The European Commission has established a mission to achieve 100 climate neutral cities by 2030. A key element in the process is for municipalities to develop a Climate City Contract (CCC). Simultaneously, Viable Cities, a national strategic innovation program in Sweden, is also focusing on the transition to climate neutral cities where CCCs are being developed. Viable Cities is at the forefront of the process by not only creating the first CCCs at the national level but also in supporting the European Commission in developing the CCCs at the European level. This article investigates the first CCCs in Sweden and consequently Europe. To do so, it evaluates the content of the Swedish CCCs against a framework for best practice deep decarbonization plans, developed by Linton et al.1; and also analyses the process of developing them. This article is based on a literature review, document analysis of the Swedish CCCs from nine municipalities, and draws on five interviews with the municipalities of Lund, Umeå and Stockholm and Viable Cities. The objective of this article is to investigate the content and process of Swedish CCCs but also to generate insights for subsequent CCCs that are to be developed across Europe.
Climate change is one of the most complex and significant risks facing humanity. Cities and urban spaces are responsible for considerable amounts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and at the same time they provide an extraordinary opportunity to drive ambitious climate policies2. Cities globally are using an array of different mechanisms to design and implement climate policies as well as establishing different targets, including carbon or climate neutrality across different timeframes. As an example of these initiatives, the Table 1 below presents four international organizations working with mobilizing climate action at the city and community levels.
These transnational efforts are being complemented by initiatives at the European Level. The European Green Deal provides an umbrella for cities to drive climate action as it is an overarching policy to create a climate neutral Europe by 2050. Moreover, to support cities achieve climate neutrality, the European Commission developed a renewed interest in ‘missions’ as an approach to achieving bold and ambitious visions3. Inspired by the ‘mission to the moon’ and work on mission-oriented governance, the European Commission adopted the missions approach with the aim to deliver solutions to some of the most significant challenges facing humanity. One of the key missions is to achieve 100 climate neutral cities in Europe by 2030.
The mission for 100 climate neutral cities (hereinafter referred to as the mission) aims to contribute to the dynamic momentum of cities and communities seeking transformative change. In November 2021, the European Commission launched a call for cities to submit their expression of interest to join the mission. In early 2022, the mission accepted 100 cities from all 27 member states, and 12 cities associated to Horizon Europe4. Currently, each selected city is expected to collaboratively develop and sign a Climate City Contract (CCC) with the European Commission.
In Sweden, Viable Cities is a national strategic innovation program also focusing on the transition to climate neutral and sustainable cities. Viable Cities is leading the design and development of CCCs with a group of municipalities in Sweden. Nine Swedish cities (the terms city and municipality are used interchangeably when referring to the municipalities that have signed the CCCs as part of Viable Cities.), in collaboration with Viable Cities and five national government agencies, submitted the first round of CCCs in December 2020. In addition, there are now 23 cities in Sweden that have committed to develop and sign a CCC as part of the Viable Cities process.
The objective of this study is to investigate and provide an analysis of the first CCCs from Sweden. To do so, the article begins by providing an explanation of the EU mission, Viable Cities, and CCCs in the background section. Given that these processes are new, and limited information is available online, five interviews with representatives from the municipalities of Lund, Umeå and Stockholm as well as Viable Cities were undertaken to understand the emergence and process of developing the CCCs. A literature review on urban climate governance is then presented to frame these processes.
The article evaluates the content of the Swedish CCCs against a best practice framework for deep decarbonization plans developed by Linton et al.1. This framework was selected as it focuses on transformational shifts in governance and strategies for cities to decarbonize, as opposed to focusing on an incremental approach to GHG mitigation, in line with the objectives of CCCs. Moreover, the framework was released in 2021 making it a recent review of best practice and a worthwhile framework to test in a Swedish context. The results are presented in the analysis section. The discussion section provides insights on the academic debate, the framework1, the content of CCCs as well as the process of developing them, and provides learning opportunities for subsequent CCCs that are to be developed across Europe.
Overall, this article aims to contribute to the expanding literature and understanding on urban climate governance by assessing the emerging mechanism of CCCs against the existing best governance practices for deep decarbonization framework, suggesting ways for both improving the framework as well as learning from the Swedish CCCs to support the development of CCCs in the EU context. This article also hopes to contribute to the practical knowledge of cities where CCCs are being designed and implemented.
CCCs are not designed to be legally binding documents but rather constitute a clear and visible political commitment. They are intended to be used as a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Mayor or political representative of the city and witnessed by the Commission5. According to the European Commission, CCCs “will include an overall plan for climate neutrality across all sectors […] together with related investment plans. This process will involve citizens, research organizations and the private sector”6. The “use of the word contract is intended to indicate a commitment on the part of the municipality to its citizens as well as to the European Commission and to the national and regional authorities”5.
