Definition and context of the topic
Europe and the world are facing the intrinsically linked biodiversity, climate, pollution and resource crises. Climate change accelerates the destruction of the natural world through droughts, flooding and wildfires, while the loss and unsustainable use of nature are in turn drivers of climate change.
Pollution affects our health and environment, and scarce resources are wasted in a linear economy. The climate emergency calls for urgent action to radically cut emissions to stay on track to limit earth’s warming to 1.5°C, and at the same time, to make adaptation to climate change smarter, swifter and more systemic. Further to climate change, other key drivers of biodiversity loss – changes in land and sea use, overexploitation, pollution, and invasive alien species – are making nature disappear quickly.
European cities are at the forefront of experiencing the impacts of these multiple crises. Green urban spaces often lose out in the competition for land as the share of the population living in the EU urban areas continues to rise. One in eight of Europeans living in cities are exposed to levels of air pollutants exceeding WHO recommendations. Cities generate about 70% of the global GHG emissions, and at the same time, are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as more frequent and prolonged heatwaves, droughts, flooding or water scarcity.
Tackling jointly the biodiversity, pollution, resource and climate challenges provides the entry point on how ‘greening cities’ supports ecosystems and builds resilience. In this context, the enhanced focus on solutions in the area of green and blue infrastructure (hereafter referred as ‘green’ infrastructure) offers an effective and efficient approach to address these challenges in cities.
While green infrastructure is important, it alone is not sufficient for achieving a healthy and green urban environment. Therefore, the integration of green infrastructure into other sectors – beyond the protection of biodiversity and addressing the climate challenge – is of high relevance. In the same vein, as greening cities is a holistic concept, it is important to approach the theme in a more integrated manner and make connections to a wider set of policy areas. Links should be developed between green infrastructure and other policy areas such as zero pollution of air, water and soil, sustainable mobility, renovation of buildings, energy, water management, circular economy and public health.
Under the topic ‘Greening Cities’, projects will be funded to experiment and deliver tangible innovative solutions on green infrastructure across European cities, for better addressing the biodiversity, pollution, resource and climate challenges, including synergy development with other key policy areas. The innovative solutions tested under the funded projects are expected to contribute to Cohesion policy investments related to the green and just transition, and will embrace the issue of being affordable to all.
The topic ‘Greening Cities’ contributes to and has interconnections with a number of EU policies and initiatives such as EU Green Deal, EU Biodiversity Strategy, EU Forest Strategy, EU Soil Strategy and Nature Restauration Law proposal, EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change, EU Green Infrastructure Strategy, EU Zero Pollution Action Plan, New European Bauhaus Initiative, EU Renovation Wave Strategy, Affordable Housing Initiative, New European Mobility Framework, EU Missions on Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities and Adaptation to Climate Change, European Partnership Driving Urban Transitions of Horizon Europe, Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, Green City Accord, European Green Capital and Leaf Awards, and Intelligent Cities Challenge.
In addition, the topic contributes to and has interconnections with the Urban Agenda for the EU Thematic Partnership ‘Greening Cities’. The Partnership focuses on green and blue infrastructure in an urban context and will create links to other policy sectors. The topic ‘Greening Cities’ is also consistent with the ‘Green City’ theme of the New Leipzig Charter, which puts forward a vision for the sustainable urban future in Europe, also with the emphasis on the social and economic aspects (‘the just city’ and ‘the productive city’).
The European Commission aims at reaching a balanced portfolio of projects meeting the highest quality standards while reflecting the geographical, spatial and demographic diversities of European cities. Project proposals are expected to be highly experimental, consequently not likely to be funded by traditional or mainstream sources of funding.
Tackling jointly biodiversity, pollution, resource and climate challenges through green infrastructure solutions is an area with significant potential for cities. Innovative responses to biodiversity, pollution, resource and climate challenges materialise by concrete actions at local level.
The topic ‘Greening Cities’ with the focus on green infrastructure connects a number of authorities, types of initiatives and regulatory measures on the ground. Urban authorities are well-placed to bridge across different authorities and departments, while experimenting with innovative solutions to existing and/or new green infrastructure, and in doing so, improving the knowledge base for the theme. They tend to enjoy also the trust of the citizens which is essential in gaining local acceptance for green infrastructure projects particularly through participatory stakeholder involvement.
