Achieving greener cities is crucial for delivering on European objectives around combatting climate change and achieving high environmental quality for air, water, soil and land use.
Key topics include cleaner energy, more efficient and sustainable use of resources, the provision of ecosystem services, shorter supply chains, carbon-neutral buildings, nature protection, and green and blue infrastructure.
In addition to the environmental benefits, EU Cohesion Policy and the European Green Deal recognise that greening provides cities with opportunities to advance their green economy, as well as significant social and health benefits.
Resources for supporting green cities are provided under nine sub-topics below.
Sub thematic areas
Sustainable soil and land use
Land and soils are a finite and non-renewable natural resource that provide key ecosystem services and are also subject to competing pressures from urbanisation, infrastructure and increased production of food, feed, fibre and fuel. However, they are crucial for mitigating and adapting to climate change and for achieving key objectives of the European Green Deal.
Sustainable soil and land use in cities is about responsible management to conserve ecosystems, optimise resources, and ensure long-term prosperity while preserving environmental quality. To achieve this, city land use planning and land policies must be sustainable, transparent and equitable.
With an active, strategic approach to land management, towns and cities can help maintain healthy ecosystems, reduce urban sprawl, and create compact, efficient urban spaces. This contributes to climate resilience, food security, and biodiversity preservation.
In today's rapidly changing world, food is a global issue that affects us all. To create more just, equitable, and resilient urban systems, urban areas must transform the way they approach food, not just improve existing urban systems (Ex-ante assessment of the “Food” thematic area under the Urban Agenda for the EU, 2023).
This involves promoting local food production, reducing waste, and strengthening urban food systems with minimal environmental impact. Portico offers resources on building sustainable food systems through responsible sourcing, circular practices, and community-led initiatives for healthier urban living. It covers topics like urban agriculture, local food distribution, waste reduction, and ensuring equitable access to nutritious food.
Building resilience means enhancing cities’ adaptability to natural and man-made challenges. EU Cohesion Policy’s Green Europe objective supports the promotion of climate change adaptation and disaster risk prevention and resilience, taking into account ecosystem-based approaches.
Prioritising disaster preparedness and adaptive urban planning helps cities boost their potential to withstand and recover from shocks, improving residents’ safety and well-being. Nature-based solutions, green and blue infrastructure, and innovative technologies are all worth exploring.
This topic covers cities’ disaster risk prevention and their management of and adaptation to environmental risks such as floods and fires, all while maintaining ecological balance and safeguarding urban communities.
For sustainable urban development practitioners, climate adaptation means developing local responses to adapt well to the impacts of climate change on urban environments.
Climate adaptation focuses on fostering flexibility in urban planning and design, ensuring the continued functionality and liveability of cities amid changing climatic conditions. By incorporating climate-sensitive design, cities can promote environmental sustainability, protect natural resources, and create climate-resilient urban spaces.
Explore the related resources to help boost climate adaptation in towns and cities, including measures to mitigate heat islands and implement nature-based solutions such as green roofs, urban parks and green spaces.
Climate change mitigation
Climate change mitigation is a key part of sustainable urban development, involving actions to combat global climate change by reducing or preventing the emission of greenhouse
gases. By prioritising climate-friendly practices, towns and cities also create healthier, cleaner urban environments.
Cities can adopt local measures around renewable energy sources, sustainable mobility and transportation systems, low-carbon urban infrastructure, circular economy initiatives and citizen engagement to achieve behavioural change.
This topic includes techniques and strategies to promote energy efficiency and cleaner energy, improve air quality, and implement pollution and waste-control measures within cities, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
For cities embracing integrated and sustainable urban development, responsible water management involves the sustainable and efficient use, conservation and treatment of water resources. Solutions can involve the use of innovative technologies, green infrastructure, and community engagement in water-related initiatives.
By prioritising responsible urban water management, cities help improve water quality and supply, reduce pollution, and increase resilience to water-related challenges such as flooding and water scarcity.
It covers solutions such as rainwater harvesting systems and constructed wetlands; and strategies and other resources for water conservation, stormwater management, wastewater treatment and sustainable water use.
Nature protection and biodiversity
The New Leipzig Charter states: “Well-designed, managed and connected green and blue areas are a precondition for healthy living environments, adapting to climate change and preserving and developing biodiversity in cities”.
Cities can host a surprising amount of nature and biodiversity, which in turn can be critical to the provision of valuable ecosystem services, such as water purification, pollination, climate regulation and urban resilience. Protecting nature and biodiversity in urban areas is a key part of the EU Cohesion Policy’s objective for a green, low-carbon Europe.
Portico features resources and inspiration for preserving and regenerating urban ecosystems, using sustainable land-use planning, and promoting nature-based solutions and green and blue infrastructure in urban areas.
The energy transition in urban areas involves both the shift towards cleaner, renewable energy sources and more energy-efficient technologies and behaviours within towns and cities.
EU Cohesion Policy supports this transition to a low-carbon, sustainable, and energy-efficient economy. By embracing renewable energy options and energy-efficient practices, cities can contribute to global climate goals while creating more sustainable, self-sufficient urban energy systems.Resources are available for cities driving the energy transition, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting energy conservation. Topics include
sustainable energy production and storage, smart energy grids, Positive Energy Districts, and the energy efficient retrofit of buildings.
Effective management of urban waste is a crucial element of sustainable urban development. It minimises negative environmental and social impacts of waste, while maximising resource recovery.
Waste management practices aligned with circular economy principles and lifecycle approaches are key - seeking to reduce, re-use and recycle urban waste streams wherever possible, reducing waste sent to landfill.
Effective and energy-efficient separation, collection, transport, treatment and disposal mechanisms are vital for this, including to deal with hazardous materials appropriately.
Approaches can be based on the use of innovative technologies, stricter regulation, new services and infrastructure, as well as awareness-raising. They can also usefully target specific waste streams, including household, commercial, construction and electronic waste.