CCCs are being used at the national level in the case of Viable Cities, but also at the European level in the case of the EU mission (Personal communication, October 22, 2021). A city joining the mission at the European level is expected to develop only one contract between the city itself and the European Commission. The city can then choose whether it will also develop a CCC with the national level. In the case of Sweden, the process was developed in reverse. Nine Swedish cities started with a CCC at the national level through Viable Cities but will sign a separate contract at the European level should they officially join the EU mission. Table 2 below further explains the difference between CCCs for the EU mission in comparison to Viable Cities.
Climate city contracts and viable cities in Sweden
In 2017, Viable Cities was launched with the objective to drive climate neutral cities in Sweden by 2030 with a good life for everyone within planetary boundaries. In 2020, the European Commission adopted the mission for 100 climate neutral cities. Viable Cities and the European Commission collaborated strongly due to the similarities in their objectives and approach, which was heavily inspired by the work of Mariana Mazzucato to use the mission approach to design, steer, and catalyze the transition (Personal communication, October 23, 2021).
Allan Larsson was both the chair of Viable Cities in Sweden and the Vice Chair of the mission board at the European Commission, which has further facilitated a swift exchange of ideas between both programs (Personal communication, October 21, 2021). In fact, the concept of CCCs was developed jointly between both parties and Viable Cities decided to launch the process at the national level as an exercise for the European level (Personal communication, October 22, 2021). Viable Cities agreed with the European Commission that they would organize a yearly event with the Swedish representation on the European Commission to present their findings.
As such, Viable Cities spearheaded the process by developing CCCs between nine Swedish cities and the national level. The nine Swedish cities are Enkoping, Jarfalla, Gothenburg, Stockholm, Malmö, Lund, Umeå, Uppsala and Växjö. These contracts include politically, but not legally binding statements by the municipality, Viable Cities and five national level agencies: the Swedish Energy Agency, Vinnova, Formas and the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth, and the Swedish Transport Administration. The contracts will be updated on a yearly basis with the expectation to increase ambitions and integrate lessons (Personal communication, October 23, 2021). The term contracting was presented to describe this process.
Work on the first round of Swedish CCCs started in February 2020 and was completed in December 2020. The municipalities, Viable Cities, and the government agencies signed the contract as they worked collaboratively to develop them. The process by Viable Cities to date, has increased to include 23 Swedish cities in total. In parallel, Viable Cities invests in and supports a diversity of cross-cutting projects and activities to underpin the movement towards creating climate neutral cities across Sweden.
Climate city contracts and the mission for 100 climate neutral cities in Europe
In 2019, the European Commission formed mission boards for each mission area7. The mission areas include adapting to a changing climate, finding a cure for cancer, restoring oceans and waters, connecting soil, health and food, and finally, facilitating climate neutral and smart cities. The mission board for Climate Neutral and Smart Cities suggested that the European Commission should establish a mission that supports and promotes 100 cities in their systemic transformation towards climate neutrality by 20308.
The timeline of the 100 climate neutral cities mission consists of an early delivery phase where countries and cities set the foundations for their missions between 2020 and 2022, and the main implementation phase between 2022 and 2030. By taking part in the mission, each municipality needs to create and sign a CCC, which could include goals and targets, a strategy and action plan for transformation, with the involvement of stakeholders and their responsibilities. Each contract is intended to be a dynamic and living document that will trigger innovation and unlock five main driving forces for transformation: new forms of participatory and innovative governance; a new economic and funding model; integrated urban planning; digital technologies; and innovation management8.
Based on lessons from the Swedish experience, Viable Cities is supporting the European Commission to develop the details and guidance for the CCCs at the European level9 by participating in the project Net Zero Cities. This project brings together 33 leading city networks and research organizations from 13 countries. The underlying objective of Net Zero Cities is to support European cities to drastically cut GHG emissions and move towards the goal of climate neutrality.
This literature review provides a brief overview of the legitimization of cities as climate actors in a fragmented climate governance landscape; an overview of the evolution of climate urbanism; and finally, the adoption of missions as a mechanism for action at the city level. This literature helps place the multi-level efforts around CCCs for climate neutral cities in a broader context.
Global climate governance is continuously evolving. The recurrent setbacks of the UNFCCC in international cooperation and diplomatic efforts have challenged the nation-centric approach on many fronts. This was especially highlighted in the outcome of the negotiations at the Conventions of Parties (COP) in both Copenhagen and Durban10. Academics and practitioners have provided various explanations for these setbacks, including diplomatic challenges leading to a failure to adopt a workable policy strategy11, or that the focus on a singular outcome, a global and legally binding treaty with top-down governance, has obscured all other forms of tackling climate change12, or that the stalemate in negotiations is due to the way the economy is constructed, fueled and organized13.
