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Freiburg Münster cathedral

Freiburg Münster cathedral

Freiburg’s citizens voted for 15,000 climate-neutral dwellers

On Sunday, 24 February, the German City of Freiburg im Breisgau held a referendum to decide whether or not to build a new eco-district, called Dietenbach. The motion passed, with 60 percent voting in favour of building the site. The plan provides for 6,500 apartments, schools and kindergartens, local businesses and services, with 60 hectares to remain open and green spaces. One of the decisive factors which ensured a favourable vote among Freiburg’s citizens was the strategy to combine environmental and societal targets, namely to implement a 50 percent quota for social housing. 60 percent voted in favour of building the site. Therefore the city is politically and practically responding adequately to global and local challenges alike. The climate neutral district will be the first of its kind in Freiburg and the first to be built at this scale in Germany.

The global warning

In 2015, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement reiterated that modern societies, in particular industrialised ones, cannot continue to produce and consume in the same way. In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a Special Report, predicting disastrous and irreversible consequences for our ecosystems, which would severely impact on key societal functions, if average global warming is not contained below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Consequently, greenhouse gas emissions will have to reach net-zero levels as soon as possible and at the latest by 2050.

The European response

In the run-up to COP24, October 2018, the European Union (EU) published its A clean planet for all Communiqué, outlining eight pathways on how to reach climate-neutrality by 2050. The EU has also recognised the important role local authorities play in reaching the global climate targets. It is increasing efforts to strengthen an integrated and multi-levelled energy and climate governance, for example through the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy or its innovation and research programme Horizon 2020.

ICLEI Europe’s work at all levels

In the framework of COP23 in 2017, C-Track 50 partner ICLEI Europe has been tasked to lead the process of the Talanoa Dialogue - to raise ambitions for the development of so-called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and to underpin the importance of local climate action throughout all levels of government. This reinforces the organisation’s position that municipalities must be part of a multi-level governance framework, as key instruments to achieve the European climate targets successfully and on time.

In the context of the C-Track 50 project, like other consortium partners, ICLEI Europe organised a series of roundtables with German stakeholders from all levels of administration, to assess the status quo regarding multi-level cooperation on climate and energy in the country. They identified areas needing improvement and formulated recommendations. These include a call from municipalities to make climate protection a topic of public interest, including both a mandate and associated resources. Another key recommendation refers to the horizontal integration of climate action into other departments as part of a local and regional sustainable development strategy.

Multi-level governance in practice

Two European regions have taken steps in this direction. The German state Baden-Württemberg for example, has introduced a Climate Protection Act that aims to implement an integrated climate plan as well as a regional adaptation strategy. Another example is the French region Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, which recently launched a Positive Energy Territories by 2050 initiative. Its goal is to support local energy action plans through multi-level governance and funding of its implementation locally. ICLEI is going to feed some of the results of this work into the International Conference on Climate Action (ICCA), 22-23 May 2019, Heidelberg (Germany). As topical cluster lead, it will also organise a workshop on climate adaption and resilience at the conference.


This article was first published on ICLEI Europe's website on 25 February 2019.