The Covenant of Mayors Investment Forum was first launched in 2014. In February 2019 a two-day event was held in which significant achievements and challenges in the evolution of this initiative were reviewed. Over 700 participants gathered for the event and alongside networking spaces, keynote speeches, and panel discussions, 30 research and implementation projects concerning sustainable energy and climate adaptation were presented. These remarkable projects have been developed with the support of Horizon 2020 (Energy Efficiency and Smart Cities and Communities calls) and LIFE programmes, and/or from the European Investment Bank’s ELENA facility and the European Energy Efficiency Fund (EEEF). Buildings and their use of energy are central to several of these local-scale implementation experiences.
Environmental restoration, climate change, and energy transitions are key challenges that the world is facing. While these challenges require action and mobilisation of economic resources at all levels, interventions at the local and urban scale can be particularly effective.
With the goal of engaging and supporting municipalities’ administrations to reach or surpass the EU climate and energy targets, the European Commission launched the Covenant of Mayors Initiative in 2008.
By 2011 more than 2000 city administrations had joined, and the successful experience was then replicated into initiatives associating Eastern and Southern neighbouring partner countries and currently regional offices are being set up in the Americas, sub-Saharan, and Asian regions. Since 2016 the European Covenant of Mayors, joining forces with the Compact of Mayors, have also formed the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. This international alliance, aligning with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and climate justice principles, focuses on tackling the three key issues of; climate change mitigation, adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change, and universal access to secure, clean and affordable energy.
Today there are more than 7700 signatories of the European Covenant committing to adopt a joint approach on climate change and to support the implementation of the EU 40% greenhouse gas-reduction target by 2030. This translates into a Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan (SECAP) that is submitted by the local government, identifying strategic measures and actions as well as a Baseline Emission Inventory and a Climate Risks and Vulnerability Assessment. A long-term process of implementation and biannual reporting is then initiated, along with knowledge exchange and co-operation within the network.
INVESTMENT FORUM 2019 EDITION
Practical measures and the implementation of projects require proper business planning and funding, considering the long-term perspective of environment and energy efficiency measures as they are expressed in Europe’s strategic long-term vision. These are the topics around which Investment Forums have been organised by the European Commission’s EASME Executive Agency and Directorate-Generals for Energy and for Climate Action in co-operation with the Covenant of Mayors’ secretariat.
Hans Van Steen (Director for Renewables, Research and Innovation, Energy Efficiency, DG Energy), took care of highlighting the recent agreement, achieved last November, for the strategic long-term vision, and also the adoption of the Clean Energy Package for all Europeans where the emphasis is on the role of the individual energy consumer.
This year’s event and the presentation of projects was structured along six thematic parallel, interconnected and interactive strands, namely; innovative sustainable energy planning, financing urban mobility, financing energy efficiency in the public sector, financing home renovation, innovative financing solutions, and financing climate adaptation. A share of the projects are specifically addressing the buildings sector and the role of buildings in contributing to resilience, energy efficiency, and global warming mitigation, such as OKTAVE (Regional home renovation programme, Region of Alsace, FR), HOUSEENVEST (deep energy renovation of multifamily houses, Extremadura, ES), INNOVATE (innovative energy efficiency service packages for home renovation, EU), BE REEL (large scale home renovation, Belgium), REFURB (stimulating demand for energy renovation in residential buildings, EU), and EeMAP (European framework for energy efficient mortgages, EU).
Besides this series of projects addressing different scales or aspects of the residential building stock renovation challenge, other projects presented two complementary and pertinent energy efficiency in building topics as public procurement and operation; BUNDLE-UP (joint procurement for energy efficient public buildings and street-lighting, PT) and EDI-Net (easier consumption data visualization and management, EU).
The role of buildings in local climate action was further developed in the presentation of projects dealing with biodiversity, air quality and water management as the GREEN ROOFS strategy is aiming to create 100 hectares of green roofs in the city of Hamburg (DE). The URBAN ROOFS & URBAN ADAPT project looks into the financing of the climate adaptation strategy in Rotterdam (NL) with remarkable public space interventions in synergy with the water-tight urban fabric of buildings within the densely urbanised context of the Lowlands.
On each day of the Investment Forum, a plenary session was organised gathering key stakeholders and discussing these two strategic topics; Joining forces on the energy transition, public/private cooperation at the local level, and Boosting investment for EU cities and regions. In the latter session, keynote speaker Pirio Jantunen (Corporate Social Responsibility Manager, Helen), presenting Helsinki and the mySMARTLife project, and emphasised how collaboration is important in making cities smarter and tackling climate change. "Sustainability is not only a matter of technological change, but societal change".
