Croatian cities joined the CoM initiative, which makes nearly half of Croatian population living in CoM cities. It is more than the EU average. Croatian CoM cities are part of the large network gathering more than 1000 cities in 30 countries, which share common challenges and opportunities. Goal is the same for all of them – to prepare and to implement Sustainable Energy Action Plans (SEAPs) and Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plans (SECAPs) where they envision how to get to the CO2 emissions reduction by 40% by 2030 and how to adopt to the climate change impacts which cannot be avoided. The participation of Croatian cities is higher than the EU average, but have we used all the opportunities and benefits that the CoM and Energy Cities membership brings?

 

Why haven’t we used all the opportunities of the CoM?

It seems like we haven’t, neither the majority of other cities had. The issues are similar – only 22% of cities that have developed SEAPs are monitoring the efficiency of implementation. The implementation is full of challenges – from insufficient technical and expert capacities in municipal government teams, especially in smaller-size cities, to central-level policies that are not recognising local specifics or needs. Central-level policies are changing too often compared to long-term impacts of the energy and climate policies, or some policies are in contradiction with local-level capacities and resources.

Directly-related appeal came from the city of Pleternica – the first city in Croatia that owns a small hydropower plant. The documentation for the first plant they built took almost six years (2006 – 2012) until it was put in operations. The value of electricity produced by that small hydro on Orljava river saves them one fourth of the municipal budget, so the benefit is clear. After that one, they immediately started with preparing the second one, it is 2018, the plant is still not up and running because there are no by-laws that would regulate necessary parameters according to Croatian Renewable Energy Act that was put in force two years ago. The permit is there but the construction is still waiting.

 

The central-level policies are not supportive or recognising local-level specifics

Clair Roumet gave us another example – a typical problem of cities is density of traffic.  What the EC promotes as CC mitigation measures for cities in sustainable transport is electromobility. Which is good, but it does not solve the headaches for city mayors caused by traffic jams. What they would prefer is stimulating lower number of cars to reduce traffic density, not only replacing conventional cars with electric ones.

So why is the progress towards SEAPs goals that slow?

– The policies-framework do no support enough the fact that we need a general transition from the current energy system. We would like to see at the EU level a higher support to that transition reflected in priority areas listed in the EU Structural funds for the coming post-2020 perspective. It requires changes not only at the energy system-level but at the economy level, especially at the municipal ecosystem level. Now is the time to harmonise structural funds with necessary transformation to low-carbon communities. This would allow funding of many SEAP and SECAP measures that has not been possible so far due to inadequate financial instruments. – said Clair Roumet.

This is exactly what the CoM offers – this network is a tool for systematic recognition of such specific challenges and problems and a tool for finding adequate solutions that would be implemented through the Energy Cities network in a harmonised way. The Energy Cities is the voice of smaller cities and municipalities and the channel to reach the highest central-level policy makers, nationally and at the EU level.  Cities, use that voice and drive the positive change despite the climate change!

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