A European tour of climate solutions

An article by Tamara Trumbic, ICLEI


Tamara Trumbic

This article by Tamara Trumbic was featured in The Beam #10 – Local Heroes of the Energy Transition. Subscribe now to read more on the subject.


The Special Report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018 reconfirms the urgent need for raising the ambition to reduce global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Immediate action and a broad transition across sectors is needed, particularly designing a sustainable, low-emission energy system, and the scale of this transformation requires integrated solutions. Close cooperation across all levels of government, economic actors and civil society is essential to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Global and national leaders, participating in negotiation processes, regularly convene to discuss the development, and hopefully subsequent implementation, of their Nationally Determined Contributions. As a concrete example of a commitment, the European Union pledged to reduce GHG emissions by 40% by 2030. But how are these reductions going to be accomplished? 

Great potential for coping with climate change lies in adequate engagement and empowerment of local governments, and cities and municipalities are best positioned to implement target-oriented climate and energy action. As Carsten Rothballer, coordinator of ICLEI Europe’s climate and energy activities underlines: “Local authorities lead by example and inspire the wider community they represent.”

Real and ongoing cases of climate action are already happening in cities and municipalities all over the European Union. Who are those, whose voices are sometimes less represented in the global climate policy debate, who push the limits, go out of their comfort zone and, in small, steady steps, contribute to fighting climate change? They are the real heroes of climate action.

Poland: Wroclaw is preparing to decarbonise its building stock by 2050

Placed in the heart of Silesia region, famous as one of the main coal regions in the European Union, Wrocław has long-lasting air quality and sustainable energy problem. Despite the current Polish energy mix are still being largely reliant on coal, some local authorities make an effort to move to a low-carbon economy. So did the City of Wrocław, by replacing individual coal-fuelled heating systems, and considering how to fully decarbonise its building stock by 2050. Supported by the World Green Building Council (WBGC), and in coalition with seven other EU cities, through Build Upon 2 project, Wrocław will create a Multi-Level Renovation Impact Framework containing milestones and measurable progress indicators for building renovation strategies, expected to tackle additional local challenges like fuel poverty and residents’ health and well-being, while contributing to the creation of green jobs. At the same time, TripleA-reno project enables several EU cities to engage tenants and establish building renovation communities, which is also necessary to boost renovation rates. Moreover, to achieve full decarbonisation of energy systems, efforts must be made on both energy demand and energy supply sides. How the Silesian region is going to swiftly dissociate from its coal dependence is yet to be seen, but promising steps have been made, also due to the EU platform of coal regions in transition. Here, in search for sustainable solutions, Wrocław can get inspired by a very innovative example occurring  1400 km away, to the north. 

 Sweden: Stockholm to capture heat from data centres and supermarkets

The City of Stockholm, with its cold climate and a vast district heating network having over 90 percent of buildings connected, has been trying to make its heating system more environmentally friendly, in accordance with becoming a fossil-free city by 2040. Waste heat is abundant in cities but is used rarely. Stockholm was one of the first to strategically tap this potential.

Open District Heating, a concept owned by Stockholm Exergi, the leading heating and cooling supplier, now allows data centers, supermarkets and other companies producing excess heat and being close to heating and cooling networks to sell their surplus energy and thus turning costs for into revenues. At the same time, the Stockholm Data Parks initiative was established to promote the city as one of the best places in the world to run data centers. However, these centers shall not only be integrated into the thermal network but are in fact strategically placed at those urban locations, where there is a high demand for heating.

This win-win model of energetic synergy between two sectors that are so far operating detached from each other, should inspire replication and integrated energy system approaches. But before looking at how to secure sufficient amounts of energy needed for our daily lives, we should rethink our habits first. The City of Turku (Finland) showcases, how to persuade citizens to be mobile in a more sustainable way.

"To liberate the potential of local governments it is necessary to increase the cooperation between the local heroes of climate action, both between hero cities and the heroes being active within the cities. "

Finland: Turku’s Citizens are changing their urban mobility patterns

Turku, the oldest city in Finland, recently launched the ‘Turku Strategy 2029’, setting the goal to become climate neutral by 2029. By then, mobility will primarily mean walking, cycling and using electric public transport and shared vehicles. Stella Aaltonen, working in a City of Turku, explains: “A vital part of Turku becoming a sustainable city is that citizens really reconsider their travel behaviour.” To encourage its citizens–20% of which are students–to change their mobility patterns, they decided to implement a number of smart solutions: from using social networks for participatory urban mobility planning, integrated ticketing and information services, to bike- and car-sharing schemes.

Smart technologies can help citizens to act more sustainably. Therefore, it can be useful for cities to enter into a dialogue and co-creation process with the smart city industry. For that, let’s have a look at the example 1400 km to the south-west, in Cologne, where a regional utility is testing cutting-edge technologies as part of the EU lighthouse demonstration of GrowSmarter.

Germany: energy utility to test virtual power plant in Cologne

Situated in Ruhr, a major industrial region of Germany, the city of Cologne is collaborating with key industrial players to test innovative solutions in the field of energy. Rheinenergie, a regional public utility, is piloting Siedlungsmanagement, a holistic virtual power plant (VPP), connecting local photovoltaic production, heat pumps and batteries and combining them with smart local electricity, home and building management systems. 

The VPP is optimising energy and heat consumption by up to 70%. Based on information gathered from meters installed throughout the building, it can predict future energy consumption. As a result of this solution, less external energy has to be supplied, relieving pressure on energy grids. Virtual power plants may be seen in the distant future, but Rheinenergie strongly believes in their scale-up and widespread use. 

More heroes of climate action needed

The future of climate action can not be predicted, but these few heroes exemplify that local authorities do play a key role in driving the sustainable and just energy transition forward, acting not only as administrators but also as providers and shapers of services and quality living. To liberate the potential of local governments it is necessary to increase the cooperation between the local heroes of climate action, both between hero cities and the heroes being active within the cities. Certainly, their bold, brave moves deserve more recognition and visibility within global climate change endeavours!


Tamara Trumbic works in ICLEI´s Europe Sustainable Resources, Climate and Resilience team, providing strategic and practical support to cities in their low-carbon, resilient and resource-efficient development.