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First Meeting of the Covenant of Mayors, Helsinki, Finland
November 20-21, 2008

 
INFORSE-Europe was invited and was represented at the event by the Finish member Technology for Life.
By Minna Näsman, who represented INFORSE-Europe and INFORSE member, Technology for Life, Finland at the conference

In January 2008, the European Commission launched the Covenant of Mayors. The initiative came from cities, that were willing to go beyond the objectives of the EU in reducing their CO2 emissions by 2020 through energy efficiency and renewable energy actions. The Covenant has by this far been signed by 82 cities, and 117 have expressed their interest.

In November 20th-21st, 2008 was arranged the first meeting of the Covenant of Mayors in Helsinki, Finland. Despite “the shortest conference arrangement timetable in my professional history”, as Deputy Mayor Pekka Sauri put it, 109 participants showed up.

The Helsinki initiative to get the boll rolling was appreciated in many speeches. The theme to be discussed was how to finance the investments needed for reaching the emission reduction targets.

Ms Stina Soewarta from the Cabinet of Commissioner Andris Piebalgs told the public what the European Commission can and cannot do for supporting the city initiatives.
Ms Marjut Santoni from the Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs described their existing financial instruments. As it became obvious, that most of them are designed for the new member states, Mr Mario Aymerich from the European Investment Bank (EIB) catched the obvious question of the old member states by saying: “If you need money, just call us”.
EIB is a member of the Covenant of Mayors, and wants to create investment funds in the municipal sector. According to Mr Aymerich, 600-700 billion euros need to be invested by 2020 to achieve the 20/20/20 targets. EIB:s support to the Covenant is technical assistance in identifying and, when needed, developing bankable projects. Their investment strategy follows two lines: 1) energy efficiency and RE and 2) urban transport actions. They can loan up to 75% of the funding needed.

The night before, the city of Helsinki gave the participants a chance to put their hands on a newly rewarded district heating and cooling plant. Through heat pumps it utilises the energy stored in purified sewage water. Exchanging information about such inspiring examples seemed to be the greatest potential of the whole gathering.

This was brought up during the Round Table discussion by Ms Inete Leliten from the Riga Energy Agency. One of her wishes for the European Commission was that the Commission could finance demonstration projects: “In Latvia, the investigations suggest that there might be potential in geothermal energy. People doubt it, though, until they can see it with their own eyes”, she said. Another thing that EC could do according to her was to start requiring that impacts of different decisions were estimated even considering energy efficiency, in the same way as their impacts on gender equality or IT already are. She also suggested that more planning was prepared in EU-NGO-networks.

The experience of Mr Javier Rubio de Urquía from the city of Madrid was that 70% of the problem is about convincing the citizens to change their habits. It requires money to be done, but more than that, it requires new institutional governance tools: the negotiations have to take place not only with the big companies, but also with the small shops, as energy efficiency truly is a cross-cutting issue.

Ms Gabrielle van Zoeren from Rotterdam Climate Initiative accompanied Madrid on the point that the work done is not only fighting climate change, it also improves the quality of life of the citizens by improving air quality. One of the tools in Rotterdam is a founding of a knowledge development campus, where technology institutes and companies will be able to develop best-practises-to-be in the fields of energy efficiency and RE.

Ms Kristina Alvendal from Stockholm referred to all the things that can be done without extra costs. She also warmly supported the Benchmark of Excellence -mechanism of the EC, as an exchange forum of the best practises. She understood the role of the cities as finding the different measures to make it possible for citizens to make climate clever choices. As an example, she appreciated all the 100 000 inhabitants in her own city that take the bike to work every day, and the 70-80% of the population that commutes. What it has required is an attractive collective traffic and bicycle routes.

Ms Kristina Dely from Energie-Cités gave an example of private-public partnerships from Germany, where the city is renting roofs of municipal buildings to companies that can generate electricity through PV. She also told about zero-rate loans up to 6500 EUR to citizens who invest in energy efficiency. Those loans are paid directly to the companies.

Rotterdam had another example of a new lending practise: buyers of a new house get better loan conditions if they commit themselves to renovate the house to be more energy efficient.

The representative for the private sector at the Round Table, Mr Maxime Bureau from GE, took up the risk issue. “For private companies, it all comes down to risk assessment”, he said. The companies want stories that are already proven and thus less risky. No new legislation is needed, it can be done today, but the quality has to be put first, he stated. He also encouraged even to think small - the companies can make simple projects as well. As an example of a thought line for small cities he named leasing solutions.

The risk discussion developed to a common statement that the underlying conflict is between the long term investments that the cities have to make in order to bear the responsibility for their citizens, and the short term interests of the commercial actors. This eroded enthusiastic visions of investments that don't increase overall costs and good examples with payoff times like 3 years, but there were also different opinions about the city responsibility, as most of the emissions don't come from the public but from the private sector.

The way forward for the Covenant of Mayors was described by Mr Pedro Ballesteros Torres from the Directorate-General for Energy and Transport. He reminded of the Covenant as a commitment of the cities, that has to be demonstrated in front of the citizens. “We follow the lead of the cities”, he said, referring to EC. He also concluded that what we need more than money is brains: “People with fresh minds have to be freed to develop their ideas”.