Madrid, Amsterdam and Milan: Three cities putting citizen participation at the heart of climate action

The Extinction Rebellion or Fridays for Future global actions have shown that citizens around the world want to have a say in climate decisions. For EIT Climate-KIC, it is of paramount importance to create the links between decision-makers and the public around climate action. Citizen engagement is therefore at the heart of our Deep Demonstrations programme, our large-scale projects to catalyse fast decarbonisation and drive adaptation and resilience in the context of climate urgency and radical uncertainty.

Speaking at a workshop with representatives from Milan, Amsterdam and Madrid at the EU Week of Regions and Cities on October 20, Kirsten Dunlop, CEO of EIT Climate-KIC said: “There are different forms of decision-making necessary for engaging citizens, and proximity matters. Not everything affects everyone, and change can start at a street-level or a district-level”. What’s important, she added, is that we learn from citizens who are experiencing their city and neighbourhood every day and are the best advocate to make it a better and more inclusive place in which to live.

The session was hosted by EIT Climate-KIC and the Democratic Society and aimed to share the experiences of these three cities engaged in the Deep Demonstration programme with about 70 participants.

Health and wellbeing at the core of Madrid’s energy transition

Madrid is one of 15 cities in Europe working with EIT Climate-KIC to accelerate their transition towards carbon neutrality and climate resilience. The Deep Demonstration Healthy, Clean Cities applies a multi-actor engagement process to deepen and accelerate the city’s climate action plans and projects. Madrid acknowledges citizen participation in urban planning as a way of having valuable input in processes and urban regeneration. In 2015, the city opened Decide Madrid, an online platform to engage local communities in the governance to drive the re-creation of their city. Through the platform, citizens can propose and support ideas for new legislation affecting them and comment and vote for any legislative text introduced by the council.

Working with EIT Climate-KIC on sustainable mobility as part of the Deep Demonstration programme, the Spanish capital is also working on reducing rush hour traffic. The city-wide plan connects councils, companies, universities, trade unions, citizens and many other city actors and organisations whose decisions and actions have an impact on the transport system. This involves telework and the distribution of trips more evenly to avoid peaks. Such improvements can also have an impact on the population’s health and wellbeing as they can help reduce infection rates during a pandemic like the one we’re experiencing today.

“The business case for the energy transition in Madrid supported by EIT Climate-KIC has revealed that most of the decarbonisation levers have a positive economic outcome for the city due to energy savings, job creation or health improvement,” says Santiago Saura, Councillor for International Affairs and Cooperation of the Madrid City Council. He found this to be a compelling argument to engage more and more citizens in support of acceleration towards decarbonisation and climate action.

In Amsterdam, citizens ask their government to act on climate

Further north in Europe, the city of Amsterdam, which is already considered a healthy, prosperous, green and sustainable place to live, has also committed to engage citizens in its transition to becoming a climate-neutral city. Its goals: to eliminate its dependence on coal, oil and gas, and reach 55% fewer emissions in 2030 and 95% fewer emissions in 2050, compared to 1990. Its plan to action: a roadmap, the “Routekaart Amsterdam Klimaatneutraal 2050” (Roadmap Amsterdam Climate Neutral 2050), which describes the city’s ambition, long term vision as well as proposed actions for the short term. In addition to policymakers, a total of 1,000 stakeholders have participated and signed the agreement. The city now intends to work closely with residents, businesses and organisations to experiment, collect data, evaluate, and learn during this complex process.

The municipality is also carrying out simultaneous buildings renovations and energy updates to make sure houses and offices are ready to overcome the challenges of the next decades. This “deep retrofit of future-proof housing” as it is referred to, requires the involvement of many actors and EIT Climate-KIC is helping to facilitate co-creation between these partners through the Deep Demonstration of Healthy, Clean Cities programme.

“Citizens are taking the initiative to renovate their own homes and cooperating to form local energy cooperatives,” says Jan Duffhues, Innovation Strategist at the city of Amsterdam. “This requires a different kind of government, who does not ask the citizen to participate but is asked by citizens to make their plans possible. The Deep Demonstration programme is helping us to find ways on how to do this, using a systems perspective while at the same time moving forward with actual renovations in various neighbourhoods.”

Games and apps encourage Milanese to participate in the city’s transition

In Milan, one of the main issues for the city is to tackle air pollution. In 2019, the Italian city signed the C40 Clean Air Cities Declaration along 34 other major cities around the world. By signing the Declaration, the mayors recognised that breathing clean air is a human right and commit to work together to form an unparalleled global coalition for clean air. Today, the city is working on its Air and Climate Plan (ACP) and targets carbon neutrality by 2050. One of the five interconnected areas of work of the ACP is a commitment to citizen engagement.

Milan is now working with EIT Climate-KIC on the so-called Merezzate+ project, where a community App was developed to allow users to manage shared spaces and services within a housing complex situated on what used to be a neglected polluted industrial site. This place-based, city-wide, residentially led experiment aims to demonstrate how to transform Milan into a sustainable, climate-resilient city, by catalysing change one district at a time. The city is also working on behaviour change campaigns using apps and gamification activities to encourage people to take public transport while collecting data for policymaking. They are also organising citizen training and learning events to overcome the digital and ecological divides in the population.

In each of these examples, the Deep Demonstration programme is proving that the cities’ decarbonisation work delivers positive economic and health impacts, in addition to the climate impacts. These results are also helping to drive citizen engagement and support for a rapid decarbonisation, and to build the narrative and social support needed for climate action.

 
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