Accelerators are speeding up cities’ transitions to carbon neutrality

In a race against time, European cities are on a mission to reach carbon-neutrality by 2030. While these cultural hubs cover only 2 percent of Earth’s land, they produce about 78 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Curbing carbon at this global scale poses an enormous but necessary challenge for citizens, municipalities and local governments.

To boost climate resiliency, cities must be retrofitted from the ground up with circular resource loops, clean energy supplies, nature-based infrastructure and urban food production. The 100 Climate Neutral Cities have already kick-started these upgrades by leveraging the synergies of Europe’s twin green and digital transformations to usher in a new era of innovation, experimentation and learning.

However, the main obstacle to a zero-emissions transition is not a lack of climate-positive solutions and smart technologies, but the capacity to implement them at scale. Whether or not Europe can achieve ambitious targets remains a question of speed.

Much of the work being done by cities will leave a gap between articulated ambition and what is delivered on the ground. More space, resources, ideas and thought leadership are urgently needed to trigger transformative systems change across multiple city systems.

There is a great demand for innovation and investments to be introduced into key city systems. Transforming transport, buildings, electricity and waste could reduce 64% of C02 emissions by 2030, but these complex systems must be connected to the market through new business models in order to achieve emissons goals. 

Start-ups in the sustainability sector have the capacity to catalyse fast decarbonisation and drive climate adaptation and resilience through circular economy approaches. However, scaling these solutions is another story. Accelerators could be the golden ticket for cities trying to make their climate action plans a reality. 

“Supply-driven innovation has failed to deliver the promised transformation as start-ups struggle to bring their solutions to market and connect them to the larger system. To achieve a climate neutral future, it is critical to building an innovation pipeline and mindset,” said Elisa Navarro, senior advisor at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid and Clean Cities ClimAccelerator programme coordinator.

EIT Climate-KIC’s ClimAccelerator programme is giving start-ups access to innovate, catalyse, and scale the potential of their climate solutions. By creating systems change through entrepreneurship and acceleration, the Clean Cities ClimAccelerator supports municipalities and their stakeholders to shape a systemic approach to addressing climate change, focusing on the benefits this can bring to local people.

The Clean Cities ClimAccelerator is aimed at start-ups across the European Union that are developing solutions in the areas of mobility, waste, energy, health, or the construction and rehabilitation of buildings. Swift, impactful changes to these city systems harness the potential for an inclusive, low-carbon transition.

“This is an accelerator that catalyses innovation and collaboration along ‘Deep Demonstrations’. For cities, it is a model for experimentation and innovation hubs focused on innovative solutions for climate neutrality,” said Navarro.

Partnering with  Universidad Politécnica de Madrid and Impact Hub Vienna, EIT Climate-KIC has selected 32 start-ups to support with more than 400,000 euros in funding. The programme consists of three phases: validation, collaboration, and impact.

The first stage focuses on helping start-ups refine their specific unique selling point and business model. The second stage dials in on solving a real–world problem while continuously developing their proof of concept. At last, start-ups are ready to pitch their business cases to investors or launch it to customers.

Stage 1 of the Clean Cities ClimAccelerator is already underway with start-ups working on critical climate topics affecting European cities:

  1. Community retrofit/District renewal systems – Retrofitting buildings to make them more energy-efficient and better at withstanding extreme weather induced by climate change, while also improving amenities for the buildings’ occupants.
  2. Green spaces, climate resilience & urban adaptation systems – Investing in nature can help to address climate risks, bolster public health, and improve community vitality.
  3. Mobility, logistics, & public space systems – Building sustainable infrastructure—physical and digital—that supports innovative mobility solutions. 
  4. Renewable energy systems – Developing energy communities for the deployment of decentralized renewable energy solutions.
  5. Information & data systems – Managing data for decarbonization and implementing methodologies and tools for carbon absorption assessment.

Delivering systems transition in cities is going require key actors from across the space who are willing to co-design and experiment with interventions to this effect. If you would like to get involved and for more information please contact: