Getting European cities ready for climate change


Still, policy makers are struggling to find and implement sustainable solutions because the transition to more sustainable cities implies an integrated approach, involving areas of expertise ranging from land use and transport to resource flows, urban climate and information networks. Moreover, decisions on urban development are often taken without considering long-term impacts and risks.

Researchers involved in COST’s Action TU0902 – Integrated assessment technologies to support the sustainable development of urban areas – have stressed the importance of integrated assessment methods to better understand urban dynamics and improve policies, thus reducing pollution and carbon emissions. Integrated approaches are based on scientific evidence. They identify and analyse the potential benefits and negative impacts of different solutions across various disciplines, including the social sciences. For instance, the use of electric vehicles may discourage driving and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it can also deepen social inequalities. Benchmarking such integrated assessment approaches has also helped researchers propose solutions for particular situations and specific policy questions. For example, human behaviour, health, pollution and security were taken into account as indicators for an integrated assessment for land use policies. Integrating psychological strategies to change the ways citizens make use of urban spaces is thus crucial to the entire approach.

Action participants reviewed and proposed innovative integrated approaches in 200 medium-sized and large European cities in 11 countries – summing up a fifth of the European population. They also used a scoring system to measure their sustainability, climate change adaptation and mitigation plans. Their findings showed that 65% of the cities in question had a mitigation plan, while only 28% had an adaptation strategy. Only one in four cities had both mitigation and adaptation plans. Interestingly, if the cities selected were considered representative of the whole EU, this would translate into a 37% reduction in gas emissions by 2050, thus exceeding the Union’s policy targets. However, nationally, the target of avoiding global mean temperature rising by 2°C above pre-industrial levels would not be met.

The Action has been particularly successful in linking specialist and integrated urban research teams across Europe and beyond, including from Australia. This was possible through several short-term scientific missions (STSM), a training school involving local authorities and early stage researchers (ESR), international conferences and symposia. Engaging with European and national and international institutions (The European Environment Agency – EEA, The UK Institution of Civil Engineers – ICE, The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives – ICLEI ), research centres (The Centre for Earth Systems Engineering Research – CESER ) and industry representatives ( Eon Energy ) was also instrumental, as the Action set up workshops developed around corporate social responsibility issues.

Action members have also been particularly active in communicating their findings by publishing in academic journals. They have also attracted additional European and national funding for further research on sustainable engineering and urban planning, and are collaborating with researchers from COST Actions TU1003 and TU1202. The final conference of the TU0902 Action is scheduled for October 2014 in Helsinki, Finland.

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