As a result of the slow progress, there has been a push for increased multi-lateral governance around climate action. New spheres of legitimacy are developing, leading to the fragmentation of climate governance where efforts are being sparked at all different levels, including individual, communal and urban13. Actors at all scales are hence being legitimized, as seen by the establishment of the Marrakesh Partnership for Global Climate Action (MP-GCA) at the COP in Marrakesh in 2016. The partnership objective is to support “the implementation of the Paris Agreement by enabling collaboration between governments and the cities, regions, businesses and investors that must act on climate change”14.
Since the rise of cities as key actors in climate change, climate urbanism has been defined in various ways. Castán Broto et al.15, unpacked the relationship between the climate crisis and urban transformations. They suggest that there are different modalities of climate urbanism which can be summarized in three distinct categories. First, reactive climate urbanism relates to “actions taken in cities to deal with the impacts of climate change”15. Second, entrepreneurial climate urbanism where climate change is “seen as an opportunity to foster economic competitiveness” in cities15. Third, transformative climate urbanism refers “to the efforts by multiple actors to use cities as platforms for a broader transformation through different modes of experimentation with technologies and social life”15.
For Long and Rice16, climate urbanism can be described as an “on-going paradigm shift in urban planning focused on the development of climate-friendly and climate-resilient cities […] aimed at (1) the active promotion of cities as viable and appropriate sites of climate mitigation and adaptation, and (2) the prioritization of significant efforts to protect the physical and digital infrastructures of urban economies from the hazards associated with climate change”. They highlight, however, that this new climate urbanism might be blind to the potential social justice impacts and could perpetuate already existing injustices and inequalities. Castán Broto, Robin17 agree that climate urbanism can be used as a critical theory that “exposes the production of further inequalities associated with urban responses to climate change.” They frame climate urbanism as a “climate-inflected iteration of neoliberal urban development, geared towards the mobilization of ‘green’ private capital for large-scale infrastructural projects, focused on carbon metrics, and conducive to population displacement through eco-gentrification” (2021).
In addition to exploring the evolution of climate urbanism, some academics provide an in-depth review of the historical development of climate change governance in urban areas. Castán Broto and Westman10 divide the literature on urban governance into two waves matching the evolution of climate governance fragmentation described earlier in the article. The first wave of academic thought and articles, between 2011 and 2013, focused on urban optimism which responded directly to the failures of the UNFCCC national-centric approach. Urban optimism hence “engaged with urban areas as alternative sites for governance in the face of the crumbling international climate regime”10. The second wave, urban pragmatism, starting in 2016 “sought to reimagine urban areas following the integration of the sub-national as a meaningful category in the international climate regime after the 2015 Paris Agreement for Climate Action”10.
They also state that the normative ideal of good governance dominates the literature on urban climate governance. In this wave, “urban optimism prioritized the identification of parameters to explain successful urban climate governance, which resulted in recommendations”10. During the wave of urban pragmatism, these ideas have consolidated into consensus regarding the need for urban climate governance to be participatory, attuned to bottom-up dynamics, strengthened in terms of monitoring and extended time-frames, holistic, integrated across sectors, scales, administrative boundaries and realms of knowledge, and mainstreaming climate concerns into other policy sectors10. They claim that this has led to the instrumentalization of these indicators for good governance and that as a result, the literature “has struggled to move beyond generic recommendations for improving governance to context- and place-specific recommendations about how to foster change on the ground”. The second wave, however, did go beyond good governance to include three other emerging research areas: urban informality, nature-based solutions, and experimentation as a climate change governance approach.
Bulkeley provides a historical overview of the urban politics of climate change, by breaking it down into three distinct phases18. First, she describes a phase of municipal voluntarism in the late 1980s and early 1990s which was driven by voluntary initiatives focused on the mitigation of GHG emissions. Second, she refers to the phase of strategic urbanism where, with time, cities became concerned with ‘urban ecological security’ and acknowledged the links between climate change and the strategic positions it has around “new forms of economic development, risk reduction, and political advantage”18. Third, she describes the current phase of climate urbanism as climate connected where climate change is no longer simply concerned with mitigating emissions but rather is seen as a systemic issue. Climate change is understood to link directly to larger questions of urban consumption, sustainable development goals, and social justice. It is thus “deeply embedded in the working of the economy, socio-technical systems, urban infrastructure, and the cultures, routines, and practices of daily life”18.
