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Covenant of Mayors - Europe
News article5 July 2023

Knowledge exchange to build resilience: what cities can learn from one another as they adapt to climate change

Throughout the PSF’s twinning programme, eight municipalities from Spain, Italy, Greece, France and Germany were paired together to offer opportunity to exchange on best practices, lessons learnt, and to evaluate what could be applied in their city.

PSF pic

Communities across Europe, both large and small, are no stranger to the effects of climate change. Yet it is often local communities and small municipalities that are left out of discussions for how to face the challenges encountered when developing adaptation strategies and building resilience to the adverse effects of climate change, to address issues like drought, flooding and wildfires, to name only a few.

Yet local authorities do not have time to wait and have had to develop strategies that are appropriate to their context. And communities have a lot to learn from one another. Adaptation strategies already tried and tested in one environment may be seen as a new and innovative approach in another. Thus creating opportunities for peer exchange, where municipalities can learn adaptation and resilience strategies from one another is a valuable resource that should be tapped into.

Cities wear two hats - as Mentors and Mentees

It is exactly this strategy the Covenant of Mayor’s Policy Support Facility (PSF) seeks to address. Such twinning opportunities are a part of the PSF’s overall plan to assist local and regional authorities develop and implement adaptation strategies under the Covenant of Mayors - Europe. These twinnings are part of the peer-learning programme aimed to help cities network and collaborate, exchange experiences and build their capacity around specific climate-related challenges, where common needs and priorities are identified.

Throughout the PSF’s twinning programme, a series of eight municipalities from Spain, Italy, Greece, France and Germany were paired together based on the climate threats they are currently facing as well as the adaptation measure they are intent on implementing. Cities that have experience dealing with such threats but need assistance in another area of adaptation were thus paired together to offer this opportunity to exchange on best practices, lessons learnt, and to evaluate what could be applied in their own context. In such a practice, the cities themselves have the opportunity to act both as mentor and mentee.

Catarroja and Tripolis

  Catarroja and tripolisOne such pairing, between Catarroja (Spain) and Tripolis (Greece), focused on disaster risk reduction, flooding and water management. For Catarroja, a small province of 28,000 people in the Valencian Community in southeastern Spain, the city is facing rising sea levels, high precipitation and an increased risk of flooding. They could share best practices on water flow control through water infrastructure strategic design and management.​ Consequently in Tripolis, capital of the Peloponnese region characterised by a hot summer Mediterranean climate, the city is currently facing extreme weather conditions including droughts and flooding, and wanted to learn how to proactively take advantage of natural phenomena while simultaneously avoiding disasters. The city of Tripolis has experience in water management practices, ​cleaning creeks and reforestation in areas which suffer from extreme rainfall, which results in erosion and floods​. For representatives from Tripolis during their visit to Catarroja, the main takeaway was the way in which lake pollution, which is in an environmentally protected area, is dealt with by flooding phenomena, making use of the so-called “raft” of a lagoon, which, with the appropriate conditions and adaptations, could also be built in their city and protect areas affected by floods. (Image Luca Arbau, Catarroja, first visit)

Penne and Tavernes de la Valldigna


The pairing between Penne (Italy) and Tavernes de la Valldigna (Spain)​ focused their exchange on fire management and hydrogeological instability. Tavernes de la Valldigna, a coastal community bordered by the Iberian and Betic mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, used this opportunity to showcase the policies they have put in place to protect the forest environment in order to reduce wildfires and preserve tourism. Penne, a town on the Adriatic side of the Abruzzo region in central-southern Italy, characterised by hot summers and mild winters, focused their visit on urban regeneration and ecosystem preservation. For representatives from Tavernes, the key strength Penne employs lies with services provided to the citizens through cooperatives and how local participation engages with global necessities on subjects such as immigration and the environment. (Image from Jole Lutzu, Penne visit March 2023)

Bra and Rethymno

Other pairings included Bra (Italy), and Rethymno (Greece), which focused their exchange on early warning systems, bioclimatic landscape designs, use of green infrastructure for heat and flood management, and implementing solutions that deliver both mitigation and adaptation benefits. Bra, a town in the northwest region of Piedmont, wanted to investigate reflective surfaces, solar panels, natural disaster warning systems, and electric mobility. Consequently in Rethymno, a seaside community on the northern coast of Crete, was interested in learning from Bra about waste sorting systems, civil protection programmes, and environmental education programmes. One main takeaway from their exchange in Rethymno, aside from the implementation of such technologies, was how starting at the local level with adaptation measures allows for a quick reaction time and an easier ability to generate awareness with the community around these issues.

Essen and Aix Marseille

A final pairing between Essen (Germany) and Aix Marseille (France) are focused on how to reallocate public spaces to people and greenery with strong citizen participation, brownfield restoration and rainwater management. As a former mining city and green capital award winner, Essen developed many projects for green and blue nature-based infrastructures in the city, including fast cycling lanes and green areas with the objective to cool down the city in summer and reduce water runoff during heavy rainfalls. Aix Marseille is working to build a network of urban greenways in an urban and industrial context, and aim to do so with a strong public participation component.

Expert missions to reach climate neutrality

Four cities were involved in Expert missions, which are peer learnings for cities with a clear focus on becoming climate neutral and working on cross-sectoral policies to reach ambitious targets.

Representatives from Valongo (Portugal) travelled to Derry City and Strabane District Council (Northern Ireland) to learn about water management, reforestation strategies and urban agriculture projects. Derry has been working for 10 years to develop the Acorn Farm, the local food hub that aims not only at connecting the whole population, but also at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the resilience of the city to the effects of climate change. The Acorn Farm creates a greenway across the city and provides fresh produce to 250 families. Valongo is interested in developing trainings for citizens on how to contribute to local farming projects and has highlighted its experience with public private partnerships which might inspire future developments of the Acorn Farm.

The cities of Pau Béarn Pyrénées (France) and Braga (Portugal) connected over water issues, green areas and biodiversity restoration. One of the main topics was sustainable forest management and how cities can reconcile the different roles forests play in their climate and energy action plan, while taking on board the individuals or companies that own the forest areas. One of the site visits was to the ‘Foret de Bastard’, which serves a key role to protect biodiversity at the border of the city while also lowering temperatures. Pau also presented its watercourse restoration projects to combine biodiversity and flood control, as well as the green belt project for urban farming. Braga shared its approach to reforestation and has now some inspiration for measures to develop in its climate adaptation plan.

What’s Next

Peer exchanges such as these can lay the groundwork for further opportunities for learning and collaboration. “Municipalities involved in the PSF peer learning programme have found value in this exchange and have asked for more and longer opportunities of this kind. They recognise that examining applied solutions to problems they face can help address these challenges, but that this can also be achieved by establishing new international relations and partnerships,” notes Luca Arbau, Officer for Sustainable Resources, Climate and Resilience at ICLEI Europe. Small municipalities can apply for funding at the EU level to further build their capacity and develop adaptation measures and being a part of the CoM network offers the opportunity to support and further engage the municipalities on their adaptation planning and resilience journey.

For more resources on adaptation strategies and to learn how other local authorities across Europe are building resiliency, the PSF is releasing a podcasts series and a final publication will bring together the project’s main learnings. Click here to learn more.


Publication date
5 July 2023