Inextricable links exist between biodiversity, pollution, resource and climate challenges, and there is the need to focus on green infrastructure solutions that resolve them holistically. However, in practice, they are quite often addressed in their own domains, and hence, by bringing green infrastructure solutions together in an urban perspective, there is an opportunity for promoting a more holistic approach. Innovative solutions tested by urban authorities that simultaneously address synergies between biodiversity protection, zero pollution objectives and mitigating/adapting to climate change, while also considering social impacts, offer the opportunity to maximize co-benefits and help meet development aspirations for all.
Urban authorities are well-positioned to experiment with innovative solutions to bring forward the multiple benefits of green infrastructure, while making thematic links to a wider set of policy areas such as zero pollution of air, water and soil, sustainable mobility, green renovation of buildings, clean energy transition, water management and public health. Project proposals under the topic should therefore have a focus on green infrastructure solutions with clear and strong links to other policy areas. For example, innovative ideas tested in cities could address climate change mitigation directly through carbon sequestration, or indirectly by reducing energy demand, and provide important co-benefits such as reducing pollution, e.g. through green infrastructure-related active mobility modes, such as cycling and walking.
Such ideas could support climate adaptation as well, e.g. mitigating heat island effects in cities, and reducing the needs for cooling and heating of buildings through green roofs and green walls. Moreover, many studies have demonstrated the positive link between green infrastructure and human health, and through innovative solutions, urban authorities could test novel cost-efficient solutions to public health issues. Furthermore, while capital cities and bigger agglomerations may have more capacity to incorporate cutting-edge innovation in their approaches, including new solutions never tested before in the EU, innovation is important for cities of all sizes.
Project proposals should not be elaborated in isolation from medium to long term action aimed at tackling challenges in the areas of biodiversity, pollution, resource scarcity and climate and are expected to be embedded in existing strategic and systematic approaches towards greening and/or climate neutrality of a city. Such approaches may, for example, include sustainable urban development strategies of Cohesion Policy or Climate City Contracts prepared by the cities involved in or adhered to the EU Mission on Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities, or activities of the cities which have signed or endorsed the Mission Charter of the EU Mission on Adaptation to Climate Change. Such an embedding in relevant urban strategies and plans will be evaluated in project proposals’ strategic assessment.
- Developing and enhancing urban green spaces by focusing on projects that contribute to halting biodiversity loss, to verifiably and significantly reducing air pollution and to combatting heat waves, and at the same time, to achieving climate objectives and improving health and well-being of citizens.
- Constructing green mobility corridors with the help of green infrastructure within urban areas and between urban centres and peri-urban areas that contribute to reducing air and soil pollution and noise, using artificial intelligence for traffic management systems, promoting sustainable multimodal urban mobility including active mobility modes such as cycling, and at the same time, to achieving climate objectives and improving health and well-being of citizens.
- Preventing droughts and flooding via projects that focus on sustainable water management, including rainwater, in urban areas, with the help of green infrastructure that contribute to preventing droughts and flooding as well as to improving water quality, and at the same time, to reducing disaster risks and land take.
- Designing and renovating buildings and their surrounding areas, particularly in socially deprived quarters with nature-based solutions by integrating green infrastructure and nature-based solutions in the design and/or renovation of buildings and in their surrounding areas, including efficient resource management, also by using recycled construction material. Such solutions should improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions of buildings, further contribute to achieving climate objectives through e.g. provision of climate adaptation and carbon storage and sequestration opportunities.
By focusing on the above prompts, project proposals are expected to create multiple economic, social and environmental benefits such as contributing to a healthier and more resilient urban environment, introducing new business models and practices (e.g. green innovative procurement) as well as novel approaches and tools for capacity building towards greener and more sustainable cities, for citizen engagement, and for greening city financing/budgeting practices. In view of the transition objectives, when addressing the prompts, project proposals are expected to integrate in their concepts measures that advance the green energy transition and lead to a reduced dependency on fuel imports (e.g. the introduction of clean, non-combustion renewable energy sources, practical energy saving actions). In the same vein, project proposals are expected to introduce measures that promote the transition to a circular and resource efficient economy (e.g. by reducing waste and pollution with repair, reuse and reduction).
