CORDIS - EU research results

Programme Category


Article available in the following languages:


Towards Climate-Neutral and Socially Innovative Cities


This purpose of this topic is to develop a one-stop shop platform providing the necessary technical, regulatory, financial and socio-economic expertise as well as assistance to cities for developing and implementing their climate action plans, and related social innovation action plans. The project can involve research organisations, academia, industry including social entrepreneurs, the financial sector including impact financiers, investors, philanthropists, NGOs, national and local authorities and citizens. The project should also be responsible for the management of competitive calls addressed to third parties to fulfil the objectives of this action. The platform should facilitate the coordination of ongoing European activities in the area of climate neutrality for cities and should be sustainable, scalable and self-financed beyond the life of the action. Where relevant, the action should take into due account and build on existing platforms[[ E.g. Smart Cities Marketplace and its Matchmaking facility:]], experience already matured by the Covenant of Mayors[[]] initiative and methodologies, analysis and processes developed by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission as well as based on the principles and standards of the Join, Boost, Sustain Declaration[[]].

The proposal should address all of the following four activities:

Activity 1: Climate action plans and Green Deal innovation:

  • Develop a science-based set of indicators[[ For urban transport, the Sustainable Urban Mobility Indicators (SUMI) should be further replicated and support offered for adoption in the context of benchmarking urban mobility in the climate neutral city]] enabling the assessment of the climate, environmental and socio-economic impact of cities’ climate neutral action plan, as well as its replication and scaling potential, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions reduction within the framework of the European Green Deal
  • Develop innovative urban greening assessment methodologies for planning[[ Including Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (see]] and monitoring[[Existing monitoring and forecasting programmes, in particular Copernicus, should be properly taken into account where relevant.]] GHG emissions reduction to meet the Green Deal ambitious targets.
  • Provide harmonised specifications for inter-operable and comparable evidence repositories for cities, documenting action plan approaches and impacts;
  • Support cities in identifying and possibly overcoming regulatory, institutional, governance, financing, public acceptance and other barriers preventing progress and coordinated pathways towards climate neutrality;
  • Design, in close collaboration with the cities and the European Commission, a concept for a climate-neutral city contract[[Additional information available at:]] corresponding to climate action plans that includes the application process and assessment criteria. Particular attention should be paid to citizens’ engagement, social innovation and social entrepreneurship, environmental, economic and health benefits, and Just Transition mechanisms.
  • Support cities in innovating their local governance and, where appropriate, building capacity to implement systemic and integrated climate-neutral policies, also building on existing experiences developed by local networks[[ E.g. CIVINETS:]];
  • Coordinate the group of cities committing to the climate-neutral city contract, ensuring an operational customer-driven link of this action with the cities as final users. Facilitating the sharing of experience and good practices and mutual learning between cities regarding setting up and mainstreaming co-creation processes engaging all relevant actors for the framing, deployment and assessment of their vision, strategy, and an action plan to reach climate neutrality while ensuring shared ownership.

Activity 2: Investment project preparation and finance:

  • Provide information and consulting services to cities on preparing and financing investment projects for the transition to climate neutrality. This should take into account and build on the good practices developed by global, European and national initiatives and programmes such as Horizon 2020, ELTIS, ELENA, CIVITAS, EIP on Smart Cities and Communities (EIP-SCC) Marketplace, EIT Climate KIC, Intelligent Cities Challenge (ICC), European City Facility, JPI Urban Europe, Positive Energy Districts, Green City Accord, the European Green Capital award. Financial solutions should include, but should not be restricted to, those provided by InvestEU, EIB, EBRD and the European Structural and Investment Fund. Collaboration with national development banks as well as commercial banks is also encouraged.

Activity 3: Social innovation and citizens’ engagement:

  • Support cities and local communities in testing solutions (including new technologies, non-technological, and social innovations) that stem from European R&I. This should entail a matching of cities’ and local communities’ needs to R&I results through various means, e.g. match-making and brokerage hubs;
  • Combine existing results of European R&I with social innovation, and take advantage of the digital transformation and digital infrastructure to co-create and test solutions with local communities, including changes in social practices and behaviour;
  • Provide support to cities for reinforcing not only communication but also citizens’ engagement activities involving also marginalised or vulnerable to exclusion citizens. This should include sharing and using good practices on social innovation as well as enabling cities and local communities to exchange experiences and learn from each other when testing and implementing solutions, connecting more innovators and researchers and making them aware of citizens’ needs, and, though all these channels, helping cities move closer to climate neutrality.

Activity 4: Research and Innovation for climate-neutral transformation of cities:

  • Once the services of the platform are made available, open calls for proposals will be launched to support large scale pilots for the deployment in lead cities or districts of systemic solutions combining, as appropriate, technological, nature-based, social, cultural, regulatory and financial innovation and new business and governance models to underpin the climate transition, taking stock of existing best practises and already available solutions. These calls should be evaluated by external, independent experts in a fair and transparent process.
  • In order to facilitate the upscaling of these solutions and their replicability, the pilots will also support for each lead city and/or district, activities dedicated to the twinning with and mentoring of at least 2 other cities and/or districts from different EU Member States or H2020 associated countries facing structural disadvantages or with a size smaller than 50 000 inhabitants, which are willing to develop their proper climate action plan and implement it in a subsequent phase beyond the life of the current action.

