Cities are the home of complex, inter-dependent challenges related to resource depletion, climate change impacts, environmental degradation, water, air and soil pollution, health issues and social exclusion. Although they occupy about 3% of the Earth’s land, they consume over 65% of the world energy, 75% of natural resource and account for more than 70% of the global CO2 emission. Today, more than 70% of EU citizens live in urban areas and it is expected that more than two thirds of the global population will be living in cities by 2030. Cities are also the engines of the European economy generating about 85% of the EU’s GDP and hubs of technological and social innovation. As such, they are key players in shaping and providing solutions to these challenges and need to urgently engage in unprecedented systemic transformational and bold transition towards sustainability and climate neutrality.
Important gaps in knowledge, evidence, innovation, technology, data, capacity and skills, lack of integrated approaches and deficit in applying research and innovation results to actions exist that prevent successful implementation of such transitions. Also institutional fragmentation, non-inclusive and non-participatory governance structures lead to a lack of shared vision, goal and direction regarding the transition process, incoherence in policies and strategies, uncoordinated planning and decision-making, ineffective measures and inefficient use of resources. Public utilities and enterprises in municipal ownership are an often overseen link between the political ambition and innovative activities on the ground supporting a transformation.
A co-funded partnership on Urban Transitions to a sustainable future is expected to make a considerable contribution towards filling up these gaps. By aligning, mobilising and leveraging EU, national and regional R&I agendas, programmes, priorities, activities and investments, including from the private sector and associating to the extent possible, the totality of EU Member States and Associated Countries, it should create a pan-European critical mass and invest on challenge-driven R&I to underpin urban sustainability transitions.
It should focus as priority on critical urban sectors such as Positive Energy Districts, accessible, connected urban mobility and urban greening and circularity, their inter-relations and interplay with cross-sectoral issues such as governance, digitisation, resilience, land use, infrastructures and public spaces for sustainable, liveable, inclusive and resilient cities. In doing so, the partnership should develop holistic, integrated, systemic and cross-sectorial approaches, foster co-creation processes involving all relevant urban stakeholders and actors and harness the potential of social innovation and citizen’s engagement to deliver place-based portfolios of solutions, measures and tools, facilitate their replication, upscaling, up-taking and mainstreaming and foster market accessibility to increase the return to investments.
It should experiment and promote technological, nature-based, social, economic, cultural, planning and governance innovation and new business and finance models.
In line with the European Commission’s political vision of leaving no one behind, the partnership should harness the outreach potential provided by the national research and innovation funding agencies and involve, as necessary, international cities network to mobilise cities, including small and medium size ones, enterprises including those in municipal ownership, stakeholders, societal actors and research institutions across Europe, including widening countries, and empower them in designing and rolling out sustainability and climate neutrality transitions. This way it will establish itself as a European urban R&I platform serving the sustainability transition needs of the wide diversity and heterogeneity among cities across Europe regarding their socio-economic, technological, institutional, innovation and skills potential.
Major efforts should be invested in facilitating replication, upscaling and up-taking of technologies, solutions, tools and practices and fostering accessibility to knowledge and evidence, individual and collective behavioural changes, knowledge sharing, dialogues, peer-learning, awareness raising, communities and capacity building and skills enhancement to enable urban actors, practitioners, society and citizens to become drivers for transformative transitions towards urban sustainability.
Emphasis should be given to place-based approaches and experimentation capitalizing on citizens’ engagement, social innovation, user-led and citizen science, for shared ownership of human-centred and just solutions and transitions pathways that are tailored to local specificities.
The European Partnership for ‘Driving Urban Tradition to Sustainable Future’ is expected to present a joint programme of activities implemented through a series of joint calls for research and innovation projects and a comprehensive management and implementation plan promoting coordination, networking, training, demonstration and dissemination. Activities could potentially be structured along the following building blocks:
- Implementing joint calls for challenge-driven R&I;
- Setting-up of a multi-stakeholder community of practice to facilitate science-policy-business-society dialogues and sharing of experiences;
- Pursuing communication and dissemination measures to make R&I results accessible for all stakeholder groups;
- Preparation of methodologies, guidelines, references and tools for replication and mainstreaming of good “practice”;
- Clustering of projects and synthesising of R&I results;
- Setting-up a knowledge hub, organising training activities, fostering ULLs and experience sharing on new approaches and solutions to support capacity building among urban actors;
- Addressing standardisation, certification or, wherever necessary, legislative issues;
- Setting-up rigorous monitoring to assess progress towards achieving the objectives of the Partnership and its contribution to relevant EU policies;
To ensure coherence and complementarity of activities and leverage of knowledge and investment possibilities, the partnership is expected to foster close collaboration and synergies with other ongoing EU and nationally funded R&I actions, the mission on ‘Climate-neutral and Smart Cities’ as well as other relevant Horizon Europe European Partnerships (e.g. Clean Energy Transitions; Built environment and construction, Rescuing biodiversity, Safe and Sustainable Food System, 2ZERO, Cooperative, Connected and Automated Mobility (CCAM), EIT Urban Mobility and Water4All. Applicants are expected to describe in details the way to implement such collaborations. To this end, proposals should provide for a dedicated work package and/or task to describe the aims to be achieved through these collaborations, the way to implement them and earmark the appropriate resources accordingly.
Interfaces to public procurement and investment programmes and links with the Urban Agenda for the EU, the European Urban Initiative (EUI) including its strand on Innovative Actions under cohesion policy, private funds, etc. should be explored to support take-up and larger scale implementation of tested approaches and solutions.
Mutually benefitting international outreach, collaboration and cooperation with global and international cities and research funding networks should be pursued to align strategies and research agenda and promote scientific evidence and good practice for urban policy on international level.
Financial commitments and in-kind contributions are expected to be provided by the partners of the consortium for the governance structure, the joint calls and other dedicated implementation actions and efforts for national coordination.
It is expected that the partnership will organise joint calls on an annual base from 2022-2027 and will consider ample time for the implementation of the co-funded projects.
The Commission envisages to include a new action in future work programme(s) to award a grant to identified beneficiaries with the aim of continuing to provide support to the partnership for the duration of Horizon Europe.