How can cities help to achieve a sustainable future?

Written by Hanna Kirchberger
Posted on 04/02/22

According to the UN, 68% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. But what has that to do with the ongoing threats and challenges of climate change? Seeing how big the urban population will be and already is, it is worth thinking about how cities can help working towards a more climate neutral and sustainable future. Cities can be used as frameworks for addressing the challenges of climate change and trying out different climate innovations on a small scale. Even further, they can act faster than national governments and can therefore be used as testing fields for pilot projects. In doing so it is important that the solutions found are replicable and can be adopted in other cities around the world and in various different urban environments.
Let’s take a look at some of the innovations and ideas of European cities for being a little more environment-friendly:

Amsterdam (Netherlands)

In 2018, the RESILIO project was launched in Amsterdam. RESILIO focuses on repurposing rooftops and aims tol install 10,000 m² of blue-green roofs with water preservation technology. These roofs have a ‘smart flow control’ technology and store excess rainwater underneath a cover of plants. Connected through a network enabling communication and the anticipation of changing weather conditions, the roofs can retain or release water in response to the current situation.

The RESILIO project will reduce the city’s energy consumption, provide space for new nature and increase Amsterdam’s water preservation. This can be actively used to increase the city’s resilience to rainfall, and secure it against high temperatures and droughts.

Florence (Italy)

Florence is part of the EU replicate project, whose aim is to increase the quality of the European citizens’ lives. Within the project, a multi-governance model, the Smart City Control Room (SCCR), was developed. The SCCR facilitates the cooperation and exchange of information among different utilities, public services and the private sector in Florence and is expected to help transform Florence into a smart and sustainable city. Through the SCCR, data is collected and processed to help manage and plan the city’s public service daily. Operators of the SCCR can oversee traffic, gas, water, electricity and air quality but also traffic light systems, parking and restricted traffic areas as well as waste management. Thereby, the city can be made more energy-efficient and city management can be optimized. In connection to this, the municipality of Florence developed a mobile app to help citizens be updated about traffic and parking conditions in real time and communicate with the authorities. Furthermore, the app also provides personalized information for users concerning the environmental impact of their mobility choices. The goal is to encourage using more environment-friendly alternatives.

Lahti (Finland)

Lahti launched the CitiCAP project in 2018 (until 2020), as the world’s first pilot project of city-wide personal carbon trade (PCT). The aim of personal carbon trade attempts to make users reduce the greenhouse gases resulting out of transport. The CitiCAP project developed an app that collected citizens’ transportation data and thereof displayed their carbon footprint. All users had a weekly carbon budget at their disposal. If they did not consume it completely during the week, they earned virtual credits. With those credits, the citizens were able to receive discounts on city services and products. In exchange for their sustainable mobility choices, they could for example use public transport or bikes. A further part of the project was also the construction of a bicycle highway through the city.

The CitiCAP project showed that carbon trade can offer a quick way of involving citizens in working towards more sustainability and could be easily used in cities around the world. As such it was very successful and aroused interest in cities around the world.

Promoting sustainable urban mobility in Lahti

Lisbon (Portugal)

In 2019, Lisbon implemented the LIFE LUNGS Lisbon project for addressing environmental challenges like the rising average annual temperature and seasonal flooding. The main aim of the project is to make the city more resilient and able to adapt to heatwaves and water scarcity. Various actions are planned to be implemented in the process. Those are in some cases rather surprising actions, like for example using a flock of sheep as a non-mechanic vegetation control and soil conservation. But also more common examples, such as increasing the planting of trees and implementing measures for more sustainable water management, are used. The goal is to increase the city’s tree coverage by planting 240,000 trees and shrubs and eventually have 10.6 hectares of biodiverse meadows. Lisbon’s citizens are encouraged to participate in the tree planting and can therefore actively contribute to making their city greener.

Lisbon is advocating other cities to follow its example, especially addressing cities of southern Europe since they are and will be greatly affected by rising temperatures.

Lund (Sweden)

Lund was one of the cities in which the COOL DH project developed. The project is concerned with energy-efficient and Low Temperature District Heating (LTHD) Solutions in cities to improve heating efficiency and sustainable urban development. The Brunnshög district in Lund, in which the project is tested, is already the largest LTDH network in the world and will even further grow, as the district expands. Its aim is to lead the way in  Europe’s testing of LTHD solutions. The main source of Brunnshög’s low-grade heat comes from recycled fossil free waste and is planned to eventually be complemented by completely fossil-free waste heat. City districts like Brunnshög could be replicated around the world and thus offer sustainable and energy-efficient heating.

Vision image of Brunnshög. Credit: Atkins.

These are only some examples of innovations and projects that cities around the world are piloting. While it is interesting to see the different approaches and ideas for working towards a more sustainable future, it is also necessary that cities around the world work together and learn from each other. Although this still doesn’t happen enough, there are already some examples of organizations bringing together different cities with the common goal of achieving a sustainable future.

One example is the global taskforce. The global taskforce is responsible for inventing innovations, for example for the decarbonisation of mobility and energy systems. These innovations need to be tested in pilot cities in order to see if they work in real life and if it is possible to adopt them in different cities. The taskforce is a project of the Climate-KIC (Knowledge and Innovation Communities) of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) and the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy (GCoM).

Another example is the Healthy, Clean Cities programme. European cities within the programme experiment with different policy innovations in order to work towards carbon neutrality and climate resilience.

Seeing that there do exist some examples not only of cities working towards becoming more sustainable but also of cities working together towards the same goal, there might be hope that innovations as the ones presented, might be adopted around the world and could actively contribute to lessening humans’ negative impact on the environment.

Especially if we consider how many people will eventually live in urban areas, cities are the place from where changes have to start.


Squires, C. (2021, November 3). Cities are showing off local climate innovations at COP26. Quartz. Available:

EIT Climate-KIC (2020). The climate emergency demands bold policy innovations – can cities deliver? Available:

CDP: Nine innovative ways European cities are taking climate action. Available:

Charles, A. (2017). These are the Top 10 Urban Innovations. Smart City Hub. Available:

Putri, E. (2018, December 14). Indonesia’s Congestion Problem: Why Jakarta Bans Cars on Sundays. Culture trip. Available:

World Economic Forum (2015). Top Ten Urban Innovations. Available:

Amsterdam Smart City (2019). RESILIO – Amsterdam Blue Green Roofs Available: 

United Nations: Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2018). Available: 

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