This action aims at a rapid, full-scale deployment of systemic and integrated climate actions at city or district level in order to reach climate neutrality by 2030. It should integrate a package of measures covering all sectors such as health promotion, water, food, energy, industry, housing (private housing and public buildings such as schools and other critical infrastructures), transport (including connected mobility and modal shift) and other sectors considered essential for climate neutrality, with digital, circularity as well as nature-based solutions as critical enablers, while respecting the do no significant harm (DNSH) principle in the specific city context and the set timeline.

Cities and/or local communities participating in the pilots are expected to engage the necessary resources and commit to the deployment of their action plan and the achievement of the expected impacts stated below.

This action, in particular the activities covered under Activity 4, allows for the provision of financial support to third parties in line with the conditions set out in Part K of the General Annexes. Due to the nature of the work to be supported under the call(s) supporting deployment of innovative solutions, the contribution to a third party may go beyond EUR 60 000. The Commission considers that the size of the pilots should range between EUR 0.5 million up to EUR 1.5 million, depending on the expected impact of the proposed projects. The selection of the third parties to be supported under the grant will be based on an external review by independent experts of the proposed work.

The open calls for proposals to be launched within the grant for the selection of third parties should respect all the rules and conditions laid out in Annex K of the Work Programme, in particular as regard transparency, equal treatment, conflict of interest and confidentiality.

The consortium should possess, among others, good knowledge and expertise in European urban-relevant programmes and initiatives, urban planning, state-of the-art in technological innovation for climate neutrality, social innovation and stakeholders engagement, financing programmes (such as the, Horizon 2020, European structural and investment funds, EIB, EBRD…) and European / international umbrella organisations (such as the C40, CIVITAS, POLIS, EU Covenant of Mayors/ Global Covenant of Mayors, ICLEI etc.).

Proposals should ensure that an appropriate geographical balance across Europe is achieved through twinning activities and other means to maximise impact without leaving anyone behind, and by demonstrating commitment of cooperation.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a typical contribution from the EU up to EUR 53 million would allow this specific area to be addressed appropriately, of which at least 60% should be allocated to activities covered under Activity 4 for the financial support to third parties. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

As the scope of this action is to support a one-stop shop platform, at most one proposal is expected to be funded under this topic.

The strategic long-term vision[[]] published by the Commission for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate-neutral economy calls for a drastic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The European Commission’s Green Deal[[]] proposes a new growth strategy that aims to preserve the planet for future generations. It should serve as the compass to emerge from the present COVID-19 crisis and offers the opportunity to bounce forward and accelerate our progress towards meeting the EU climate change objectives. It sets an ambitious target of a 50%-55% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Through its roadmap for action it outlines a long-term vision for the environment, involving all sectors of the economy, geared towards reaching the goal of climate neutrality.

While cities occupy only 2% of the planet’s landmass, they consume over 65% of the world’s energy and account for more than 70% of global man-made CO2 emissions. Currently 75% of European citizens live in cities and this percentage is expected to rise to 80% by 2050. Therefore, cities[[ For the purposes of this topic “cities” should be intended as either city district (neighbourhood or zone of special interest of a city administered or governed by some type of “district council”), a city represented by a government unit (e.g. municipality) or an urban area (conglomeration or a functional area composed of many neighbouring cities or government units, represented by the respective government units).]] must play a crucial role in helping Europe reach the targets of the Green Deal. The Commission will support their systemic transformation towards climate neutrality leveraging, in particular, technological, non-technological and social innovation and new AI-based solutions.

The challenge resides with achieving significant progress towards climate neutrality at a large (European) scale by fostering climate-neutrality and social innovation in cities. This means capitalising on existing research and innovation, valorising available knowledge in Europe, and using Green Deal-targeted social, financial, and technological innovation to co-create, test, and deploy systemic, integrated solutions, technologies, and incentive schemes with cities to tackle the largest sources of pollution in urban and metropolitan areas. It also implies designing incentives promoting investments such as green infrastructure into cities committed to climate neutrality and the Green Deal objectives. This will help test innovative solutions, technologies, and incentives to reach the scale that will make them attractive for industry economically, for citizens in terms of affordability, liveability, and inclusiveness, and for local authorities as concern effectiveness, efficiency, and quality of life. Testing these solutions and incentives will require listening to the needs of citizens and engaging cities to act. Framing the above-mentioned elements necessitates taking into account the consequences and long-lasting impacts on cities of the current health and economic crisis, affecting for example mobility, transportation, urban planning, digitisation, provision of services, etc. It requires triggering and supporting lasting changes in social, business, and administrative practices and in individual behaviours with clear impacts on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and other co-benefits that citizens, businesses and public authorities find desirable.

  • Contribution to achieving climate neutrality by 2030 in the participating leading cities and districts due to the development and deployment of a comprehensive methodology, including selecting criteria, and model covering cross-sectoral governance, citizens participations, social innovation and social entrepreneurship impact, financing and policy approaches, and an urban digital platform;
  • Systemic transformation of cities towards climate neutrality, via support from a European level structure;
  • Crossing of social tipping points and implementation of the Green Deal, through social innovation that empowers cities and local communities;
  • Leading the transition to climate neutrality by mobilising the demand (citizens’ needs) and showcasing testing of innovative solutions drawing from European R&I through a socially inclusive mechanism;
  • European cities moving towards climate neutrality by 2030 through measures that demonstrate visible substantial reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution as part of an agreed pathway to climate neutrality by 2050 or earlier;
  • Improved share of sustainable and active transport modes. Reduced negative externalities of urban and peri-urban transportation: congestion, pollution and road collisions. Enhanced multimodality and facilitated use of sustainable and clean modes of transport.