Cities in the fight against climate change: legal duties and accountability

Cities play a major role in the fight against climate change. The climate challenge is included in local public action, following strategies and programs developed at national, European and international levels. In order to analyse the extent to which cities play a role in handling climate change and the nature of the role that they can play (enforcement of a strategy developed elsewhere, definition of a proper strategy or even initiators of the strategy of another level of government), the contribution firstly aims at assessing the “climate” duties that apply to cities under European and international law, and at examining how national constitutional organisation and the internal division of competences impact their scope for action and their discretion. Secondly, the contribution examines how cities can be held accountable when it comes to their role in the fight against climate change and discusses the respective merits of judicial and political forms of accountability.

Unsustainable urban mobility in EU cities: explaining challenges of multi-level coordination

Pressed by climate emergency, rising population and congestion, EU cities are developing new solutions for sustainable urban mobility. For decades, the EU Commission has supported these initiatives, e.g. by setting mobility goals, regulating public procurement and air quality, establishing networks and funding. Yet, EU cities are still clogged with traffic, pollution and noise. The paper aims at explaining the reasons for this failure, the related challenges of multi-level coordination and advances proposals for reform. It does so by adopting a multi-disciplinary approach (law and sustainability governance) and combining it with an empirical qualitative research incorporating findings collected 1) through document analysis of EU and local policies and 2) semi-structured interviews with institutional experts at EU level and in two Dutch cities. This analysis delivers an evidence-based evaluation of EU policies’ impact to realise sustainable urban mobility.

Climate change in London: tensions between local and central government

In The Big Smoke (1987), Brimblecombe retraces the development of air pollution controls in London since the middle ages. Then as now, free trade and social policy goals have clashed. Today, London is experimenting with a mix of incentive (Mayor’s Air quality fund), systemic (transport policy) and limitative (zero emission zone) means to address climate change. It has to include a factor absent in previous times: the policies set at supranational and national levels. Before Brexit, London had an ally in the EU: the Commission started proceedings against the UK for breaching pollution thresholds in London. After Brexit, the UK government aims to set up an enforcement Office for Environmental Protection to centralise power in the hand of the Executive. This leads to suggest that at a time when the limits of the UK constitution are tested, entrenching local powers and governance in a potential constitution may be needed to ensure a sustainable future from bottom up.

Cities and climate change: changing powers and changing responsibilities

Cities have different tools at their disposal to reduce greenhouse gases emissions. As far as transport is concerned, a frequent approach consists in forbidding certain vehicles to enter cities or in subjecting their possibilities to do so to the payment of a fee or to other conditions such as time-limits. However, national legal frameworks have often had to be adapted to provide for the possibility for cities to implement such policies. The contribution will analyse the legal framework of low-emission zones in Belgian and French cities in comparative perspective, in order to discuss the extent to which the challenge of climate change brings about an extension of the powers of cities to restrict individual freedom, as well as an extension of the scope of their legal responsibilities in environmental matters.

Blockchain as a new model of public-private partnerships towards sustainability

The financing of public works closely affects administrations and citizens, the latter both as users and as taxpayers. To this end, disruptive technologies such as blockchain allow new models of public-private partnerships. Through these new interaction models, it is possible to create forms of participation aimed at promoting the environmental and social sustainability of public works. In this perspective, the paper analyses the city as an innovation laboratory at the service of citizens, where virtuous solutions can be experimented and implemented while maintaining a close connection with the population.