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Cities, get ready: YOU HAVE A MISSION

Juan Cristóbal García

Juan Cristóbal García

Senior Innovation Strategy Consultant

The European Commission recently hosted the Research and Innovation Days, the key annual innovation event which was special this year because of the launch of the new Horizon Europe Framework Programme. One of the great new features of Horizon Europe is its MISSIONS, which I am writing in capital letters otherwise I would choose to put neon lights to highlight this text.

Horizon Europe Missions

The concept of the mission is clear: a complex challenge is set out, a plan is drawn up to resolve it, and a vast amount of resources are deployed to align all the stakeholders in the public or private sphere. Everyone follows the same example of a successful mission: sending a human being to the Moon. Many experts believed that it was not feasible and that it could not be achieved by 1969.

Mariana Mazzucato explains how the missions go far beyond the traditional concept when the public sector addresses market failures. If I may say so, correcting or repairing are reactive concepts, without leadership, and every mission needs a promoter, a leader.

This is certainly the case with the new “Mission “100 Climate-neutral Cities by 2030 – by and for the Citizens”[1]: the European Commission sets the challenge and priorities and it also sends strong signals and incentives to the cities, private sector, regions and states. An estimated €96 billion of investment is involved, between public and private funds (€ with all its zeros), with strong involvement of the EIB – European Investment Bank, EU Green Deal funds, and the EU Recovery Fund added to the Horizon Europe funds. Divide it by the 100 cities that will participate in the mission and you will see how much would be allocated on average to each one. Of course, some say that the challenge is not viable and will not be achieved by 2030. At least, the urgency of the mission remains undisputed.

We can only talk about innovation when there is a successful implementation with positive results. In a mission, the objective can only be achieved if all the stakeholders work together effectively as a team and if everyone, in the public and private sphere, is committed and actively participates. This also includes the governance of the mission. “Commitment” is not the same as “involvement”: I refer to the dish of fried eggs and bacon in which the hen was involved, and the pig was committed.

In this case, the way to ensure the commitment of the parties is the joint elaboration of the Climate City Contract between all the stakeholders. The MISSION proposes a multi-level co-creation process, expressing the level of ambition and commitment of all parties involved, identifying barriers and priorities for the transition strategy, establishing governance, and coordinating with regional, national and EU authorities. It will be possible to remove or overcome regulatory, knowledge or funding barriers only when working together. Experience shows that new approaches are needed which can tackle the barriers beyond the traditional approach based solely on financial incentives. The Climate City Contract is the key to access to funding, it is the requirement.

The title of the MISSION is clear when it says “by and for the Citizens”. The biggest challenges of becoming a climate-neutral city are the energy rehabilitation of buildings and sustainable mobility. They can be addressed only with the engagement of citizens. Our Social Innovation team has experience in working on the ground to achieve this.

Finally, the cities that face the challenge of participating in the MISSION must be practical and effective, capable of translating the objectives of their Climate City Contract into a project portfolio, each with its indicators and its forms of finances and business models. At this stage, most cities are not able to translate their Covenant of Mayor’s strategy, their sustainable urban mobility plan (SUMP), their energy strategy, their innovation strategy, their strategic plan into projects… many plans are not synchronized and sometimes do not integrate critical aspects in urban planning such as economic development, social inequalities or territorial balance.

The Climate City Contract should integrate these aspects to become the Master Plan that transforms the cities, and make the urgent fight against climate change a driver of transformation to achieve a more competitive, fairer city with a better quality of life for its citizens.

I have been working with cities for a few years now and I am excited about this great challenge. In ZABALA, we know well the major national and European policies, the public administration and how the financing instruments work in practice. We see how powerful the concept of the Climate City Contract can be. Experience has shown us that the difficulty is not in drawing up a strategy that is advertised with great enthusiasm, but in developing a solid strategy built on strong pillars, co-created by all the stakeholders and therefore stable. This strategy can be translated into projects that will transform the cities.

Expert person

Juan Cristóbal García
Juan Cristóbal García

Pamplona Office

Senior Innovation Strategy Consultant

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