CHALLENGES AHEAD FOR THE SAFE CLIMATE AND ENERGY EFFICENCY FINANCE MARKET
“Instead of worrying about the future, you should try and change it while still you can”.
The inspiring and autistic clarity of Swedish teen Greta Thunberg was quoted quite a few times at the event, by Pirio Jantunen and Katarina Luhr (Vice-Mayor, City of Stockholm and Board Member of the Covenant of Mayors) and during interactions with the session audiences. The rise in youth movement and activism were mentioned in speeches from beginning to end, as a motivating drive for action and for taking up responsibility, from the individual to higher decision-making levels.
In his Ted-like Managenergy-talk of the event, Per Stoknes -- Head of BI Norwegian Business School, Centre of Green Growth -- explained how new psychology and communication research are developing success criteria to overcome the psychological resistance that prevents people from engaging and acting in favour of climate protection. The five psychological defence mechanisms of distancing, doom/desensitization, dissonance, denial and identity are triggered by conventional over-scientific or climate-catastrophe based information. Strategic, effective communication should then consider five evidence-based solutions for making climate issues (1) more social, in the sense of relating to people and community. Communication should also be (2) supportive, considering a positivity ratio of 3 opportunities for every 1 threat that is mentioned. Concrete measures should be kept (3) simple and intuitive for people, who should also be getting comparative feedback and clear (4) signals and (5) creative and positive story telling on where we want to go, on “how we solved it together”, even on “how we reversed global warming” for instance.
“However, … individual actions cannot solve the climate problem. They do build a stronger bottom up support for the political and the structural solutions that we know can solve it” Per Stoknes noted.
In the closing session, Liviu Stirbat (Deputy Head of the Adaptation Unit, DG for Climate Action) took care to underline the positivity of the current situation by pointing out that the EU “has shown that it is possible to decouple emissions and growth”, as since 1990 greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by about 20% while economic growth has raised by 55% thanks to the policies and initiatives showcased in this forum.
Final session panellists were confronted by this (not so) simple question - Is finance still a challenge? For Waltraud Schmid (Head of Energy Centre, Urban Innovation Vienna) financing is not so much the issue anymore but “connecting the bits!” Besides making the views of project developers and financial institutions match, it is in capacity-building and empowering to make the projects happen on the ground that effort should go, then aiming to scale up from those pilot projects.
For Terry McCallion (Director, Energy Efficiency and Climate Change, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) we are still far from having cracked the nut. He stressed that even if we know how to do it the financial challenge is sizeable as “there’s a complex set of ingredients that need to be brought together, in order to make sure that the financing is mobilized and used for the right purposes and the right sequencing”, and there “you really need a coalition of stakeholders”.
Reinhard Six (Senior Engineer in Energy Efficiency, European Investment Bank) points out that “the need is still there (…) to have a real change in the paradigm regarding energy efficiency investments”. As long-term pay-back times are just not attractive for investors “framework conditions to make these investments more profitable (…) are to be tackled”. To this remark, Björn Bergstrand (Head of Sustainability / Head of Media Relations, Kommuninvest) replied indicating how this is done by considering climate profitability which is something that can clearly apply to buildings.
From Steve Fawkes’ (Senior Advisor, Investor Confidence Project) perspective, having followed the evolution of several energy finance related projects, the components to build the tools are now identified. “The problem now, is how to replicate and build more ‘nut-crackers’, we’re focusing on how to build more tools, it’s not a shortage of money per-se”.
Tools and solutions are available, and implementation is taking place step by step. Against this background, Terry McCallion underlines that “things like Green Bonds and Climate Finance are potentially game changers, but not unless you get the right strategies and the right governance”.
The Covenant of Mayors initiative is helping to implement concrete local-scale solutions that are integrated into a global, co-ordinated, and ambitious vision. Co-operation and communication that is present within this framework can contribute significantly to scaling up change and to the necessary replication of best practices. The Investment Forum is a space that concentrates this potential of interaction and communication and allows for positive feedback towards the whole network. It is also a space of direct interaction of the multilayer bottom-up and top-down dynamics that has the potential to extend the good news and the positive story-telling all the way, reaching individuals in the local communities and high-level policy-making and governance instances – that may be not yet on board.
“Climate is not about some distant glacial melting or hurricanes. The air moving in your nostrils, that’s how near climate is” - Per Stoknes