This evolution of climate urbanism has had implications on urban climate governance, where governance is no longer occurring exclusively in political arenas, but also taking place through experimentation18. Urban experimentation as a form of governance has become a core component of the urban climate politics landscape18. Experimentation is a theme that connects with the emergence of mission-oriented governance, and its adoption by the European Commission. A key document in setting the foundations for the mission approach is “Governing Missions in the European Union” by Mazzucato3. Mazzucato states that: “missions require putting innovation and outcomes at the center of how we think about economic growth.”
Five criteria are further presented by Mazzucato3 as key foundations for mission-oriented governance, including: “Be bold, inspirational, with wide societal relevance; have a clear direction: targeted, measurable, and time-bound; Be ambitious but realistic research and innovation actions; Be cross-disciplinary, cross-sectoral, and cross-actor innovation; and drive multiple, bottom-up solutions”. The European Commission adopted these concepts of mission-oriented governance in building the mission for 100 Climate Neutral Cities. Experimentation, innovation, and learning are clearly espoused in the mission.
This article utilizes a triangulation of research approaches for data collection and analysis. To gain insight into the process of developing the CCCs and the interactions between Viable Cities with both the municipalities but also the national level, five interviews were conducted. They were undertaken with officials from the cities of Lund, Umeå, and Stockholm representing a geographical distribution across Sweden along with different city sizes, in addition to two interviews with key staff members at Viable Cities. The interviews were conducted anonymously, and are hence referenced as personal communications. Given that the process of developing the CCCs was developed in a standardized way and the process was similar for all cities, it was considered sufficient to focus in on three cities. The interviews were used to understand the background and foundations of the CCCs, to explore the process of developing them, and to provide learning opportunities for the development of CCCs in the EU context.
To assess the content of the first CCCs, a document analysis was undertaken for the following nine cities as these are the first and only cities that developed CCCs under Viable Cities in 2020: Enköping, Gothenburg, Järfälla, Lund, Malmö, Stockholm, Umeå, Uppsala and Växjö. The research methodology and document analysis was informed by the framework1 which presents eleven key elements that are considered best practice for deep decarbonization plans with regards to both strategy and governance. The document analysis was conducted by benchmarking the CCCs against the framework1 based on its four key elements under strategies and its seven key elements under governance, which are described in the Table 3 below.
Each case was analyzed independently in an evaluation matrix where the cities were presented on the x-axis and the eleven components of the framework1 on the y-axis. To assess whether a component was present in the CCCs, a word search was undertaken, along with a subjective analysis of the document. Two of the nine contracts are in English, the remaining seven were translated from Swedish to English using an online translation tool. The CCCs are publicly available on the Viable Cities website. Viable Cities also developed an interactive map of the cities presenting a description and overview of their ambitions (Visit https://en.viablecities.se/klimatneutrala-stader-2030 to explore the interactive map and access details on the cities that developed the first CCCs.).
To develop the best practice elements, Linton et al.1 compared “the strategies and governance structures recommended for local climate mitigation action in academic and gray literature to those described in the deep decarbonization plans of leading local governments in order to identify innovative implementation strategies and governance approaches for urban deep decarbonization”. Linton et al.1 define local deep decarbonization as “pursuing 80–100% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and integrating net-zero carbon into urban systems”.
This framework was selected because CCCs are considered local deep decarbonization plans as they are the planning tools to decarbonize cities by 2030 in a transformational, rather than incremental, approach. This article provides an opportunity to test the framework and improve it in line with empirical findings but also in line with academic expectations. It is a helpful tool to analyze the CCCs and to think critically about the content of the contracts. It also provides insights as to what could be included in the next round of Swedish CCCs as they are to be updated on a yearly basis, but also what elements could be included in the CCCs at a European level. Moreover, the framework was released in 2021 making it a recent review of best practice and a worthwhile framework to test in a Swedish context. Linton et al.1 also encouraged the framework to be tested across different cities and contexts to shed light on the current state of local deep decarbonization planning.
This section focuses on the outcomes of the document analysis of the CCCs against the framework1. The CCCs of Viable Cities are divided into three main sections describing the commitments of the various actors. First, the municipal commitments, which has a template with headings that each city must complete rendering all city sections to have mostly the same format. The second and third sections are the commitments made by Viable Cities, and the commitments made by the five agencies at the national level respectively—these are the exact same text across all contracts. The analysis in this article, therefore, focuses solely on the commitments made by the municipalities and presents the results of comparing the 9 Swedish CCCs against the 11 elements of the framework1. The results are synthesized in the Table 4 below.