Cohesion policy targets
- Specific objective 2.1 for a greener Europe by “promoting energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions”,
- Specific objective 2.4 for a greener Europe by “promoting climate change adaptation and disaster risk prevention and resilience, taking into account eco-system based approaches”
- Specific objective 2.5 for a greener Europe by “promoting access to water and sustainable water management”
- Specific objective 2.7 for a greener Europe by “Enhancing nature protection and biodiversity, green infrastructure in particular in the urban environment, and reducing pollution”;
- Specific objective 2.8 for a greener Europe by “promoting sustainable multimodal urban mobility, as part of transition to a net zero carbon economy”
- Specific objective 5.1 for a Europe closer to citizens by “fostering the integrated and inclusive social, economic and environmental development, culture, natural heritage, sustainable tourism and security in urban areas”.
Result and output indicators
Project proposals will be assessed, among other criteria, on their ability to achieve credible results and on the soundness of their methodology to measure these results.
In the context of the present topic in particular, urban authorities are invited to define a set of indicators capturing in an integrated way all the interconnected biodiversity and climate objectives, and links of green infrastructure with sectoral policies.
In their applications, urban authorities may refer to any of the indicators listed below, whenever relevant for their project ideas. The list is not prescriptive or exhaustive. It includes indicators that are not exclusively specific to the topic on Greening Cities but which can be of help to express tangible results and are thus worth considering. Such indicators should be complemented by indicators relevant to the specific project.
Urban authorities remain free to define their own project specific indicators, while considering those listed, in order to reflect in the clearest and most convincing way the changes which their project has the potential to accomplish.
- New products and services created (measurement unit: new products/services);
- Infrastructure supported (new, renovated, reconverted or modernised) (measurement unit: supported infrastructures);
- New equipment created and/or supported (measurement unit: new equipment);
- People supported (trained, upskilled, accompanied or assisted) (measurement unit: persons);
- Dwellings with improved energy performance (measurement unit: dwellings);
- Public buildings with improved energy performance (measurement unit: square metres);
- Coastal strip, river banks and lakeshores, and landslide protection newly built or consolidated to protect people, assets and the natural environment (measurement unit: hectares);
- Green infrastructure built for adaptation to climate change (measurement unit: hectares);
- Surface area of green infrastructure supported in urban areas (measurement unit: square meters);
- Surface area of rehabilitated land supported (measurement unit: hectares);
- Systems for monitoring air pollution installed (measurement unit: number of systems);
- Stakeholders involved in the preparation and co-implementation of the project (measurement unit: participations of stakeholders);
- Citizens involved in the preparation and co-implementation of the project; (measurement unit: persons);
- Open space created or rehabilitated in urban areas (measurement unit: square metres);
- Urban spaces available for people, accessible green areas for sports, recreational activities (measurement unit: hectares).
- Jobs created in supported entities (measurement unit: annual FTEs);
- Users of new and upgraded digital services, products and processes (measurement unit: users/year);
- Annual final energy consumption reduced (measurement unit: percentage of the reduction in comparison to the previous year);
- Estimated greenhouse emissions (measurement unit: tonnes ofCO2eq/year);
- Improvement of air quality (measurement unit: fine particulate matter (PM2.5 concentrations);
- Rehabilitated land used for green areas and protected biodiversity (measurement unit: hectares);
- Increase of population using options for active mobility (measurement unit: percentage of the local population);
- Population benefiting from flood protection measures (measurement unit: percentage of the local population protected);
- Population benefiting from protection measures against climate related natural disasters (other than floods and forest fires) (measurement unit: percentage of the local population protected);
- Level of participation achieved in the engagement with local communities (information, consultation, co-creation, co-decision) (measurement unit: percentage of the local population engaged).
 EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 (2022)
 IPCC Report Analysis (2022), EU strategy on adaptation to climate change (2021)
 In the EU Green Infrastructure Strategy, green infrastructure is defined as a strategically planned network of natural and semi-natural areas with other environmental features designed and managed to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services. It incorporates green spaces and other physical features in terrestrial (including coastal) and marine areas, and on land, green infrastructure is present in urban and rural settings. Blue infrastructure is similar to the one of green infrastructure and covers natural and semi-natural areas including aquatic ecosystems, coastal and marine areas. Peri-urban areas are of high relevance for the development of green infrastructure, and the concept of such infrastructure can be enriched with nature-based solutions.
 List of strategic/systemic approaches is exemplary
 Article 11 of the Regulation (EU) 2021/1058 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 June 2021 on the European Regional Development Fund and on the Cohesion Fund
 Throughout the document, the phrase ‘green infrastructure’ refers to both green and blue infrastructure
 The measurement stations shall meet the quality requirements set up in EU Clean Air legislation, namely 2008/50 and 2004/107, and are duly reported to the European Environment Agency in line with Decision 2011/850.