Green Cities Annual Conference 2021: call for green finance and closer partnerships

Over half the world’s population live in cities, which puts them in the frontline of delivering climate action – but how can they best achieve their ambition? Experts from around the world gathered on Tuesday for the first session annual conference of the flagship EBRD Green Cities programme, attended by 400 people, to discuss how to make cities greener and more livable.


Welcoming remarks by Harry Boyd-Carpenter, the EBRD’s Managing Director for Green Energy and Climate Action, were followed by a keynote address from Dr Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, which last month issued a widely praised roadmap to decarbonising the energy sector by 2050.


The themes that emerged were the need for more collaboration, closer partnerships, and more green finance.


Dr Birol, who noted major nations were now bringing in plans to reduce emissions by 2050, called for more finance options to bring clean energy to the emerging world, and praised the €3 billion EBRD urban sustainability programme for providing this finance. Cities, he said, would play a critical role in bringing more renewable energy, energy efficiency and electrification of transport, which are all vital for stopping climate change.


Mayors Tunc Soyer of Izmir and Kyiv’s Vitali Klitschko described progress and needs in their cities, both members of the 49-city EBRD Green Cities family. Youth activist Nisreen Elsaim, whose home city of Khartoum was devastated by floods last year, discussed climate justice: “sometimes people speak of climate justice as historical responsibility, or responsibility to future generations – but it is more.”


Meanwhile, Ann Cairns of Mastercard described her organisation’s work with 330 cities around the world to digitalise payments for urban transport systems, transforming them into seamless “open loops” which are easier and more attractive than polluting travel by car. This process, she added, had been accelerated by the Covid-19 global pandemic. “As the Mayor of Bogota has said, an advanced city is not one where the poor drive to work but one where the rich use public transport,” she commented.


The Green Climate Fund’s Jerry Velazquez – GCF is a key partner of EBRD Green Cities – talked about the large amount of investment needed to achieve the necessary change to keep global warming to 1.5C, the goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate, and the lack of finance targeted at sub-national level.


“In spite of these huge problems, many cities don’t have access to climate finance. This is where EBRD Green Cities comes in,” he said. “GCF is partnering with EBRD, first to offer our concessionality, and second to offer our very high risk appetite for purpose of making climate investments viable. We understand that in your fight against climate change you consider what options are viable. We want to make these projects competitive and viable. We believe this programme from the EBRD is such an important part of our collaboration. We look forward to more investments.”


As well as more green finance, participants agreed that more partnership and collaboration between organisations were vital in transforming cities.


In a recorded message, Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj talked about the Albanian capital’s experience of preparing itself for a greener tomorrow since he took office in 2015.

“It’s been a rollercoaster period, with two deadly earthquakes, then the pandemic, but we are finally opening up. We came out more united, resilient and prepared. There are no recipes for success or for how to deal with these dramas, but what worked for us was partnering with EBRD Green Cities. We didn’t expect the pandemic or the earthquakes - but what we did prepare for was to get a more livable city.”


Mayors and financiers later discussed new trends in urban planning: nature-based solutions, digital or “smart” solutions for city infrastructure, and green finance.


During the discussion on nature-based solutions, Tirana’s Deputy Mayor Anuela Ristani returned to the day’s recurring theme of establishing better partnerships by emphasising the importance of explaining urban sustainability programmes to voters so they understood the benefits and bought in.


“We have to trust people a little bit more. Do not be afraid of feedback – you do have to have people’s approval. Who are we working for? Not the city as an abstract concept. A city is its people. So if we know nature-based solutions are best for sustainability, for economies and the lives of human beings, then there’s no question about it – you have to know this is what you’re working for.”


Speaking during the “Smart solutions for green results” breakout session during the “Mayors Roundtable: Conversations with Green Cities Mayors” event, Petre Shilegov, Mayor of Skopje said: “You have to be well organised and change the priorities for the needs of the people”. For Mr Shilegov, digitalisation as part of the green agenda means enhancing his citizens’ ability to feed back on and access better public services.


The first day of EBRD Green Cities Annual Conference was moderated by the programme’s joint leads, Lin O’Grady and Nigel Jollands.


On the second day of Annual Conference, a half-day meeting with the Green Cities Officers took place. Technical counterparts from 14 different Green Cities participated in an interactive workshop. The session showcased best practices in implementing smart solutions for green results, with presentations from Innovate UK and Ciy of Helsinki.  



In parallel to the meeting with Green Cities Officers on smart solutions, several bilateral meetings with mayors took place – such as with Mr. Rabbah, Mayor of Kenitra in Morroco.


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By Vanora Bennett



Become a Green City

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