All municipalities describe their current or planned strategies for engagement as it is part of the CCCs template. Many stress the importance of digital tools in facilitating this engagement. For example, Enköping intends to develop a digital platform for young thinkers and creators that aims to engage local interest groups with an environmental or developmental focus. Gothenburg states that former district committees are being replaced by care committees with new structures and new forms of organization. The purpose is to meet citizens more effectively and create a positive feeling of co-creation in the development of society. Not least, this is about developing new ways of working designed around the opportunities offered by the digital revolution. Others have created platforms to facilitate engagement and collaboration. For example, Järfälla municipality formed Barkarby Science, which is a platform for collaboration between the public sector, academia, and business. All CCCs focus on engagement with various facets of society, but emphasize the importance of digitalization to do so, which is not captured by the framework1.
None of the municipalities explicitly mention the term ‘green economy’ in their Climate City Contract. However, a few mention broadly, with limited additional information, the ambition to develop a circular economy or incorporate circularity in their resource use. For example, Umeå states that they plan on developing a strategy for Circular Economy in 2021. Stockholm states that they developed a strategy for creating circularity for their already identified and mapped large resource flows. A green economy is an economy that focuses on improving resource-use efficiency, ensuring ecosystem resilience, and enhancing social equity. A circular economy often focuses strictly on improving resource efficiency and therefore unlike the green economy, does not incorporate the social component19. The framework1, however, suggests that supporting a circular economy is a step towards a green economy.
Three municipalities explicitly mention financial tools, but do not provide detailed information nor whether they plan to utilize them. For example, Enköping states that green loans are a flexible form of financing that aims to support a positive climate impact, but do not provide further information as to whether they plan on using them. Lund has a framework for green bonds which is a guide for sustainable investments. It is the municipal group that develops the work with green bonds and sustainable financing. Uppsala municipality intends to develop and apply policy and financial instruments for climate neutrality or climate positivity in the development of the city and infrastructure investments. The connection between the CCCs and financial tools appears relatively weak and undefined.
Two municipalities explicitly mention policy tools or instruments, without providing detailed information. Umeå Municipality state that they developed a model to use policy instruments for the efforts to facilitate transformative change, but do not provide further information. Stockholm identified several areas where changes in policy instruments, laws and regulations at national or European level are needed for the municipal climate goals to be achieved. To be able to test new solutions, free zones for innovation (“policy lab”) may be necessary to test not only new technology but also changed regulations and their effects. Other municipalities do not explicitly refer to policy tools however, the entire process of developing CCCs is itself a policy too, so the connection to the policy process is strong.
All municipalities describe their current overall governance structure as it is part of the CCC template, and many describe their internal coordination structure of the municipality by explaining where the authority of climate planning is located. For example, Växjö clearly explains that municipal climate work has been decentralized to all administrations and companies, while central functions contribute with coordination, development, support, and follow-up. In Gothenburg, the responsibility for running and coordinating the strategies is outsourced to a coordinating committee or municipal company, under the overall management of the Environment and Climate Committee. Lund Municipality describes how the wholly owned companies have been gathered in a company group, which enables clearer control and one uniform environmental and climate organization. Malmö acknowledges that their coordination structure needs restructuring across all administrations and companies to find innovative working methods and solutions to common challenges together with civil society, academia, and business. The CCCs, therefore, align well with the expectations of the framework.
All municipalities provide a general overview of their oversight and reporting mechanism as it is part of the CCC template. For example, Malmö outlines its climate goals are followed up with the help of indicators, which are decided by the municipal council. The fulfillment of the goals of the environmental program is followed up in a recurring environmental report. The Environmental Committee is responsible for this compilation. Gothenburg developed a new city-wide environmental management system to follow-up of the environmental and climate program. Umeå monitors its municipal operations, and they are using digital tools to establish the preconditions for being able to measure progress and assess the rate of change to reduce the impact of climate change. Some also explain who they report to externally such as to the Climate Disclosure Project - CDP, the Global Covenant of Mayors, or the ICLEI Global Reporting Platform. The CCCs, therefore, align well with the expectations of the framework.
This indicator is challenging to assess as it is closely linked to engagement. As such, there is no strong focus on communication in the CCCs but rather on engagement, which is a key aspect of impactful and successful of communication. In fact, the Stockholm Municipality is the only example that discusses any formal process of integrating communication as part of their strategy as they developed the Stockholm City Communication program 2017–2022. With the distinction between communication and engagement blurred in the CCCs, it is difficult to understand if the work in these areas is tightly connected and resourced or if instead, the activity on communication is limited.
