Key Insights

Navigating Missions for Climate Neutral Cities

Viable Cities

In this article, the authors briefly present the missions approach with a focus on climate neutral cities, which raises both exciting opportunities and vexing questions. A new collaborative project to critically investigate and take forwards missions on climate neutral cities is presented — Massive Urban Missions.

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Exploring a new perspective

Inspired by the “mission to the moon”, the European research and innovation missions aim to deliver solutions to some of the most significant challenges facing our world. The definition for missions as proposed in “Governing Missions in the European Union” by Mariana Mazzucato (see Box 1) highlights three key dimensions: public sector capabilities, financing mechanisms, and citizen engagement. Mariana Mazzucato (see Box 2) further outlines five criteria for missions. This perspective lays out the conceptual understanding of missions but leaves considerable work to bring missions to life in practice.

Box 1. Definition for missions

“Fundamentally, missions require putting innovation and outcomes at the centre of how we think about economic growth. This requires new thinking in (1) the tools of government — from procurement to prize schemes — to drive goal oriented experimentation; (2) the ways that public financing can crowd-in and galvanize other forms of investment; and (3) ways to harness social movements and citizen participation in a creative, open and empowering process of challenge-led innovation.”

Mariana Mazzucato (2019) Governing Missions in the European Union

A key mission in the Horizon Europe framework programme is to achieve 100 climate neutral cities in Europe by 2030 (European Commission, 2020). The launch of 100 climate neutral cities in Europe is in Sweden being supported by Viable Cities (a strategic innovation program for smart and sustainable cities) with the aim to accelerate the development of climate neutral cities by 2030 (Viable Cities, 2020). With the support from Viable Cities, innovation teams are being established in some cities in Sweden to lead actions. The innovation teams encompass representatives of city governments, academia, business, industry, NGOs and SMEs.

Box 2. Criteria for missions

- 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
- Drive multiple, bottom-up solutions

Mariana Mazzucato (2019) Governing Missions in the European Union

Broadly speaking, the authors of this article suggest that missions for climate neutral cities need to excite, inspire and unite! First, these missions need to be exciting and capture the imagination of the general public and urban actors. Second, these missions need to be inspirational, engaging and inviting to the general public and a range of urban actors. Third, these missions need to be uniting on a common goal to design and bring about climate neutral cities. Innovation teams working with climate neutral cities need to confront two immediate challenges: shifting mindsets and breaking boundaries.

Mindsets refer to our attitudes, perspectives and how we think about the world. In this case, we need to rethink and reimagine cities in relation to mobility, energy, water, food, consumption, waste, resources, infrastructure, buildings and nature. Stimulating collaboration and finding synergies are a key. However, boundaries exist within and between organisations, sectors and disciplines. New forms of collaboration between social and technical studies are critically needed to work towards transforming socio-technical systems to meet the ambitions of climate neutral cities.

In addition, a collection of questions require our attention. First, why use a missions approach to drive change in cities from a global perspective? Second, how to overcome challenges and grab opportunities in cities through missions in practice at the local level? Third, how to support learning and capacity building for achieving missions and transforming cities? Fundamental questions for an innovation team working on climate neutral cities include: Who are we missing? Where are we heading? How are we working? Are we connecting the dots? How are we taking action? What are we avoiding?

There are also three emerging critiques of the missions approach. First, will the missions approach be used as a label for existing activities with no significant changes in practices or ambitions? Will missions simply be a tagline rather than representing a reorganisation of activities for climate neutral cities? Second, under what conditions and when is the missions approach applicable? Are missions going to be the leading approach that shape all activities for bringing about climate neutral cities or part of a toolbox of mechanisms and policies? Third, how will climate neutrality be defined and measured in cities? How will comparability be established between initiatives for climate neutral cities?

Introducing a new project

Funded by the Swedish Energy Agency, Lund University in collaboration with Linköping University are launching a new project called Massive Urban Missions (MUM) on advancing and delivering climate neutral cities. The overall purpose of the project is to investigate and critically reflect upon how to deliver climate neutral cities in Sweden through the combination of smart integrated infrastructure and mission-oriented governance.

The challenge of climate neutrality demands an urban metabolism approach and new forms of collaboration between social and technical studies to work towards transforming embedded socio-technical systems. The project will result in increased and deeper knowledge and understanding on 1) how to combine smart integrated infrastructure and mission-oriented governance as well as 2) how to utilise the urban metabolism approach and urban living labs to contribute to climate neutral cities.

Working directly with cities and urban living labs in Sweden the project will contribute to practically applicable knowledge and understanding to support activities on climate neutrality. As a starting point, Malmö and Linköping (see Box 3) will act as local case studies, which will be complemented by investigating additional case studies from Sweden and Europe (and front-runner initiatives from around the world). It is important to explore case studies in Sweden that are both part of the Viable Cities climate neutral cities initiative (e.g. Malmö) and cities outside this program but also working towards ambitious goals (e.g. Linköping).

Box 3. Cases for missions

Malmö: The environmental programme for Malmö City was adopted in 2009. Back then it was a bold programme with ambitious goals set to be achieved by 2020 and 2030. A key goal is that the entire geographical Malmö will be supplied by 100% of renewable or recycled energy by 2030, which comprises over 90% of the greenhouse gas emissions that occur within the city borders. A further goal is to understand and address the remaining territorial greenhouse gas emissions as well as greenhouse gas emissions associated with consumption. Malmö City also has a specific sustainable urban mobility plan that specifies the overarching ambition to set out in the environmental programme to create a significant modal shift. Recognising that new working methods are needed to accelerate these changes and the commitment to meet climate neutrality by 2030 has resulted in the organisation of an innovation team at Malmö City to drive forwards this transformative process.

Linköping: Linköping has a university with significant technological research, a knowledge intense industry and it is an important IT centre in Sweden. Linköping City is a dynamic and innovative place with a young and highly educated population. City development strategies build on the image of an innovative city, and focus on continued growth and providing good services, while being a sustainability front-runner. Sustainability initiatives are often viewed as an opportunity for the city to demonstrate its innovation and technical expertise. In 2010, Linköping City set the goal to be climate neutral by 2025. To support the achievement of this ambitious target, Linköping City and its municipal companies has under the umbrella of Climate Smart Linköping in close collaboration with companies and actors in the region developed very varying activities focusing on renewable energy, recycling, climate smart consumption and transport, and construction.

By Kes McCormick, Stefan Anderberg, Jenny Palm, Annica Carlsson, Lena Neij and Charlotte Leire

The purpose of the Massive Urban Missions project is to investigate and critically reflect upon how to deliver climate neutral cities in Sweden. The project intends to support the Swedish strategic innovation programme Viable Cities for smart and sustainable cities. The aim is to accelerate the transition to inclusive and climate neutral cities by 2030 with digitalisation and citizen engagement as enablers. Viable Cities is jointly funded by Vinnova, the Swedish Energy Agency and Formas.