A third of European cities still don’t care about climate change

The future.
The future.
Image: Reuters/Thomas Peter
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Nearly 75% of Europeans live in cities, and they emit about the same proportion of the continent’s greenhouse gases. And, yet, more than a third of the cities don’t have a plan to cut emissions and mitigate climate change, according to a new study.

Since the US signaled last year that it would pull out of the Paris climate accord, Europe’s commitment has helped ensure the rest of the world doesn’t abandon global efforts to fight climate change. As one of the richest parts of the world, the continent has been at the forefront of cutting emissions. But look inside and you’ll see uneven progress.

Diana Reckien, a researcher at the University of Twente, and her colleagues collected data on 885 cities across the continent and found that major cities, such as Athens in Greece, Salzburg in Austria, and Mallorca in Spain, have no climate-change mitigation or adaption plans, even if other cities within those countries have them. What’s worse is that none of the cities in Bulgaria or Hungary had any plans. On the other hand, nearly every city in Poland (97%) had some sort of plan to deal with climate change. Next on the leader board are: Germany (81%), Ireland (80%), Finland (78%), and Sweden (77%).

In some ways, climate change is a straightforward problem to solve: find and cut sources of emissions. The ways to do that involve using fewer fossil fuels, improving energy efficiency, and transitioning to using zero-carbon sources of energy. Much of these initiatives are win-win for cities, since having fewer diesel-powered cars on the roads means cleaner air or lower energy bills because of better insulation.

But in other ways, it is not. Many coastal cities are facing the threat of sea-level rise caused by climate change. In the past, such problems could be dealt with using, say, flood barriers. But without also mitigating climate change, such defenses don’t stand a chance against the rate at which sea levels are predicted to rise. 

Cities are the engines that run a country. As European countries, including climate-champions such as Germany and the Netherlands, struggle to hit climate goals, the burden of action becomes bigger on cities.