Most municipalities describe some of their integration efforts, however, not all discuss integration in the same way nor at the same scale. Integration can refer to integration across city documents or integration of general climate efforts at the city or regional levels. For example, with regards to integration of climate efforts at the regional level, Järfälla participates in a regional innovation network that includes municipalities in Stockholm County. They state that being involved in both regional and national networks and taking part in innovation as well as disseminating knowledge and results is a prerequisite for achieving climate neutrality by 2030. With regards to the integration of documents at the city level, the work of Enköping on climate and sustainability issues is integrated in various documents and plans. When it comes to integration of climate activity across actors, in Malmö, each company board shall, based on their respective basic assignments and conditions, integrate the content of the environmental program into their business planning. The CCCs therefore align well with the expectations of the framework, but also with the objectives of Viable Cities to endorse integration across governance scales.
This indicator overlaps with engagement and communication. All municipalities describe in depth their collaboration efforts. Efforts of cooperation were also included under this element. All sorts of collaborations are described such as collaboration between the municipality and actors across society, regional collaboration, cross-sectoral cooperation, collaboration with the business community, and collaboration across scales. Gothenburg is undertaking an initiative with vehicle players, property owners, businesses, and civil society in the city to create a collaboration-driven development towards an emission-free and inclusive transport system. Lund collaborates with the business community through an innovation platform called Future by Lund, collaborates with companies through Lunds Klimatallians, and collaborates strongly with Lund University through various research projects. A few cities also mention, the importance of digital tools to facilitate collaboration. However, the description of the indicator emphasizes that collaboration should be linked to a decision-making process. It is not clear from the CCCs whether these forms of collaboration lead to collaborative decision-making as well.
All municipalities refer to the development of a Climate Investment Plan as a next objective, a plan outlining both municipal investment but also external investment against a 2030 timeline. These will be developed in collaboration with Viable Cities, as this is a core requirement of the contract. No additional details are provided. Viable Cities, however, provides various tools to support cities access funding from Viable Cities itself, but also from the national and European levels. Viable Cities commits to promote cooperation and synergies between governmental authorities funding and the sustainable development of cities. Viable Cities is also cooperating with the Swedish local government funding agency Kommuninvest and the European Investment Bank (EIB) with the aim of developing forms to strengthen the long-term financing of the municipal investment plans relating to climate change. Finally, they also plan to create invitations for applications for cities to receive funding from Viable Cities for the continued work on Climate City Contracts. They stress the importance of using digital tools to facilitate “co-creation between parties and guide decisions on investments relating to climate change.” The CCCs, therefore, align well with the expectations of the framework, but also with the objectives of Viable Cities for all cities to develop a Climate Investment Plan.
Mode of governing
No municipality explicitly describes what mode of governing they are adopting as in whether they intend to self-govern, govern through enabling, govern by provision or govern by authority, as explained in the framework1. However, by inferring from the content of the CCCs and the focus on engagement, coordination, collaboration, and multilevel integration, governing by enabling seems to be the overarching approach. It is defined by Linton et al.1 as “the role of local government in coordinating and facilitating partnerships with private actors and encouraging community engagement”. However, it is also evident through the CCCs that there is room for a mixed approach to the mode of governing towards climate neutrality.
Embarking on the mission towards 100 climate-neutral cities in Europe
Cities are established as key actors in the fragmented climate governance landscape, and the mission for 100 climate-neutral cities and Viable Cities further cements their role. These programs could be described as falling within urban pragmatism10 where urban areas act as a part of the international climate regime, and a mixture between strategic urbanism and climate connected where the focus has evolved greatly from simply voluntary initiatives focused on the mitigation of GHG emissions to acknowledging that climate change is a systemic issue18.
The programs also seem to be slightly more ambitions by creating a shift to transformative climate urbanism where cities are used as “platforms for a broader transformation through different modes of experimentation with technologies and social life”15. CCCs could be considered to contribute to experimentation and innovation in urban climate governance as it is a new contract-based mode of urban climate action; and the overall mission approach is also an experimental and innovative form of governance with the objective to transform cities3.
The mission for 100 climate neutral cities, and Viable Cities, incorporate, at least in theory, all elements of the recommendations that have emerged from the good governance debate described in the literature review which are: be participatory, attuned to bottom-up dynamics, strengthened in terms of monitoring and extended time-frames, holistic, integrated across sectors, scales, administrative boundaries and realms of knowledge, and mainstreaming climate concerns into other policy sectors10. These elements are at the core of Mazzucato’s mission-oriented approach to governance. Viable Cities, was deeply influenced by Mazzucato’s approach, especially the drive to mobilize cities with a bold, time-bound, definable target (Personal communication, October 23, 2021).
The framework1 also incorporates all of the elements of the good governance debate, and falls within the urban optimism phases of research as its objective is to produce generic recommendations for improving urban climate governance. The framework thus contributes to the normative ideal of good governance, but without questioning the normative issues embedded in the criteria. Further, some elements presented in the framework, specially linked to the financial and economic expectations, such as the green economy or financial tools are aspects that could be criticized by academics for potentially reproducing socially and economically unjust patterns.
