EIT Climate-KIC is working with the city of Vienna to identify climate initiatives and to link them systematically to push beyond incremental change. Austria wants to be climate neutral by 2040 and EIT Climate-KIC is helping its capital city rise to the challenge by linking energy efficiency and other forms of district renewal with green infrastructure and green mobility.

In 2019, EIT Climate-KIC and the Energy Planning Department of the City of Vienna brought together a number of municipal departments and partners to align, deepen and expand climate initiatives. Recognising that only system change can push beyond the incremental change of stand-alone projects, EIT Climate-KIC has helped stakeholders think and plan in novel, interconnected ways. The city owns assets, like 220,000 apartments, for example, and is now looking at the shift from gas heating to heat pumps, its ‘procurement power’ over construction projects to foster circular renewable materials and adapting the building code to incentivise green and photovoltaic roofs.

EIT Climate-KIC calls this joint search for collaborative innovation a “Deep Demonstration”—a geographic or thematic area that showcases innovative climate action and the potential results if tackled systemically. Deep Demonstrations focus on system change through experimentation, learning, adapting and scaling by many players. It is a methodology that builds on our last seven years of experimenting and learning in cities. It is driven by the insight that individual and unconnected climate projects will not be sufficient to fight the climate crisis and meet the targets set by Paris Climate Agreement.

Vienna’s Deep Demonstration is based on its Smart City Vienna Framework Strategy, the Smart City Roadmap and the Austrian government’s commitment to have a carbon neutral Austria by 2040. The city’s progress to date does justice to its reputation as the most livable city in the world. Translating EIT Climate-KIC’s methods and new ways of working into action can be challenging in the face of human inertia and the uncharted territory of solving the climate crisis. Everybody involved has to make the switch from known solutions to a more systemic, integrated, and ambitious approach. But the departments of the city of Vienna have been open, collaborative and curious to test this new path.

Vienna’s transport, building and heating, electricity and waste sectors release an estimated 7.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. Residents buying goods and services create an estimated 4.7 million tonnes of scope three emissions on top. The analysis done as part of the Deep Demonstration has made an economic case for decarbonising heating and electricity systems, shifting to non-motorised transport and using building materials efficiently. Like all cities in Europe, Vienna still has a long way ahead of it. But it has taken joined-up steps in the right direction.

In parallel to looking at energy supply changes and retrofit in Vienna’s huge municipal housing stock, the city will test changes to regulation to foster roofs that can be covered with vegetation and used for solar cells. That will improve the microclimate, produce renewable energy and provide extra living space for people and nature. The city is also working on urban “superblocks” with greatly reduced traffic, new open spaces, and various other small interventions to improve the standard of living and reduce carbon emissions. In addition, it is working on smart contracts and innovative funding sources to finance the transition towards carbon neutrality—a district “participatory climate budget” is also currently under development.

Vienna is governed by a coalition of Social Democrats and the Green Party and the municipal elections in October 2020 moved into view long ago. Only the strong support of city officials across party lines allowed the new portfolio of experiments to be developed so thoroughly and efficiently in the run up to an election. We are proud to be part of Vienna’s journey to carbon neutrality.