UBC General Conference in Palanga: support to Ukraine and climate actions
The XVII UBC General Conference took place on 24-26 October 2023 in the beautiful coastal city of Palanga in Lithuania. Taking place on biannual basis, the conference endured a digital COVID-related gap over the previous event feature, and had become a long-awaited opportunity for the member cities to meet in this traditional format.
The General Conference was filled with a variety of events: Commissions meetings, parallel workshops, plenary sessions, as well as networking, performances and study visits. Over 150 stakeholders joined the event, both representatives from the UBC member cities with associated cities from Ukraine, and the key stakeholders from the region, including the European Commission and the Council of the Baltic Sea States.
UBC cities supporting Ukraine
The General Conference this year focused heavily on the most important part of the current international situation – support to Ukraine. UBC has been providing the support since the start of the war in many ways: financially and informationally, and by supporting the bilateral city connections. During the conference, many discussions revolved around this complex topic and touched upon addressing risk preparedness, civil protection, resilience building and governance. In the workshops representatives from various cities had an opportunity to exchange experiences and good practices on specific topics of current concern, e.g. critical infrastructure security, support and social inclusion of refugees, youth involvement in community development and strategies to achieve carbon neutral societies.
At the General Assembly on 26 October 2023, UBC adopted the resolution on aggression on Ukraine, which calls upon the global community to take immediate measures to halt the aggression, underscores the pressing need for a peaceful conflict resolution, and deeper integration of Ukraine into the European Union.
Innovations from the Cities Mission – for everyone
The variety of workshops taking place within the programme also related to this overarching topic, approaching it from different directions. The workshop “EU Cities Mission as a source of inspiration and expertise for cities towards climate-neutrality” organised by UBC Sustainable Cities Commission focused on the Mission and how the innovations from it could be transferred further and uptaken by more cities from UBC and beyond. 30 participants attended this workshop.
The keynote was delivered by the Mission Manager Patrick Child, who opened the session digitally connected from Brussels. Mr Child highlighted the importance of regular discussions on the Mission activities, and the need for establishing the right links for cooperation. There is of course an urgent need to make progress in climate neutrality goals, as the 2030 deadline is coming close.
"Local level is absolutely fundamental in reaching climate neutrality. Cities are in the frontline of the green and digital transition,"
— Patrick Child, Deputy Director-General at DG Environment, European Commission
Mr Child pointed out that UBC can provide support for the Mission by supporting the exchange of what the cities learned from each other to accelerate the progress. And it's worth to invite cities with the Mission label to share what is being done, e.g. the work with the Climate City Contracts – so more cities can follow in their steps.
His presentation was followed by Anna Huttunen, advisor at the NetZeroCities platform. She presented how the platform supports the Mission cities in direct exchange and virtual support – and the latter is also fully available and open for any cities also outside of the Cities Mission. The platform regularly launches new calls and support tools for cities transformation pathways, e.g. Cities Twinning Programme, Capability Learning Programme and Climate Transition Maps.
This exchange would not be complete without cities – and four UBC members selected in the 100 of the Mission Cities joined the discussion panel. Risto Veivo (Climate Director, City of Turku), Per-Åke Fredriksson (Chairman of the City Council, Municipality of Gävle), Kārlis Beihmanis (Project manager for Climate change and energy efficiency, Liepaja City), and Agnė Petrošiūtė (Advisor for Sustainability, Tauragė District Municipality) took part in the lively discussion.
"From our experiences in UBC we learned what is the actual value of learning and sharing,"
— Risto Veivo, Climate Director at the City of Turku
Two most discussed topics of the debate were about how to communicate on climate change urgency to local stakeholders, how to ensure long-term political commitment to climate goals, and how to bring youth on board. The answers were provided from cities’ best practices: having a liveable city centre where the traffic doesn't dominate the space, can be more impactful communication tool for addressing citizens, than a graph on carbon reduction. Individual action and systemic change go hand in hand. And the youth involvement, whch starts in kindergartens and schools, should be met with the space to exercise that power – through youth councils and forums where the politicians are, to actually enable the change.
"Taurage is raising the generation of people who don't need to be convinced in the importance of climate action,"
— Agnė Petrošiūtė, Advisor for Sustainability at the Tauragė District Municipality
Yours, Sustainable Cities Commission
Our Commission was represented by the Head of Secretariat Agnieszka Ilola, communications coordinator Mariia Andreeva, as well as the Advisory Board members: Co-Chair Risto Veivo from Turku and the AB member Ola Nord from Malmö.
We were delighted with the opportunity to reconnect with our member cities and exchange on the new opportunities and openings!