The framework does not reflect the newer and emerging research areas described by Castán Broto & Westman10: urban informality, nature-based solutions, and experimentation; nor the additional points linked to urban consumption, SDGs and social justice as to be line with the evolution of climate urbanism and to be truly ‘climate connected’18. Despite these potential setbacks, it is a practical and useful framework for deep decarbonization plans based on the study of ambitious cities and communities from around the world.
Similar to the good governance debate, experimentation in urban climate governance is a growing research field10 and it is a core component of the urban climate politics landscape18. This particular space where the contract-based mode of urban climate action and the mission approach intersect demands further research to support the ambitions to achieve climate neutral cities in Sweden and across Europe.
Understanding the content of Swedish climate city contracts
In the CCCs, all municipalities describe their engagement efforts, coordination structure, oversight and reporting plans, cross-sector collaboration, and funding plans. This is because these elements are part of the CCC template developed by Viable Cities. Most cities describe their multi-level integration vision, few discuss the financial and policy tools while a few make references to a circular economy. Explicit reference to communication is absent from all contracts, however, this is mostly because it relates to engagement, where engagement efforts were well described. Overall, minimal information is provided for each category and therefore do not include extensive information on the elements.
Additional information could be added to the CCCs to provide further clarity on how the objectives are to be reached, and how they will be delivered in practice. Alternatively, supporting documents could be developed that underpin the CCCs. For the next rounds of contracts, Viable Cities could also consider including elements in the framework1, which were covered lightly especially when it comes to the strategy elements: financial tools, policy tools, and the green economy. Financial tools, specifically, must be elaborated on as the need for substantial investments is critical, at a level only possible through a combination of government and private funds. Including ambitious Climate Investment Plans will be vital to underpin the goals and activities outlined in the CCCs.
The contracts do, however, cover additional important elements for strategy and governance that are not included in the framework1. These are the role of digitalization, innovation, and experimentation. Umea, Lund, Uppsala, and Järfälla clearly highlight digitalization as an important tool to facilitate the transition, as it helps with monitoring progress, and emissions but also with collaborating with stakeholders. Viable Cities also stresses that digitalization could support with decision-making on investments related to climate change. In all contracts, they briefly mention their plans to invest in strategic innovation particularly in the areas of mobility, energy, the built environment, the circular economy, and digitalization. Finally, a few municipalities mention the importance of experimentation and using the city as a test bed. Lund and Järfälla for example clearly state that they plan to use the city activities as a test bed. Reiterations of the framework1 could thus include digitalization, innovation, and experimentation, as well as the emerging academic research areas.
The analysis in this article also highlights that CCCs are a mechanism to ensure that city-level work is not occurring in a vacuum but rather facilitates multi-level integration between cities, national agencies, and the EU, but also multi-level collaboration across many stakeholders. The emphasis in the CCCs on engagement, multi-level integration and collaboration by municipalities foster and encourage multi-level governance. Viable Cities, focuses mostly on multi-level integration and funding followed by engagement efforts. This is in line with expectations as the priority of the program is to integrate climate efforts across levels and actors, to support the cities to access funding and to ensure the process is undertaken in a participatory way. In their CCCs commitments, Viable Cities stress the importance of multi-level integration of policies at both the national and European levels. They plan to provide the municipalities with knowledge and information on current and upcoming Swedish and European legislations, rules, and standards that are relevant to cities and communities.
At the national level, Viable Cities collaborates with the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth as the managing authority of the European Regional Development Fund in Sweden and the efforts earmarked for sustainable urban development to establish synergies with the Climate City Contract 2030. Viable Cities also created the Sustainable Cities Council to create synergies between national level agencies and the CCCs. The development of a Climate Investment Plan also reinforces the call for multi-level integration governance, as it outlines both municipal investment but also external investment against a 2030 timeline. The involvement of the private sector in financing and leadership is vital to the success of CCCs in Sweden and across Europe.
Shaping the process of developing Swedish climate city contracts
In addition to the content of the CCCs, it is relevant and important to discuss the process behind creating the CCCs. The process was completed in a standardized way where Viable Cities developed the template collaboratively with the cities. Each contract consists of three parts: commitments made by the cities, commitments made by Viable Cities, and commitments made by the five national agencies. The commitments of Viable Cities and the national agencies are the same across all the CCCs.
The interviews revealed that the process of developing the CCCs was innovative. All municipalities that were interviewed as well as Viable Cities acknowledged that the process of developing the contracts was different than the traditional approach to developing municipal documents. Firstly, the focus was mostly on process rather than outcomes. As such, the concept of contract-ing was presented, where the contract is expected to be developed in an iterative process throughout the years (Personal communication, October 21, 2021). Secondly, the contracts pushed municipalities to think of a Climate Investment Plan, with a special focus on investments coming from the private sector, as opposed to solely relying on traditional municipal funding streams (Personal communication, October 23, 2021).
Thirdly, the municipalities were presented with a new way of working with national government agencies. Traditionally, their work is completed mostly at the municipal level, and therefore the negotiation process with the national level was new (Personal communication, October 25, 2021). Finally, the speed at which they were developed is unprecedented. Viable Cities was focused on kick-starting the process and creating momentum for the municipalities rather than focused on developing the ‘perfect’ contract (Personal communication, October 22, 2021). However, this resulted in municipalities to rely mostly on existing content as new content would require political approval, and to bypass extensive citizen and stakeholder engagement. Adding new information and increased stakeholder engagement is expected in subsequent updates of the contracts.
Two representatives highlighted the importance of having adopted goals already in place, in addition to strategies on how to reach these goals (Personal communication, October 21 & 22, 2021). One representative mentioned the importance of thinking beyond projects and departments, but rather focus on how to integrate climate issues into different departments, while onboarding new stakeholders (Personal communication, October 21, 2021). Another commented on the importance of having an open process where others can investigate the process during the mission (Personal communication, October 22, 2021). Creating legitimacy for the process was also highlighted, by ensuring that political leadership, government agencies and influential stakeholders have buy-in (Personal communication, October 22, 2021). Finally, one representative stressed that CCCs are interesting instruments, but should not be signed blindly. Rather, municipalities should ensure that it aligns with their vision and climate targets (Personal communication, October 25, 2021).
Cities in Europe can draw lessons from these experiences to inform their own unique process. Countries that have a diversity of cities joining the mission for climate neutral cities, could follow the Swedish and Viable Cites model, where the process of developing the CCCs was shaped by a national program. This ensured coordination, mobilization, and standardization across the cities (Personal communication, October 22, 2021). Other countries could consider developing a similar body to drive the process. However, sufficient time must be granted to municipalities should they wish to include new information in their CCCs, as opposed to relying on existing content, and should they wish to be more inclusive and participatory. Stakeholder engagement should be prioritized in the development of contracts.
CCCs are being developed in the context of a larger mission, with many stakeholders, funding, and growing momentum, hopefully providing a new force, legitimacy, and inspiration to ongoing urban actions on climate change. Analyzing the first CCCs in Sweden generated suggested improvements for the Linton et al.1 framework, provided insights on the content and the process of developing CCCs which presented learning opportunities for cities developing CCCs in the EU context.
With regards to the framework, it could be revised to include additional elements linked to digitalization, innovation, and experimentation, key elements identified in all Swedish CCCs. Experimentation resonates mostly with the academic literature and in fact, CCCs contribute to this experimentation, as it is a new contract-based mode of urban climate action, while the mission approach is also an experimental and innovative approach in governance. The framework could also include elements linked to emerging academic research such as: urban consumption, SDGs, social justice, urban informality, and nature-based solutions. These appear to be important additions to the CCCs to lift ambitions and ensure goals on climate neutrality are integrated with wider societal aspirations.
With regards to content, Viable Cities could consider including elements of the framework1, which were covered lightly especially when it comes to the strategy elements: financial tools, policy tools, and the green economy, in addition to the suggested reiterations of the framework. The inclusion of a Climate Investment Plan is key in the next contracts. With regards to process, the CCCs were developed in an innovative way with a new focus on contract-ing, engaging the private sector, negotiating with the national level, and working with speed.
The process of developing CCCs and their content will continue to evolve iteratively. The subsequent question is how will these objectives be reached and delivered in practice. Given that this process is nascent, it is difficult to speculate the impacts of this new contract-based mode of governance. However, this article suggests that, overall, assessing the first CCCs in Sweden present learning opportunities for the next iterations of CCCs, and for those to be developed at the EU level in relation to both content and process.
Further research, however, is required to shed light on the normative issues embedded in both the CCCs and the framework, and whether the governance principles and outcomes of the good governance debate are in fact reproducing patterns of injustice. A deeper review of the scholarship on climate urbanism, and evaluations of existing urban climate action, could provide important insights to help shape the content and process of CCCs more critically.
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The authors acknowledge the funding from the Swedish Energy Agency for the Massive Urban Missions Project (grant number 50337-1) and the Graduate School in Energy Systems that supports the project.
Open access funding provided by Lund University.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Shabb, K., McCormick, K. Achieving 100 climate neutral cities in Europe: Investigating climate city contracts in Sweden. npj Clim. Action 2, 6 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s44168-023-00035-8